Roderick McLeod, a descendant of the Ngarrindjeri and Yatemetung Nations, was removed from his family at seven years old and finally reunited with them at the age of 31.
McLeod took his background and experience, and channelled it through a passion and commitment to life skills, wellbeing, and opportunities for First Nations people.
He founded the Nallawilli Group to ensure that knowledge and those past experiences can be shared and that there is a sustainable future.
In 2020, Nallawilli Group, currently transitioning to be known as the Nallawilli Foundation, comprises of a wellbeing arm, focused on environmentally-friendly, ethically-sourced Australian products; officewares; construction, which deals in the development of affordable and sustainable modular housing solutions; and Nallawilli Technology, aiming to connect enterprises, people, and community through collaboration and technology.
After a few decades in the enterprise world at the likes of Microsoft, Unisys, and Data#3, Scott Allen, a descendent from the Awabakal and Worimi Nations, met McLeod and joined him on his mission in 2017, heading up the company's technology arm.
"When I joined, I thought this was going to be an amazing opportunity to go talk to government and build a really interesting business … I soon learnt very quickly that just wasn't the case," Allen told ZDNet.
"If I put out a job description for enterprise architects who are Indigenous, the response wouldn't be great, so what I soon worked out was there is a big skills gap in between where First Nations is today and where First Nations needs to be tomorrow."
In response, the business shifted gear and became focused on Indigenous opportunities.
"We are an onboarding platform for Indigenous kids through vocations they typically don't get access to," Allen explained.
One example of how Nallawilli is doing this is through the Microsoft Surface Hub and Microsoft Teams -- two pieces of technology used en masse within an enterprise, but not to their full capacity. Training within Nallawili includes not only how the Surface is delivered, configured, and integrated, but also on how to assist the end-user. Allen said providing further skills is how the company can prove beneficial to customers and not just provide a standard piece of technology kit accompanied by an IT person.
Sharing a handful of success stories, Allen said the actual success is individuals going back to their community and telling their story of how they entered training with minimal tech knowledge and ended up helping government or large enterprises with IT.
Allen said McLeod's goal is to create the first Indigenous CIO in government.
"For us, it's about creating these roles that are sustainable for Indigenous people and community," Allen added. "It's about doing something that is, and will be, sustainable for now and in the future … the hope is that the businesses we build will continue to live on and deliver these types of outcomes in the future."
Discussing the Indigenous Procurement Policy (IPP), which is a Commonwealth-wide policy that must be considered by officials when undertaking procurement, Allen said it has been "an education and a half" for Nallawilli.
"Some of the realities of that, and some of the things we have to do to actually get stuff across the line -- the reality is, dealing with an Indigenous business, we're typically not the most expensive, but nor are we cheapest, but when you look at value for money of what Indigenous businesses do around community, you get your true value," he said.
"Because we're typically small, we end up doing a lot more, and providing a lot more value both to the customer and also to community, so when they look at how far their dollar stretches, from a value add perspective, with Indigenous business, it goes a lot further than just who is the nearest shareholder."
Allen said that in the Indigenous space, the trouble is finding a customer that will support the company.
"Getting a small business off the ground around a certain opportunity... it's not easy to do, but it is a doable exercise. Making that business sustainable is probably the hardest part of that and turning that business into something that is a truly Indigenous-owned is probably the next biggest challenge behind that," he explained.
Allen said Nallawilli will continue to invest in its Microsoft skillset around Teams and the Surface Hub to grow out that capability, as he believes the company has found a niche in the market. Growing partnerships to help build out that capability is also the focus in the near future.
"In the Indigenous space there are some amazing businesses out there doing some amazing stuff, and turning Nallawilli into a social enterprise is probably the one thing that I get up for every morning and am proud to be part of," he said.
"I've gone from the capitalist world of forecasts and budgets to what we call our triple bottom line, which focuses on everything from shareholder returns but also has a large community component to it, and you see the impact that we have on the likes of [trainees] and other people that we've helped out over the last couple of years and it's an amazing feeling. I love it."