The ISX Story: Its Development, Progress and Legacy

The ISX ( began its life with what became known as the Ngunnawal Trading Floor on May 21, 2003. The theme of the first meeting was "Indigenous enterprise". The Aboriginal economy and society was dominated by the public sector and government and a private, market economy was very much needed to create more freedom and independence. This simple idea was what fueled the idea of an Aboriginal stock exchange or social venture fund.

For its first ten years the goal of the ISX was to help Aboriginal Australians to 'achieve their dreams' by any means available to us - sharing knowledge, raising finance, marketing or one on one support. No business idea was too small or too large. Any Aboriginal person wanting to create their own business - commercial, social or cultural - was encouraged to pitch their ideas at potential supporters and investors. The ISX organised trading floors where business ideas were matched with potential mainstream backers.

In this high energy period, ISX "trading floors" in Kuku Yalanji (Mossman, Cape York, August, 2003, Yawuru (Goolarri Broome), Yorta Yorta (Rumbalara, Shepparton)  and Ngarda (Port Hedland, Roebourne) supported any Aboriginal business idea that came from these local communities and peoples. 

After 2008 the ISX focused on North East Arnhem Land and supported several budding business entrepreneurs and homelands.

Born out of the social entrepreneurship movement the ISX sought non-bureaucratic ways to support Aboriginal people and communities. It created a lasting legacy. Our online and community trading floors still are free places to market ideas and investment opportunities. Our goal was to build appropriate, strong and growing investments in Indigenous businesses and social and cultural enterprises. Between 2004 and 2009 over 5,000 Indigenous business people, enterprises and communities nationwide used the ISX to post information and to track down investors, supporters and mentors. 

The ISX purposefully eschewed government support. But these trading floors were relatively expensive to run, a minimum of $20,000 just to provide basic infrastructure such as planning, organising, venue, digital communications, catering etc and large voluntary commitments of labour, time and support. That sum seems peanuts now, especially as we look at the huge public sums that do not even make the grass roots levels of Aboriginal communities; but the ISX was driven by the radical view of devoting every single dollar to Aboriginal businesses. This is why the physical "trading floors' - always held in community venues, gave way to the online "trading floor". The online trading floor was a much more economical way to showcase Aboriginal businesses. We also started to run very effective online crowd funding efforts for particular projects Noomool: the Aubrey Tigan Story, Mata Mata and for Stephen "Baamba" Aḻbert with the only cost taking the form of free voluntary support.

In this period the ISX supported many Aboriginal elders during the last years of their lives including A. Tigan, D. Gurruwiwi, Ms. S.D. Gurruwiwi,  Mrs. B. Burarrwanga and  Stephen "Bamba" Albert. We called them our Aboriginal national treasures and they remain in our hearts.

There was something special about the trading floors as physical events that created ongoing networks and lasting long term relationships. There is often some thought that the physical trading floors should be revived and perhaps from the mid 2020s they might be. But they take great energy and funding in themselves.

As an entity in its own right the ISX was to be as lean and non-administratively bureaucratic as possible. Aboriginal ownership and management was an important dimension of everything and one of the reasons our trading floors were successful in finding business ideas, where none were thought to exist, was that local Aboriginal elders were the sources and guides. In 2013 Broome Aboriginal Media Association (BAMA) became the official owner of the ISX with the understanding that other Aboriginal organisations might also at some point become owners and partners. However this would be predicated on a period of involvement and work with ISX projects and with similar ideas and enterprises.

From the outset the ISX  gave itself an enormous challenge and there was much to learn from it. The bottom line for Aboriginal business as well as for Aboriginal human, cultural, social and environmental development is the sheer lack of investment in capacity and infrastructure when compared to mainstream communities over the last 200 years.

In this context creating Aboriginal businesses was challenging for a number of reasons. The irony is that when Aboriginal communities were recognised and supported by the Commonwealth after the 1967 Referendum it was welfarism that was the biggest major national investment made into communities.  

The Federal Government's Closing the Gap strategy 2008-2018 is a contemporary attempt to make up for the enormous deficit that separates Aboriginal Australians from non-Aboriginal Australians. It has predictably failed on a number of fronts. So too must any honest strategy be candid and acknowledge its short comings and lack of progress. 

Our goal was to build appropriate, strong and growing investments in Indigenous businesses and social and cultural enterprises. Between 2004 and 2009 over 5,000 Indigenous people, enterprises and communities nationwide used the ISX to post information and to track down investors, supporters and mentors. Our website with its back room contact lists and resources became a useful reference point and a self managing network. Our updates and analysis were eagerly awaited and read with much interest.

However we did not create the businesses that we wanted to create. There are a lot of stories to tell but the main thing is that even in failure we have been successful.

Our long-term mission is to create high quality, patient capital investment in Indigenous people and their dreams. We will never deviate from this goal. Any Indigenous person is free to put forward a business proposal before investors and supporters through our online and community trading floors. We welcome those who are putting up their ideas for the first time no matter how crude. We encourage first time business people to work on their ideas over time and to continue to refine them by re-listing and improving their proposals. We strive to assist Indigenous business Australia wherever we are needed.


