Indigenous women entrepreneurs business exchange

What was the opportunity?

In April 2019, TDi, Abt Associates and the Australian High Commission to Papua New Guinea (PNG) began to explore how a business exchange between PNG and Australian Indigenous women could be designed to further people-to-people links between the two countries, building on the thousand year history of trade and knowledge sharing. 

Over two months, TDi and Abt ran a human-centred design process to understand the needs of Australian Indigenous and PNG businesswomen, and the opportunities for collaboration. In July 2019, the Laikim Sister business exchange program was born.

The name – Laikim Sister – was chosen because it means to love, care for and look after your sister, and the word (Laikim) is used both in Tok Pisin and Torres Strait Islander language.

“The Laikim Sister program, which is a new innovation,

is really important in supporting our very strong involvement and investment in building people to people links. And with a special focus on Indigenous Australians, and that in itself is part of Australia’s foreign policy priorities.”

– Caitlin Wilson, Deputy Head to Mission in Papua New Guinea


Tell us the ‘Nitty Gritty’ Details…

Laikim Sister became a first of its kind. It brought together 10 Papua New Guinean and 8 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander businesswomen.  It focused on re-igniting trade and knowledge sharing in three key industries: traditional foods and medicines, cultural tourism, and creative industries. The women met first in Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea and then again three months later in Cairns, Australia.  

The program hoped to provide transformative journeys for the women and their businesses.  The program took place over two exchanges, one in each country, so that the women were able to experience and understand the cultural and business contexts of their fellow sisters.

There were three key components to the program:

  • Shared storytelling of their gender, cultural, and business experiences which enabled them to build trust and connect
  • ‘Look and see’ excursions to other businesses in the industry which provided inspiration for innovation in their businesses and industries
  • Using tools to get clearer on their business models and how to take them forward sustainably.


“[This has been an] inspiring program.

Reminds me that I am not along on my business journey. [I have] the love and courage and strength of all my sisters draw from… the strength of my sisters’ stories will continue to give me strength on my journey.”

– Program Participant

The Outcome

Through the program the women built deep, people-to-people connections and trust which ultimately enabled trade outcomes.  As our CEO, Annie, says,

“We don’t trade with strangers, we trade with friends.”

The best example of this is the ongoing trade discussions between program sisters Carol Vale of Game Enough?, who plans to buy green coffee beans from Nellie Vamari of Central Mamina Coffee.

The women built a connection when Carol shared the story of her great uncle serving in the war in the Owen Stanley Ranges, in PNG which is where Nellie sources her beans from.   Carol had been looking for a coffee range for Game Enough? and it was the relationship she built with Nellie and alignment of their stories that allowed them to establish a trade deal.  

But beyond this, the program became a symbol of what is possible when Indigenous women unite. The women in the program were inspired by their sisters, encouraged to be leaders in their field and have a network of support for life.


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