Last year, I wrote for Vogue Australia. It was an amazing opportunity, which is still relevant as I launch in to mixed reality, reflect on gender and racial barriers to moving forward, and plans for more Arnhem content with Senior Traditional Artist and Custodian, Neville Namarnyilk. Here's what I wrote for Vogue Australia's April 2017 issue:
An investor once said to me that Aboriginal, female, remote-area technology start-ups where, "quite frankly, high risk". At the time I was shocked, disheartened and angry at the racial and sexist undertones of such a remark and gobsmacked that someone who could advance the world with their pocket change would let "risk" get in the way.
It is said that high risk brings high reward, and that's absolutely right. Starting an Indigenous augmented reality company from bare bones in one of the most remote places in Australian has been high risk. Kakadu is hardly the place you would expect high tech to be incubated: an Aboriginal community with English as a second language, limited by financial resources and zero exposure to the tech world, would, you'd assume, steer you away from such an endeavour. But that is exactly what makes what we do high reward.
My company, Indigital, believes Indigenous peoples from around the world are the best placed to deliver real disruption and real value in the digital economy. It's not a mainstream perspective and causes friction among stalwarts of the investment world. Where I see untapped scientific knowledge - the result of at least 80,000 years of science experiments - they often see poverty, lack of education and investment dissonance.
Luckily, our peoples have always known friction makes fire, and if you light a fire in the right place at the right time the entire community benefits for a long time.
Augmented reality* is our firestick. We have developed a platform that allows Indigenous communities from around the world to share and economically benefit from their cultures in 3D augmented reality without an internet connection. Users download our app, Indigital Storytelling, point their phone (or wearable device) at a preprogrammed object, artwork or place and the traditional owner from that place brings to life ancient perspectives, knowledge or Dreamings. Users pay for the products (cards, t-shirts, posters), or at a cultural site they pay to download the content. It's created a wildfire of opportunity for the community where I live. Being able to profit from cultural knowledge systems in a new and culturally appropriate way is the reward.
Building from our lessons in the remote-area-based digital economy has empowered us to start a second enterprise with the women of Arnhem Land called The Dilly Box. There are hundreds of Indigenous women makers practising thousands of years of artisanship in Arnhem who have trouble getting their exceptional products to market. We've developed a subscription box service that connects these women through an e-commerce platform to a limited number of urban-women. Out subscription service takes subscribers on a 12 month journey across Arnhem Land through experiencing high-quality homewares, clothing, jewellery, native teas, body products, artworks and literature in a monthly themed box. Each box contains unique products and includes a multimedia story of the artisan and a pre-addressed thank you card. The model works not on volume but on scarcity. Owing to the number of women, and the time it takes to create their products, we cannot fulfil more than 500 Dilly Boxes per month.
Indigital is in juxtaposition to the fast-paced start-up world. We take our time. In one of the most socially isolating places in Australia, we are connected to mentors in Palo Alto, San Francisco, Dubai, New York, Bangalore, Melbourne, Sydney and Canberra through LinkedIn, Crunchbase and social media. In an industry filled with incubator hubs designed to cluster people together in city environments, we operate from a digitally powered distributed studio model supported by staff in India and the Philippines. Where young start-up entrepreneurs create inspiration in small Google-esque launch pads, our team of Elders draw inspiration from a 19,804-square-kilometre world heritage cultural landscape carved out 140 million years ago.
There is something deeply rewarding about sitting where people have sat for thousands of years asking for answers to humanity's challenges. In the quiet rainbow of a winter sunset or the roaring of a summer monsoon storm, the answers always arrive.
Personally, I love to see people's smiles when we demonstrate the products. In 90 seconds we can shatter unconscious biases about Indigenous communities and empower non-Indigenous people to see us differently. Best still, Indigenous knowledge holders are for the first time economically valued in the digital economy and recognised as innovators on par with those in high-tech launch pads.
Yes, there is no doubt we are high risk. These days, that to me is the ultimate complement.
*We have just launched our Mixed Reality Indigital Storytelling #Hololens experience with support of #Microsoft Australia.