Interview with Grant Sarra

Tell us about your business

Grant Sarra Consultancy Services was established in 2002 with the intention of educating the general Australian society and the private and public sectors about Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people’s culture and true history to build awareness and understanding and enhance capacity to more effectively communicate and engage with our people. Additionally, GSCS works with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander traditional custodian groups and organisations to build capacity in strategic, operational and project planning and management functions, frameworks and procedures and melding of western management principles and practices with traditional cultural principles and practices linked back to our lore, culture, customs and kinship decision making processes.

GSCS is not a warm and fuzzy business that buys nice products, goods or services to sell to happy customers. Rather, it’s about telling the real and honest truth of Australian history beyond ignorance, fear, denial or blame; fighting for justice and basic human rights; educating non Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people; and building the capacity and confidence of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and organisations to participate economically in our modern world. GSCS also seeks to diplomatically and tactfully influence culturally appropriate, authentic and accountable change across the public and private sectors to improve the lives of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians. 

 

Why you got into business?

I had spent 18 years in the Commonwealth and Queensland governments working in areas that sort to provide training, employment and business opportunities for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and based on my own experience of dealing with racism I also took it upon myself to introduce cross cultural awareness training across both levels of government. In my opinion, people just didn’t seem to understand our culture or the true history and manner in which our people had been treated. I only had a grade 10 standard of education at that time and recall thinking that if I was to advance up the public service ladder to a position of leadership and influence I would need to go to university and learn how to act like, speak like and behave like all of my managers who just so happened to predominantly be Caucasian males. Long story short, in 1995 I graduated from the Queensland University of Technology with a Batchelor of Business Major in Public Sector Management/Politics and Sub-Major in Human Resource Management. At university, I remember constantly challenging lecturers and visiting politicians about the inadequacy of the western public policy development process and asserting that the process and end result was not historically or culturally informed and therefore, inadequate in terms of developing and delivering tangible outcomes for our people across Australia.

My aim was to help the company and the industry in general, understand the real plight of our people, culture and history so that they could better appreciate our concerns with respect to the interconnection of our people with our land and environment and subsequent need to maintain balance and harmony between all three.  Among other things, I challenged the company to commit to localised capacity building that led to real jobs and business opportunities; build authentic partnerships based on a respect for our people’s right to evolve into a modern world economy by be becoming shareholders and recipients of equity from developments on our traditional lands; and develop a more meaningful understanding and deeper moral obligation and responsibility toward the rehabilitation of the land and environment when it came to mine closure.

I left Pasminco in 2002 and while there was opportunity for me to continue in the mining industry, I realised that what I had done in the industry, combined with what I had previously done in the public sector could be provided for many departments and companies in a consultancy capacity. I also recognised the urgent need to build the strategic thinking capacity of traditional custodian groups and organisations so they could be better positioned to negotiate fair and reasonable outcomes from developments on their land and through government programs and services and that this in turn, would help to reverse accountability for the delivery of quality outcomes back on to industry and government – hence my decision to start my own business. 

How you do business?

I had developed a keen interest in writing, particularly cultural awareness training programs, letters, reports, strategic plans and policy related documents and also actively developed and facilitated numerous training programs throughout my career. At university, I honed my written, oral, interpersonal and training development and delivery skills, but perhaps more importantly, I learnt that I didn’t need to act like, speak like or behave like all them Caucasian male public service managers in my past and in fact, just needed to be me.

In the context of my business, I remain committed to finding out and telling the absolute honest truth of our history, my soul and my culture are not for sale and I will never bring shame upon my parents or my family. My Mother taught me about the importance of maintaining strong family kinship, culture and values, to never judge other Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander people and always being respectful toward others - she also taught each of her ten children the value and importance of education. My Father taught me, at the age of ten, that if I was to earn anything in life, I needed to learn how to work, and work hard. I embrace the traditional values of Caring, Sharing and Respect for our land, our people and our environment and promote the strength and richness of our people’s ancient culture and customs in all aspects of my business. I maintain a strong sense of Honour and Integrity when dealing with our people and all matters to do with our ancient culture. I am acutely aware of the negative impacts of history on our old people and communities and therefore, never enter communications with preconceived ideas or judgements and I always respect people’s Dignity and embrace my Humility in all projects and locations I am engaged. 

I value and respect the diversity of our people and culture and recognise that as one Aboriginal person, I do not have the right, responsibility and nor am I obligated to speak on behalf of all Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander people. I know who I am and where I come from through my Aboriginal Mother and Italian Father and when I am on someone else’s country I am a small boy. Having not been born on someone else’s country, I do not know their history, stories, culture and nor do I understand their hurt or suffering. I humbly listen and learn and when mutual respect and trust has been established I engage respectfully with people on their country to consider and discuss their problems and issues before helping them to come up with the solutions and actions which they feel are required to make positive progress and change.

While I deal with a complex range of issues across Australia affecting our people, ranging from: appalling levels of incarceration (adult and juvenile); unacceptable levels of unemployment, lateral violence, domestic violence, substance abuse through to the gammon ways we tend to pull our own people down, I take enormous pride in knowing that I am part of an ancient people and culture and remain focused on healing our collective hurt and reconnecting our people back to who we are as the oldest, continuous living people and culture in the world.

What you see for the future for the Indigenous business sector in this country?

In a traditional society we survived within a subsistence economy whereas in our modern society we struggle to survive within a monetary economy. The Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander business sector needs to continue to build capacity and momentum to be able to successfully walk in two worlds without becoming wholly assimilated into western ways of doing business.

Historically, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people’s affairs have been bedded down in the paternalistic welfare-type thinking of successive governments to the point, where it has all but become an industry which continues to sustain non-Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander businesses. The Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander business sector needs to break this cycle of welfare thinking and economic exploitation and again become the cultural knowledge holders and drivers of policy development and primary financial beneficiaries in this process. We need to become smarter, economically and politically savvy, understand western and eastern ways of doing business and know that it is we who are the masters of our own destiny and that it is we who can most effectively and efficiently to transform total financial, human and other resources into culturally sensitive, respectful and appropriate outputs.

We must also be fearless and innovative and prepared to diversify knowing that we are just as capable of successfully operating any type of business across any industry or sector.

How does your business assist in achieving that?

Just doing it! Promoting and embracing the strength, beauty and richness of our ancient lore, people, culture and customs to restore balance and harmony within our modern world and reconnecting our people back to who we are while humbly walking the walk of what I talk.