Broome is one of the spiritual homes of the ISX. Broome Aboriginal Media Association (BAMA) is the partner company of the ISX.  The ISX has since its inception sought to become a national company with regional Indigenous shareholders. The ISX will continue to work as a national conduit to fast track injections of equity and support into its regional partners and directly into Indigenous businesses that are making a difference in the economic, social and cultural world.

Though the national website and online trading floor we work to:

  • Encourage Indigenous individuals all over Australia to put forward passionate ideas that they want to pursue;
  • Link mentors, knowledge, funding and ideas with those who are trying to achieve their passions and ideas;
  • Link passions and capacity and know-how wherever we can;
  • Create a process where Indigenous business entrepreneurs can move ahead one step at a time; and
  • Create a national network of successful Indigenous community businesses and investors that support each other.

What is an Indigenous Stock Exchange?

An Indigenous Stock Exchange is never going to be like a conventional Western financial market place.

In Indigenous communities there are many things - bought and sold in the Western world - that will never be up for sale.

But there are techniques for raising capital and equipment such as offering shares in businesses that are of importance to future Indigenous economic development. There are also conventional ways of building up businesses through family endeavour that are also relevant. As the ISX develops it learns more and more about how this knowledge can be transferred to Aboriginal contexts.

Through our community and online trading floors the ISX has been very effective in identifying business proposals in communities where none were thought to exist. In this the trading floors support entrepreneurs that usually fly under the radar screens of governments or even conventional business networks.

For us supporting non-profit human, social and cultural enterprise is as important as supporting profitable commercial enterprise.

The ISX always works with the permission and in partnership with the elders of the community, supports and enables existing Indigenous organisations within the community, and communicates through trusted Indigenous community leaders. All our work involves long lead periods of many years, and extensive community consultation starting from the elders and moving to the grass roots of the community.

Community Trading Floors and the Full Scope on How We Got Into It

In our first five trading floors, the ISX identified micro and small business as important priorities for Indigenous communities. The trading floors included Ngunnawal (Canberra), Kuku Yalanji (Mossman, Qld), Yawuru (Broome), Yorta Yorta (Shepparton) and Ngarda (Roebourne) and proved to be an inspiration to the community as emerging business entrepreneurs shared their ideas and gained support from their community while also presenting to investors. In 2009 we are focusing on profiling North East Arnhem Land Aboriginal enterprises. We find it useful to work on regions and language areas as a means of concentrating our limited resources and energy. But the idea of the online trading floor is to provide a permanent and ongoing means of communication to investors and supporters.


The ISX arose from a recognition that Indigenous positions within the Aboriginal services industry and in the public sector have been growing relatively well, but Aboriginal people are under-represented in the private sector, micro and small business. We also recognise that there is a dual speed economy in Aboriginal Australia. One economy that is located in major cities and regional towns is closer to the norms of European society. The other economy in the regional and remote areas and is stricken by problems of poverty, under development and threats to traditional culture and ways of living.

The ISX strategy was initiated in Canberra on May 21, 2003 on Ngunawal territory. The goal was to support the development of as many Indigenous businesses as we could. Our whole effort was framed by the urgent need for jobs for Indigenous young people especially in regional, remote and very remote Australia. The Kuku Yalanji Trading Floor was held in Mossman, North Queensland on August 20, 2003. This trading floor made us realise us that it was no easy task to get the Australian and world financial community to come to even relatively easy to reach regional areas. The budget for our first trading floor was about $A20,000. These were the first of our community trading floors. They enabled us to "learn by doing" and to think through the key issues of the ISX and to evolve our thinking about how we could best promote Indigenous social, cultural and commercial enterprises.

As we have developed the ISX has taken on a market place and trading atmosphere rather than simply a commercial investment forum. In the short time the ISX has been operating we know that the mainstream financial marketplace understands that in order to support Indigenous communities (that often do not have any investment or commercial models) we need to support all levels of activity and not just those who are most likely to succeed but nurture those could succeed. This has become a trademark of the ISX. We don't just want to support the elite investments, we want to create hope and encouragement at grass roots levels for all Indigenous ideas, enterprise and development and we connect those entrepreneurs which are not fully business-ready to the proper organizations that will get them ready. This is what our initial and future trading floors are all about.

ISX Compared

The ISX is unique in its operations. The ISX supports the development of social, cultural, financial, natural and financial capital within Indigenous communities. The ISX also operates at cost and all of proceeds go directly into developing the community. Currently, the ISX trading floor model involves volunteers raising sponsorship for each trading floor and contributing a substantial part of their labour and expenses as personal donations to the ISX. The strength of this option is that it ensures that the ISX is very lean, all funding, even when the sums of money held to run a trading floor, goes to existing Indigenous community organisations.

Our operating principle is that all funds must run through Indigenous organisations. This principle of providing a low cost, direct means of linking capital with Indigenous business with all of the investment going into the businesses not the people behind, or the structure of the support mechanism, we believe is the best way to help more Indigenous businesses succeed.

For more email national secretary Peter Botsman at