The power of supplier diversity


Business is booming for proud Bidjigal man Mitchell Ross, the founder of Sydney-based Muru Office Supplies. Muru’s first big client, in 2015, was Fortescue Metals Group. This was followed by the likes of KPMG, and then EnergyAustralia.

“It’s been the last 12 to 18 months where it has really taken off,” says Ross. “We’ve been able to use the brand of EnergyAustralia to help us win other significant pieces of work. Since six to 12 months of winning the business, we’ve been able to secure partnerships with the Commonwealth Bank and Qantas.”

The result of this success has been employment for Aboriginal people: Ross has hired three full-time staff members since November 2019 and has plans to recruit one more by the end of 2021.

It also funds practical help for young Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. Muru, which means “pathway” in the First Nations language of the coastal Sydney region, is a purpose-driven, community-focused organisation, with a goal of donating $500,000 a year to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community programs.

Muru already supports childcare literacy and numeracy programs in a community north of Cairns, and in Ross’s local community of La Perouse in Sydney, where it’s providing financial support to two high school students doing horticultural apprenticeships with a focus on bush foods and cultural practices.  

Power of procurement

EnergyAustralia procurement lead Christian Mena says the inclusion of procurement targets and policies in EnergyAustralia’s Reconciliation Action Plan “helps change the mindset of what procurement does”.

“Procurement is at the forefront of sourcing requests and can help increase an organisation’s engagement with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, culture and communities by promoting and increasing an organisation’s supply chain diversity,” says Mena.

Research from the supplier diversity organisation Supply Nation, which introduced Muru to EnergyAustralia, backs up just how potent procurement can be: for every dollar of revenue they receive, Indigenous businesses create an average of $4.41 in economic and social return. And the proportion of Indigenous workers they employ is 30 times that of non-Indigenous businesses.

It also makes good business sense for the companies doing the procuring. “Supplier diversity has significant and measurable long-term business benefits,” Supply Nation says. “Almost half a century of data from the United States indicates that diverse supply chains are more sustainable, flexible and innovative.”

EnergyAustralia included a procurement policy review in its Reconciliation Action Plan, adopted in 2016 as part of the company’s diversity and inclusion commitment to engage Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, communities and cultures. Since 2018, EnergyAustralia’s spend with First Nations-owned businesses has increased more than six-fold.

EnergyAustralia recently introduced new conditions to help attract and increase the amount spent on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander-owned businesses, such as more favourable payment terms and discounts on tender prices.

EnergyAustralia procurement operations lead Rebecca Dominguez says the benefits of the company’s procurement policy have also had a ripple effect on our non-Indigenous contractors when they come to consider their supplier diversity. 

“We now ask our major contractors to demonstrate how they will engage with the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community when they apply for major contracts with us,” she says. “We will assess this response in the same way we consider all other areas of the tender, and when implemented it’s an in-direct way of meeting our reconciliation commitment.”