Shawn Andrews

Managing Director, Indigicate and Managing Director, Supply Aus
AGSM MBA (Executive), Current Student

Tell us about your current role?

Ending Indigenous disadvantage is the reason I get out of bed each day. It's challenging at times but it's what I love doing. At the moment I am dividing my time evenly between my two companies Indigicate and Supply Aus.

Indigicate’s aim is to end Indigenous disadvantage through educational camps that change the negative narrative of Indigenous culture and history. To end Indigenous disadvantage we must educate non-Indigenous young people about the beauty, strength and history of Indigenous cultures, whilst simultaneously providing opportunities for young Indigenous people to participate in camps and programs that build cultural connection, hope, resilience and work opportunities. My role is to drive the strategy at Indigicate, including stakeholder engagement and pushing organisations and their leaders into areas where they have limited experience, creating an environment for learning.

Supply Aus is a 100% Indigenous-owned supply company that supplies goods for impact. The company started with the mission to create its own PPE and workwear brands, but grew quickly to include a coffee range, office supplies, medical supplies and lawn products. Supply Aus may be one of Australia's fastest growing businesses this year - certainly, it would be the Indigenous sectors fastest growing business. My role in Supply Aus is to work side by side with the CEO and Co-Owner to work on the strategy and direction of the business. I also work closely with our corporate partners.

My role is greater than my businesses as I spend a lot of time working on programs to end Indigenous disadvantage and create reconciliation. Programs that inspire youth and prepare the organisations for reconciliation. Two of the big projects that I am working on are the Lending a Hand project and the Reconciliation Capacity Building for Organisations. The idea is to facilitate a sequential 'one-country' program with Indigenous youth from the ages of 8 to 23 that helps them to build their cultural knowledge, develop life skills, build resilience, and have access to role models. Simultaneously, we target the right companies and organisations who are committed to real long-term reconciliation and work with them to help 'normalise' the workplace for Indigenous young people.

How would you describe what you do (what you ‘make’), your specialist skill?

When I was younger, I used to go and sit inside a mountain near home. In my culture, the land talks through you, and our ancestors talk to us through the land and through our connection. The mountain always gave me a sense of purpose, sparking the idea of bringing people together. Our old people would say that the ancestors were telling me that I’d end up where I am, helping people and working on these really big problems. So, from a very young age I’ve never felt I was lacking a purpose. My ability to create change through action, while bringing people together ended up giving me a nickname - ‘Velvet Sledgehammer’ because I was so comfortable having difficult conversations and creating actionable outcomes.

How has your leadership style changed or pivoted in the midst of the unprecedented uncertainty we are now facing?

It hasn't. The issue with 'unprecedented uncertainty' is the assumption that it is uncomfortable. The reality for Indigenous Australians is that we grow up surrounded by unprecedented uncertainty, therefore the pandemic is just business as usual. If anything, the pandemic has shown the greater business community the true strength of Indigenous ingenuity and creativity.

Please share any instances (inside or outside your current role) where you’ve responded, adapted or innovated as a result of the new world reality?

As we emerge out of COVID we need leadership that truly values people, the community and reconciliation. We also need programs for young people that focus on their wellbeing and help them connect to nature and broader communities in more meaningful ways. In some way this is an Indigenous pedagogy and I believe the world is now ready to accept Indigenous ways of working. This is what I have been focusing on, developing pathways and programs to improve our young people's mental health, giving them hope and opportunity.

What was the catalyst for your response?

The world changed, Australia changed, and we all slowed down. The Black Lives Matters movement highlights the injustice and systemic racist behaviours of society. Australians want reconciliation, they want to end Indigenous disadvantage, they want no more Indigenous deaths in police custody. The pandemic exposed that we have been operating the wrong way and that this needs to change. The acceptance of change is the catalyst for change and it’s the thing that I am most excited about.

What were you able to tap into from your AGSM qualification in this new world reality that’s been most useful / impactful?

The thing about AGSM is that it’s really individual. It’s about helping you grow into the person you need to be. Deep down that is the true purpose of the MBA, and the networks available to me through the MBA are very helpful. My first-year cohort gave me a sense of “You are already a great manager, you’ve just got to put some structures in place to help you”. I came away with a real sense of the problem not being my style of management, instead it was the expectations I was putting on myself. Sure, you learn a lot of skills that are useful and immediately applicable in your career, but you also learn how to develop a growth mindset, to be more open minded - that’s the true gift of an AGSM MBA.

The two things that have been most impactful for me during my time at AGSM revolve around developing my understanding of business and management, and the respect and acceptance of the AGSM community. We need our leaders to have a growth mindset and challenge themselves to be better, and my MBA pushes me to do this. It makes me continually challenge myself to grow. I cannot underestimate the value of the support, respect and acceptance of the AGSM staff and community. In a time of change and in a world where organisations are wanting to have genuine reconciliation, I feel that AGSM is leading the way. They have supported me through the AGSM Indigenous Leaders Scholarship and given me the opportunity to be heard across many different platforms. They have also been working hard to make themselves the MBA of choice for Indigenous Australians and it is a genuine pursuit.

What are you most optimistic about over the next few months?

I often use the saying - “A society grows strong when old people plant trees that they’ll never sit in the shade of.” That’s the philosophy that we live by in business, and my hope is that more people can start to understand what this really means. I live in Melbourne and we have experienced the longest lockdown of any city in Australia. Honestly, I’m excited about being able to leave my neighbourhood and visit friends and family. It’s during these times that people have started to understand what is important, and what needs to be held in high regard and I want to ensure that I can continue to play my part in bringing people together, creating hope and ultimately working towards a reconciled Australia.