Social Good

Empowering Aboriginal communities

Positive Influence - August 2015

Laura Egan is the founder and CEO of Enterprise Learning Projects (ELP), a unique not-for-profit social enterprise, based in Katherine. It mentors and incubates new micro-businesses in remote Aboriginal communities across northern and central Australia. There is a long waiting list of communities that want to access ELP's support, but among the micro-businesses it currently assists are the Ngarinyman Bush Soap business, run by the Yarralin community, and the Minyerri's Gulbun Arts Centre.

Why did you start ELP?

Remote Aboriginal communities have so much to offer. There is the potential to dramatically alter the economic position of Aboriginal Australians: from one of almost total economic exclusion, to one where there are thriving local economies - from which we all benefit, both economically and culturally.

But currently there is very limited support for fostering entrepreneurship and enterprise-skills development.

What does ELP do?

We run “hands-on" enterprise projects in a number of Aboriginal communities, where people can start to build up their business skills and explore their ideas. Often it involves things like developing products and doing some market-testing to see if there's demand out there – and looking at the costs to assess whether it's viable in terms of profit.

Additionally, ELP provides support around marketing, sales and distribution. We've set up an online store and have been building a national network of retail partners, so these small and emerging business can get their products to market.



What's your background?

I grew up in Bairnsdale, Victoria, studied Arts/Commerce at Deakin University. Following graduation, I went to India where I worked with a local organisation on economic-empowerment initiatives for women.

And how did you go from there to starting ELP?

While in India I saw micro-enterprises being used as a tool for community development. At the same time I had a growing realisation of the disparity that existed in Australia.

When I came back, I took up a position as a youth development officer in Jameson – 10 hours west of Alice Springs in Ngaanyatjarra lands. I realised there were so few enterprise opportunities for people living in remote communities.

I thought of how enterprise might work to create opportunities in this context. I did a Certificate IV in small business management, and set myself up as a sole trader. I soon realised it needed to happen on a much larger scale and went on to do a course at the School for Social Entrepreneurs in Melbourne, before starting ELP.


So what has prevented potential entrepreneurs in these communities from starting up businesses?

Apart from the logistical and social disadvantages, to do with education, access to the internet, transport and all the other challenges, one of the main obstacles was often a lack of understanding of how the Western market-economy works.

With support, helping them to navigate the business side of things, people bring these exciting products and services to market – and start to become independent from government benefits, which is what these communities want.

What would you say are the main opportunities?

Take Australian native plant products, for a start. Aboriginal people are wanting to share their knowledge – whether it's the Kakadu plum, or traditional bush medicines. There is so much, we're really just scratching the surface, and there is a real hunger out there in big Australian cities to share in everything traditional cultures have to offer.

ANZ believes in the vision of individuals like Laura who are making a difference in the lives of these communities and how she is shaping her world.

ELP is supported key charities including The Smith Family and Kindred Spirits Foundation. To find out more about Laura's ELP project, and how to get involved, visit


Contributing Writer: Steven Jones