Inaugural First Nations Business Growth Program Set to Back Businesses

September 2, 2021

American Express, in partnership with Rare Birds, today announces the inaugural First Nations Business Growth Program, supporting Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander business leaders. The 12-month pilot program will see 20 Supply Nation Certified businesses receive backing from American Express and Rare Birds in the form of mentorship, masterclasses and virtual networking events.

Stephen Pendergast, Vice President, SME Global Commercial Services and Reconciliation Action Plan Executive Sponsor, American Express said, “The First Nations Business Growth Program is about supporting financial resilience within the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander business community and celebrating their contribution to our diverse neighbourhoods.”

According to Rare Birds, 87% of mentees consulted feel more confident about their business capability after participating in a mentoring program, with 91% stating their business will grow further in the next 12 months. Mentoring supports real-time development with 81% of businesses reporting growth and 43% of operators employing staff throughout the program1. Jo Burston, Founder and Chief Executive Officer, Rare Birds said, “I like to call high-impact mentoring the ‘MBA of Life Skills’. It isn’t theory; it’s hard-learned experience that’s passed on through one-to-one open and trusting dialogue.”

Former Rare Birds mentee Leah Cameron, Principal Solicitor Marrawah Law Pty Ltd, advocates the value of mentoring as the First Nations Business Growth Program Ambassador, “I found my mentoring program incredibly beneficial for both my personal growth and for my business development. Not only did I learn invaluable skills, but I also gained a lot of confidence. I am delighted to be the Program’s ambassador.”

Supply Nation is the custodian of Australia’s leading database of verified Indigenous businesses. Since 2009, Supply Nation has worked with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander businesses along with government and corporate procurement teams to help shape the evolving Indigenous business sector.

According to Supply Nation’s “State of Indigenous Business” research report2 that reviewed COVID-19’s impact on the Indigenous business sector in 2020, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander business owners face further barriers to inclusion. The pandemic’s rapid marketplace digitisation has widened the divide however it also presents an opportunity to support First Nations businesses with the essential knowledge and resources they need to grow. The report states Indigenous businesses are calling for greater support and connection to industry through initiatives such as mentoring programs. “We certainly welcome American Express’ mentoring initiative and we support opportunities that allow our Certified businesses to leverage expertise across diverse industries,” said Supply Nation’s Chief Executive Officer Laura Berry. 

Stephen Pendergast, American Express added, “The First Nations Business Growth Program is part of American Express’ ongoing commitment to closing the inequality gap and to driving inclusive initiatives as we continue our Reconciliation Action Plan journey.”

Applications are open from 10am AEDT on 31 August 2021 and will close at 5pm AEDT, 24 September 2021. The selected 20 Supply Nation Certified First Nations businesses will begin their mentee journey in November 2021. For more details visit:


1 – Rare Birds data from a survey of 100 women entrepreneurs from marginal demographics who received a Rare Birds mentoring program from the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet’s Office for Women, December 2018

2 – Supply Nation Research Report No. 3. State of Indigenous Business – The impact of COVID-19 on the Indigenous business sector: the view from the frontline.

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