Indigenous entrepreneurial motivations: Purpose, profit and leadership

Michelle Evans, Ian Williamson

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


    Particularly important because of evidence linking a growth in entrepreneurship to community economic development (Wong et al 2005). Some have even heralded the Indigenous business sector as a ‘sleeping giant’ (Burton and Tomkinson 2015; Hudson 2016). However, despite these successes there are still important questions to be answered about the development of commercial enterprises in the Australian Indigenous community. In particular, as the Indigenous business sector grows questions have been raised about what should be the purpose and motivation of Indigenous entrepreneurs.
    At the heart of Australian Indigenous enterprise sits a central tension — the pursuit of profit for individuals versus the pursuit of independent Indigenous economic development for collective purpose. Traditional perspectives of entrepreneurship focus on firm development as a means of wealth generation for individuals or their families (Peredo and McLean 2013). However, some scholars argue that Indigenous entrepreneurship is a form of social entrepreneurship (Overall et al. 2010) wherein individuals are motivated by their passion to address collective Indigenous social issues through market-based methods (Grimes et al. 2013). The discursive weight of this expectancy, most recently articulated by the Prime Minister of Australia , sees the Indigenous business sector enrolled in addressing intractable social problems as well as assuming responsibility for delivering economic returns for Indigenous Australians. However more often than not individual Indigenous entrepreneurs are provided with little publicly-declared clarity on the role their firm plays in the implied collective mission of Indigenous entrepreneurship.
    The variety of agendas and pressures placed on Indigenous businesses can create conflicting interests and raise questions about what activities, practices and outcomes should be prioritised. In any organisation effective leadership plays an important role in helping firms manage competing priorities as leaders help shape firm values, goals and the environment that supports goal accomplishment (Kotter, 1974, 1990). Yet, to date, little research has specifically examined leadership in Indigenous businesses. It is here that this paper seeks to contribute by critically discussing how Australian Indigenous entrepreneurs enact leadership as they determine the motivation and purpose of Indigenous entrepreneurship in their businesses.
    Starting with a review of the literature pertaining to Indigenous entrepreneurship, we will unpack the duality at the heart of Indigenous entrepreneurship through a critical discussion of the cultural captivity of entrepreneurship (Peredo and McLean 2013) and the ramifications this has at the individual firm level for Australian Indigenous entrepreneurs. Bringing forward an analysis of Indigenous entrepreneurial motivations — both at the personal and sector levels — we present empirical findings to extend the theoretical literature reviewed. Finally, we discuss how the motivating factors shape Australian Indigenous entrepreneurial leaders as they traverse these difficult and consequential terrains of Indigenous economic development.
    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)6-22
    Number of pages16
    JournalJournal of Australian Indigenous Issues
    Issue number1
    Publication statusPublished - Mar 2017


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