In conversation with Liam Ridgeway, Co-Founder of NGNY, an Aboriginal digital services company.
Welcome Liam, thanks for talking with In Travel Group. Can you tell us where you and your mob are from?
It's a very interesting question because my family lines run through a few different areas, so I am Gumbaynggirr (Nambucca Heads and Northern NSW region) through my Dad's line and Wakka Wakka (Cherbourg, QLD) through my Mum's line. However, I also have connections with the Dunghutti people of Northern NSW, as well as the Yuin nation of the South Coast of NSW. My parents brought me up to know the clans and lines of where my family come from and my Dad and other family members have been tracing my family tree ever since I can remember. I am blessed that my family have traced our family history for so many years and don't take this for granted at all as I know that not all of our people have been able to trace this.
Can you tell us a little about your life growing up?
I grew up on Gadigal country, in the inner city of Sydney, so I did grow up off country, but we would often travel back up onto Gumbaynggirr country multiple times every year to be with family.
Growing up on Gadigal country was a really great opportunity for me to connect with other Aboriginal people from different areas around the country. Sydney is an economic hub for all people to explore opportunities for work and the like, so there are Aboriginal people from all over the country residing in Sydney. Growing up in Sydney, I had a lot of non-Aboriginal friends, but I always spent more of my time with my Aboriginal mates, a lot who were my cousins too. I feel really blessed to have grown up in a close-knit community where we have a connection to our history and identity. A lot of my non-Aboriginal mates used to ask me, "How do you know so many people?" and I would always say that our community is close-knit, that I have a really big family or that I actually don't know some of the people but would always acknowledge and yarn to other Aboriginal people.
You’re the the Founder of digital services agency, NGNY. Can you tell us a little about this job and experience? And why you think it’s important for other Indigenous men or women to give it a go as a career?
I always had a dream, all the way back to primary school days, to have my own business one day and I really think it came down to the fact that I wanted to do something where I could be a leader and an inspiration to my people. In school my favourite subject was business studies and then I went onto to do a Business degree at University.
I think setting up your own business, whatever field it is in, is something that all people in our community should consider doing; it is the ultimate opportunity for self-determination and it is the place where we can make the biggest impact for our people. NGNY is not the first business that I have owned, I did set up another tech business before Ngakkan Nyaagu (NGNY).
Owning your own business really forces you to be organised because, at the end of the day, it makes you realise that you are the master of your own destiny. Since owning my first business I don't think that I have been as more planned and organised with my work and personal life ever. I keep an eye on the way that I spend my time and try to ensure that I as productive as possible with my time
What was your motivation for NGNY?
There are a few motivations for NGNY but there are two key motivations that I really want to highlight:
Building the Indigenous Digital Economy, and
Being recognised as a digital agency/business that is not known for being Indigenous but is on par or better than the top ranked digital agencies in Australia and across the globe
The Indigenous Digital Economy is a term that we coined at NGNY and a key focus of this concept is how we as Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people look at, and place value on, technology and the ways in which we can integrate it into our communities and culture in a beneficial way. We want to explore technology as an enabler that will help us enhance the great things that we already do in our communities and identify our weaknesses and challenges so we can convert these into strengths. If we were able to just work with our community to find and create technology solutions then this would be ideal, because we have a genuine desire to assist in overcoming challenges that our communities are facing, whether they are urban, regional or remote communities. As Indigenous business owners, we need to be leading the way in how we support our communities and our people not just doing the same thing that other businesses are already doing (for example, employing Indigenous people, because there are already plenty of companies, big and small, doing this). If we lead the way, then we can make a real impact and address some of the key challenges that our communities are facing.
As an Indigenous owned digital agency, we often are invited to work on Indigenous based projects, whether it be for an Indigenous or non-Indigenous client. Whilst we want to continue to work in this space, we want to be recognised as a digital agency that does awesome work on par and above industry standards. The idea is that we don't want to be pigeon holed as an Indigenous business only capable of working on Indigenous projects. This is a key point that all Indigenous owned businesses really need to think about and action. If the Indigenous Procurement Policy (IPP) and Reconciliation Action Plans (RAPs) didn't exist tomorrow, what would you do to survive and thrive as a business? The key here is to flourish from the opportunity that the IPP and RAPs give our businesses, but to be exceptional businesses outside these programs and to be sustainable into the future. The better we do this, the more likely this will lead to sustainable economic development outcomes, especially when we invest in the Indigenous supply chain.
What do you find most rewarding about working in the tech industry?
We thrive off being able to use technology to solve problems and test new tech-based solutions. Working in the tech industry allows us to think of new and more efficient ways of how we are able to solve problems that our communities have been experiencing. Technology and, in particular, the digital tech industry allows us to collaborate with our community to get to the core of the problems that we are seeking to address and find ways to add an evidence base to the already strong narratives that our community communicate so often. Technology gives us an opportunity to create and appropriate ideas and implement and test these and then review to determine success. It is a simple and lean way to implement and review the effectiveness of ideas and solutions and supports an evidence-based approach. It means that you can invest and re-invest until the most effective solution has been discovered. Yes, it sounds simplistic, but the reality is that the big investments that we have been given into our communities in the past have not necessarily sustainably solved some of the big problems that our people have faced for so many years.
We are very inspired by our unique position to be able to explore ways to integrate technology-based solutions into our community and culture because we get the chance to brainstorm and problem solve in very creative ways using technology as our medium. We're starting to see a positive shift in the way that our community is valuing technology as an enabling tool which will support our journey to improved and sustainable outcomes for our people.
Are there any other initiatives you are involved with worth mentioning?
At NGNY, we have built and continue to evolve the build of the Buy-Indigenous (https://buy-indigenous.com.au/) website, which will become a marketplace for Indigenous businesses to promote and sell their products. We want to support the growth of the Indigenous economy by investing our time and resources into supporting Indigenous businesses through our online marketplace. We will be continually evolving and growing this and always welcome feedback from our community on how we can make Buy-Indigenous better.
I am also the co-founder of Indigitek, which is community of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people (based in Sydney) in the Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) space, or interested to explore opportunities in it. We provide exposure to STEM and offer learning and career pathway opportunities that for our community as these are growing industries and areas where we will be able to utilise the skills and knowledge of these areas of thought to be of value and benefit for our people. This year, we will be solidifying our expansion into Melbourne and hoping to expand into other capital cities. The dream is to grow our reach and presence across regional and remote communities.
What’s next for you in 2019?
There are a few things that we have a lot of room for improvement on with NGNY, and it's our ability to market and promote ourselves. This year we're really going to ramp things up to show people, and potential clients, what we have done. We have a great five-year record as an Indigenous owned digital agency and we want to showcase our five-year journey. So, expect to see more from us online and over social media, this includes a revamp of our website.
We're also going to be increasing the way in which we are able to invest back into our community and really promote the concept of Indigenous Digital Economy. We think that it is important that we as an Indigenous owned business are able to actively support our community with our skills and knowledge. We think this is very important for all of our Indigenous owned businesses to invest back into our communities, whether this is through money, time and/or resources.
Lastly, any inspiring words for the mob?
The key to everything that we should be doing is based on sustainability and how we reinvest back into our community. So, no matter your age or area of skills/expertise, find ways to use your time to give back to our mob and collaborate. Yes, there are a lot of our people already giving back, but there is so much more that we could be doing individually and collectively, and then being able to share this good news within our community and with the rest of Australia. If we lead by example, then people inside and outside our community will be inspired to find ways to invest in our communities.