Leah Armstrong — Driving change
Navigating through systems can be a long journey but learning from the past is a way to unlock the future.
First Australians Capital (FAC) Co-Chairperson and Managing Director, Leah Armstrong is a Torres Strait Islander woman with a passion to bring culture and capital together to stimulate economic growth in Indigenous businesses and communities creating greater opportunities for the next generations.
“Passing down knowledge and passing down experiences, we’re able to do that,” Leah said. “The important part of cultural governance is passing down knowledge and sharing those experiences, for the next generation. It’s critically important to learn from the past to shape the future, just as others before us had learned from our elders and leaders of the past.”
Leah spent her childhood in Mackay, Queensland, often fishing and spending time with her family. Leah moved to Newcastle around 30-years-ago, where she settled and started her family.
However, with over 30 years in business and not-for-profit sectors, Leah has been working relentlessly to create greater financial growth and support networks within Indigenous communities.
Bringing Capital into Indigenous Ventures
“The purpose of FAC began when I was working with the local organisation called Yarnteen here in Newcastle,” Leah said. “A few other local Aboriginal community members and I established Yartneen with a sole purpose of addressing the economic outcomes facing local Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities in the Newcastle and Hunter region.”
Aboriginal community members in Newcastle and the Hunter have worked for many years on addressing and forming successful social welfare organisations, in particular, Awabakal Newcastle Aboriginal Cooperative, one of Australia’s leading social welfare not-for-profit organisations.
“Working in the social welfare sphere, as a community member and organisation, what we identified was that we needed to create our own economics pathways and independence, and that’s how Yarnteen came about,” Leah said. “Through this, we were able to achieve economic independence within 10-years.”
Building networks, relationships, and having access to capital were a few of the key foundations to be a successful business with economic growth. After years at Yarnteen and other not-for-profits, Leah began deciphering how to share her knowledge with others and in 2016 First Australians Capital was founded.
Reflecting on the past five years
There have been many achievements throughout First Australians Capital’s five-year history, however, for Leah, what inspires her the most is the success achieved by a multitude of companies.
“Hearing about the support we have provided to Indigenous business, and enabling people to realise their vision, there are so many different stories around that,” Leah said.
Another highlight Leah reflects on is FAC’s focus on cultural governance and working from a strength-based approach.
“We look at supporting businesses, believing Indigenous people have the skills to run a business, they just don’t have capacity, networks, social capital, and financial capital to help them achieve their goals,” Leah said. “Starting from a basis of success and embedding cultural legitimacy in the organisation furthers Indigenous success.”
Leah also thanks the support provided by many philanthropic investors that enable FAC to fund Indigenous businesses and enterprises that are creating an impact both socially and culturally.
“Aboriginal Sustainable Housing demonstrates the multiplier effect and impact of supporting Indigenous businesses.” Leah said. “FAC provided flexible financing to an Indigenous construction company, to build social housing on Aboriginal land for Aboriginal families, funded by the Aboriginal Housing Office NSW, enabling ASH to employ and trained 17 indigenous workers and engaged 2 Indigenous contractors.
“That’s 2 Aboriginal families with new housing, and 17 people with new career aspirations and more business to help the existing Indigenous contractors to grow.”
Into the Future
Whilst the past five years have been successful, Leah still has plans for future growth.
“Having our own impact investment fund would influence the capital flows more broadly into Indigenous businesses and enterprises, addressing the structural and systemic racism facing Indigenous people. Then we can look at the major barriers to Indigenous economic wealth, to address and change the wealth inequality by backing the power and strength within Indigenous-led businesses and focusing on women-led businesses,” Leah said. “I hope to achieve that”.
“We still have a long way to go, and we’ve certainly had some successes, but for me the vision of success is when we have our own investment fund so that we are sustainable and can invest in Indigenous businesses and communities for the long haul, creating this First Australians Capital as a legacy for future generations”.