Indigenous cultural and natural resource management (ICNRM) creates many environmental, social, cultural and economic benefits for all Australians. The ICNRM sector has grown quickly in recent decades, primarily driven by investment from Indigenous communities and key federal and state government agencies focused on Indigenous and environmental issues (e.g. Working on Country, Indigenous Protected Area [IPA] and Indigenous ranger programs). The number of Indigenous ranger groups, organisations and enterprises continues to grow, as does the geographic spread of the work. This results in ICNRM organisations and enterprises sometimes operating on a variety of land tenures (e.g. Native Title, Aboriginal freehold, pastoral leasehold, IPAs and national parks) and through diverse partnerships that may have different management regimes and aims. The future resilience of the sector will require a larger and more diverse set of funding and resourcing options.
There is potential to diversify investment
Major expansion of direct government funding of the ICNRM sector remains unlikely and as a result, the sector is under-resourced and vulnerable to policy change. To keep growing and getting stronger, ICNRM needs larger and more diverse funding sources. This means generating new investment for ICNRM enterprises from Indigenous organisations, the corporate sector, philanthropic and non-government organisations, and ICNRM fee-for-service customers and investors. However, there has been little research done into the investment landscape and future options of the ICNRM sector.
In this project, we use ‘investment’ in a broad sense, to encompass financial and non-financial investment, income (e.g. fee-for-service, carbon credits), and any form of input (e.g. labour, advisory service) into ICNRM programs. Our use of ‘investment’ does not imply that an investor will, or seek to, receive financial gain from their investment.
What makes investors choose to invest?
This research project considered the future opportunities and pathways to diversify investment in ICNRM enterprises and organisations – essentially, ‘what makes investors choose to invest?’. The research team investigated the current and potential role of four key investor groups (Indigenous, corporate, philanthropic and government fee-for-service customers or investors) to support and enable further growth of the ICNRM sector.
It considered the investment logics (motivations, priority areas and impacts sought) and the performance assessment needs of these investor groups, and identified challenges to investment in the ICNRM sector and future investment interests. The work builds upon and supports the efforts of Indigenous leaders from across northern Australia who seek to diversify funding for the ICNRM sector.
Indigenous community investment in the ICNRM sector
The project worked with Indigenous groups, communities and organisations – all co-investors in ICNRM. Partnerships in three local ICNRM contexts – Kalan Enterprises (Qld), Kowanyama (Qld) and Larrakia Rangers (NT) – demonstrated how local community co-investment in ICNRM occurs alongside external investment. Community investment includes Traditional Owner family support, which enables rangers to achieve organisational objectives and aids ranger recruitment and retention.
Properly positioning ICNRM organisations within local political, ownership and organisational structures is also important to the community co-investment they receive. Kalan, Kowanyama and Larrakia were also important collaborators because of their historical strengths in ICNRM income diversification. Their combined experience includes partnerships with international non‑government organisations, collaborations with industry clients and customers, and experience in undertaking activities such as civil construction to improve the size, resilience and skill base of their organisations. ICNRM organisations must be supported by Indigenous community co-investment in their activities for them to be sustainable in the long term.
This research is relevant to Indigenous cultural and natural resource management across northern Australia.
The Australian philanthropic sector currently investing in ICNRM includes a diverse mix of trusts, foundations, networks, alliances, global philanthropies and environmental charitable organisations. Some are based in Australia, while others are global, operating across multiple countries. We interviewed 13 representatives from both Australian and international philanthropic organisations who were identified as investing in ICNRM in northern Australia. Key insights and recommendations for this sector are listed on the following page and summarised in Figure 1.
Indigenous cultural and natural resource management would benefit from non-government investment. Photo: Larrakia Rangers.
Key insights about the philanthropic sector
The philanthropic sector
Recommendations to improve investment opportunities
For Indigenous groups, there is great potential to:
For philanthropic investors:
Both groups (with government assistance) should create a marketplace where philanthropic investors and ICNRM organisations or enterprises can find each other, match interests and priorities, build relationships, and develop investment arrangements.
Figure 1. Key insights and recommendations to increase investment opportunities between the ICNRM and philanthropic sectors.
The size and relative wealth of the corporate sector presents an opportunity for increased private sector support and investment in the ICNRM sector. The corporate sector invests in ICNRM activities as part of their regular business activities – what an interviewee called ‘profit with a purpose’ – and as a corporate social responsibility (CSR). An example of ‘profit with a purpose’ is bank loans for ICNRM enterprises. Corporations provide grants and non‑monetary support such as mentorship, advisory services, and secondment as part of their CSR. We interviewed 10 entities from the corporate sector – seven companies and three corporate philanthropic organisations. Key insights and recommendations for this sector are listed below and summarised in Figure 2.
Recommendations to improve investment opportunities
For Indigenous groups:
For corporate investors:
Key insights about the corporate sector
Figure 2. Key insights and recommendations to increase investment opportunities between the ICNRM and corporate sectors.
Government fee-for-service arrangements are contractual agreements where a partnering government organisation pays fees for the provision of a good (e.g. an ecological dataset) or service (e.g. weed management). For Indigenous groups, fee-for-service income has increasingly provided important financial and employment benefits, including self-sufficiency, reduced dependence on welfare and increased confidence. However, the motivations, priority areas and benefits sought by fee-for-service partners have not been well examined. Four representatives from the government fee-for-service sector were interviewed for this project. Key insights and recommendations for this sector are summarised in the next section and in Figure 3.
Key insights about the government fee‑for‑service sector
Figure 3. Key insights and recommendations to increase investment opportunities between the ICNRM and the government fee-for-service sectors.
Linking ICNRM organisations and individuals to new economic opportunities and diversified employment markets requires additional business and employment support structures and processes (see Figure 4). Government can support and enable cross‑sector investment in ICNRM via the recommendations set out below. Such support may result in investor outcome from the philanthropic, corporate, and government fee-for-service sectors, as well as ICNRM organisations and individuals.
Outcomes for investors might include:
Outcomes for ICNRM organisations and individuals may include:
Business support for ICNRM organisations such as Prescribed Bodies Corporate will assist them to better access fee-for-service and other diverse business opportunities.
Individuals and groups working in the ICNRM sector will benefit from employment support to better scope and access employment and income-generating opportunities in both ICNRM and their local economies.
Figure 4. Recommendations how government can enable investment in ICNRM.
The CSIRO project team included Kirsten Maclean (project leader), Marcus Barber, Taryn Kong, Jane Addison, and Marlee Hutton. The project was guided by an Indigenous-led Steering Committee chaired by Ricky Archer from the North Australian Indigenous Land and Sea Management Alliance and representatives from the Kimberley Land Council, the Northern Land Council, Kalan Enterprises, Kowanyama Aboriginal Land and Natural Resource Management Office, Bush Heritage Australia and the Australian Land Conservation Alliance.
Field workshop partners are Kalan Enterprises in Coen, Cape York; Larrakia Nation in Darwin; and the Kowanyama Aboriginal Land and Natural Resource Management Office (supported by Abm Elgoring Ambung, the Native Title Corporation for Kowanyama).
Key Australian Government partners are the Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment, and the National Indigenous Australians Agency.
This project was completed in June 2021.
Kirsten Maclean, CSIRO
E: [email protected]
Marcus Barber, CSIRO
E: [email protected]