This high end communications and media business is known for its television production ads, graphic design and events, and it hires a raft of illustrators, filmmakers and audio engineers. Today it’s branched into the ballooning procurement advisory business, especially in construction and infrastructure.

Damian Amamoo and his wife Elsie are the owners of Inception Strategies a company based in Marrickville, NSW. It’s a communications and media company that’s received a lot of recognition for its high end production in film, graphic design and events. More recently it’s turned its focus to supporting Aboriginal procurement programs for government, Indigenous and non-Indigenous businesses, including in infrastructure.

But the company had its origins in comic books.

Amamoo, born in Queensland to a father from Ghana in Western Africa and an English Australian mother, had been at the University of Adelaide where he did a subject on Aboriginal environment management. He became disappointed about the way Aboriginal people were being treated with regards to Native Title and the lack of progress on  economic reconciliation.

“Aboriginal people were getting a really raw deal so I decided to see if I could help,” he tells The Fifth Estate.

In 1999 he started working with Aboriginal communities to produce comic books that were targeting youth with serious messages on behalf of the South Australian government,

Work exploded after he met his wife Elsie, a Kubbi Kubbi woman from Cherbourg, who joined the business.

Comic books with a serious message for youth

Inception Strategies then travelled around the country to Aboriginal communities across the north from Broome to the Torres Strait, Palm Island, Central Australia, Victoria, South Australia and Western Australia.  In 12 years they produced 60 workshops with diverse Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities and 60 comic books. 

Significantly, Amamoo says, he initially pitched the business as a mainstream venture that worked in the Indigenous sector and didn’t register with Indigenous business directory Supply Nation, at first thinking that the business’ reputation, skills and service delivery track record with government was already proven. 

In fact, the business predated the Indigenous procurement strategies (IPS) that are targeted at boosting Aboriginal business and Indigenous economic development.

“We were in two minds about getting registered as an Aboriginal business until I noticed a massive shift when the government brought in Indigenous procurement policies four or five years ago,” Amamoo tells The Fifth Estate

“There were murmurs and some of my clients said if you register it’ll help us to meet our IP targets but we still were undecided. The turning point arrived soon afterwards when a key government client said to us “if don’t get signed up to Supply Nation we can’t give you any more work,” he says.

Today Amamoo concedes that the Commonwealth IPS was a good idea that has supported new Aboriginal businesses entering the sector.

“It’s not easy for new businesses when you’re starting out, but we have a track record or a ‘long tail’ and have delivered a lot. Once we registered as an Aboriginal business, things really came together for us and we went along and kept on,” he says.

The opportunities created by the IPS saw the business expand to fit government procurement panels lists and become a full service media agency adding film, graphic design, events and more to their capabilities. 

Despite its 12 years producing a total of 60 comic books Inception Strategies is now a sophisticated agency with a website showing high production television commercials like the national Closing the Gap anti-smoking campaign, social housing and health.

On set with film

It’s an adventurous company communicating serious messages with a sense of humour. There’s the ad with talking crocodiles for instance and an “Aboriginal bush sumo wrestler grappling with giant cigarettes.  

With all this experience the business soon found it was in a good position to support other Aboriginal businesses seeking a stronger engagement with government and the private sector particularly through the NSW government Aboriginal Procurement Policy (APP) and the Aboriginal Participation in Construction Policy (APIC). 

He says the NSW government has been very proactive about communicating to its agencies and non-Aboriginal business contractors about the importance of meeting its Aboriginal participation quotas. 

More recently, in 2019, Inception Strategies conducted a three day workshop for NSW Treasury with government, the private sector and Aboriginal businesses to get feedback on the NSW government’s Aboriginal Participation policies. This marked the beginning of a whole new adventure for the business to work on the challenges that were preventing Aboriginal businesses and government from meeting their combined procurement targets and strengthening engagement.

Government allocates millions of dollars to be spent on Aboriginal businesses through their procurement targets, but a common challenge is finding the right people and businesses to do the work. Governments want to meet their policy requirements and need their departments and agencies to get APP outcomes especially when it comes to their infrastructure spends.

The business works with these agencies and the private sector to develop Aboriginal Participation plans to help them meet their contractual APP and APIC obligations.

“Previously a RAP might have been enough, but RAPs today are really more about internal culture change than procurement so there’s still a big gap in the market to help [non-Indigenous] businesses get their head around Aboriginal procurement.  The government are asking them to meet their Aboriginal targets and participation plans.  It’s very innovative,” Amamoo says.

So why should commercial businesses be compelled to engage with Indigenous businesses? Amamoo says it’s to achieve a more cohesive social fabric.

“Australia is a great country but, for whatever reasons, we haven’t been able to achieve a true and fair economic reconciliation for Aboriginal people. Aboriginal people have lost a lot. These Aboriginal Participation and Procurement policies are practical and actionable and can deliver economic benefits and growth to Indigenous communities today.

“Not tomorrow. I think that’s a very, very good thing and it’s going to help to heal Australia as a nation and it will support, Aboriginal people to thrive and flourish,” he says.

Those requirements have led to expansion of the business to now work primarily in the construction and infrastructure sectors.

Theirs is a small business with 2.5 full time equivalent staff who work flat chat and scale up and down as required with contractors many of whom have worked with them for years. That includes illustrators, filmmakers, audio engineers and other communications contractors to produce a full agency solution without the overheads of bigger agencies.

Part of the business is events

“We feel privileged to be working a little bit in a space that brings economic opportunities to Aboriginal people,” Amamoo says

“There’s definitely been challenging times, it hasn’t been all rosy, and sometimes there are big shifts in the market and you might make your business targets on something but sometimes you might not.  You  have to be adaptable and flex to the environment.”

After 20 years of hard yakka, he says he’s finally got the right work-life balance.

“You can burn out so easily, you work very hard, wake up early with very long days.  You’ve got to work smarter and find ways to get the personal nourishment and save  some energy for other side projects as well that may not be revenue earners, but which provide emotional and spiritual revenue for me and my family. That’s really important for your personal sustainability,” he finishes thoughtfully.

Nancia Guivarra is a Meriam (Magaram clan), Wuthathi and Bindal Juru woman with a Bachelor of Applied Science (UQ) and a Graduate Diploma of Arts in Journalism (UTS).  She is a multi-media writer, producer and director who works independently through her company Amneris Pty Ltd.  Her experience includes more than 20 years at the ABC at Radio National and ABC Local Radio and Factual TV, as a producer of Deadly Sounds for Vibe Australia and as a senior journalist at NITV News and Current Affairs at SBS.

This article is part of a series on Indigenous businesses and was produced with the support of the City of Sydney.

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