Leveraging the untapped traditional knowledges of First Australians

Leveraging the untapped traditional knowledges of First Australians

Indigenous Affairs Economic Development
Friday, 17 August 2018

Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet

Angie Abdilla standing in a long corridor. She has curly hair and is smiling.

It’s not unusual to hear leaders, entrepreneurs or other public figures refer to Socrates, Aristotle, Pythagoras or Da Vinci - venerated philosophers and inventers whose influence continues to have significant impact today. Traditional knowledges of Australian Indigenous cultures can have the same impact. That’s the idea behind Sydney-based company, Old Ways, New.

A collective of Indigenous consultants and technologists, Old Ways, New draws on Indigenous traditional knowledges built over 60,000 years in their service design and digital product development work.

 ‘What we find is that all of these new approaches in service design and digital product development, like Agile and Lean methodologies and Design Thinking and Human Centred Design principles are innately Indigenous,’ says Angie Abdilla, CEO of Old Ways, New.

‘When talking about systems thinking, it's an innately Indigenous way of understanding the world. We don't see the segregation of knowledges. We understand the world is interconnected and complex,’ says Angie.

Coming to terms with the concept of Indigenous traditional knowledges can be difficult for many people. Angie explains the concept through the framework of oral culture, common amongst Indigenous cultures in Australia.

‘The importance of telling the story right and understanding the layers of information within that story is critically important for an oral culture.

‘For example, [the song] about where you go to the next waterhole. If you sing that song properly, the integrity of that information is going to live on as it has done for thousands of years. Sing it wrong, or get the story wrong, you miss out on getting to that waterhole and you die,’ explains Angie.

‘Likewise we take the principles of knowledge and its complexity and interrelationship of all things and apply that in the work we do as service designers and digital product developers.’

There is global interest in the potential of Indigenous traditional knowledges to inform cutting-edge thinking. Angie has consulted to the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues and worked with the UN Development Program to understand how traditional knowledges can be used to combat climate change. During NAIDOC week, Old Ways, New worked with Google as the first human voice to disrupt their A.I. in Australia.

One thing is clear: Australia is missing out on our home grown knowledge potential and thought leaders should be looking closer to home for the ideas and wisdom that will inform the next wave of policy thinking and ingenuity.

Find out more about how the Australian Government is supporting the Indigenous businesses like Old Ways, New through the Indigenous Business Sector Strategy at pmc.gov.au/ibss