Summary Key Points:

  • Societal values will affect how people run their businesses. For example, some cultures will value individualism more than others, so businesses may be more likely to focus on the individual rather than the collective (Individualism vs Community).
  • Indigenous entrepreneurship is nothing new; it’s been happening for millenniums.
  • In Western entrepreneurship, the aim is to generate profit for the owner/shareholders, sometimes at the expense of the environment and the best interest of the community.
  • They both create and add value to a community in their own way.

“If people can’t acknowledge the wisdom of Indigenous cultures, then that’s their loss.” – Jay Griffiths

The definition of Indigenous entrepreneurship is different to Western entrepreneurship because it is based on the principle of community-first. In Western entrepreneurship, the aim is to generate profit for the owner/shareholders.

Many non-Indigenous organisations and academics have tried to define Indigenous Entrepreneurship as being social entrepreneurship or based on an individual’s heritage, which is completely wrong.

They are ignoring the societal differences between these two different cultures, which will affect how businesses operate in a way tied to those differences. Most Western societies have different norms than Eastern societies, and so do Indigenous people. We’ve explored this in more detail in another article: Indigenous vs Western Entrepreneurship: what it means and why it matters.

Indigenous entrepreneurship aims to create sustainable economic development by finding a balance between the needs of the environment and the needs of the community. This is done by respecting the environment, strengthening the sense of community, and encouraging Indigenous Entrepreneurship instead of being forced to operate from a Western entrepreneurship perspective (another form of colonisation/cultural assimilation?).

In some Indigenous communities around the world, many people hold a strong aversion to entrepreneurship and opportunities (some see it as a burden and would rather not be responsible for the potential consequences) because they are forced to operate their business based on Western values that prioritise individualism.

Western entrepreneurship and Indigenous entrepreneurship are two different approaches to business that have their own advantages and disadvantages. In this article, we will explore these differences.

What is Western entrepreneurship?

Western Entrepreneurship is a philosophy behind the way corporations operate. It encompasses the corporate structure and how they do business, with a focus on how they do business. The Western Entrepreneurship philosophy was developed by European countries, which have a capitalist-based economy.

Capitalism is an economic system that, in its most basic form, advocates a free market economy in which the means of production are privately owned. A free-market economy is an economic system in which the means of production are privately owned. This is different to communism, where the means of production are state-owned.

Unlike Indigenous Entrepreneurship, Western entrepreneurship has one job, which is to maximize profit (let’s be honest with ourselves here…). In the centuries that have passed since the capitalist system was first established by Westerners, the formula has not changed.

Western entrepreneurs are more selfish because of the “race to the bottom” capitalist system, where everyone is subservient to profit maximisation.

The Indigenous concept of “Community”

Indigenous Entrepreneurship vs Western Entrepreneurship
Indigenous Entrepreneurship vs Western Entrepreneurship

The central and most important value to Indigenous people is “Community” and the philosophy of “The Circle of Life” which focuses on the importance of our relationships and communities.

The concept of community is of critical importance to Indigenous people, referring to the relationships that we share with each other. Our concept of community engenders a sense of belonging, inclusive and reciprocal relationships.

Business as a way to achieve “Community” outcomes. Indigenous societies throughout the world never depended on the wealthy or individuals to sustain the community – it was a group effort.

Western Entrepreneurship means that the individual “looks out for No.1” and the individual is solely concerned with their own interests and not those of the community.

It’s the first time Indigenous people have seen this in our society where having a stake in the community was something to be looked down on.

The Western concept of “Individualism”

Corporations in Australia and Western nations often have the best interests of individuals or shareholders as their priority, which can harm the best interest of our community.

We’ve seen how this approach is played out in countries like Australia, where mining company interests are prioritised over the (Indigenous) community, and even in Brazil – from Rio Tinto blowing up 46,000-year-old culturally significant rock shelters to Brazil’s Government trying to legalise crimes against Indigenous people to progress deforestation and commercial interests.

Looking at Uber’s founder and ex-CEO Travis Kalanick in the United States is a classic example of individualism at the cost of community. Despite criticism of his management style and costly missteps by Mr Kalanick, he refused to step down as CEO and went to great lengths to retain his power that Benchmark, one of Uber’s earliest investors and biggest shareholders file a lawsuit against him because of alleged fraud, breach of contract, and breach of fiduciary responsibilities.

Kalanick only cared about his own self-interest over the best interest of the community, and there are probably a dozen other examples, other than him being forced to resign as CEO, which brings up another point by the Harvard Business Review – When Founders Go Too Far.

Western social norms influence how we operate in Australia, so it’s not surprising that some Indigenous people have put their own interests ahead of the community.

The impact on Indigenous entrepreneurship

There is still a perception, globally, that Indigenous people do not have an entrepreneurial mindset or desire to start their own businesses. A popular belief that has been passed down throughout Australia’s colonisation of Indigenous people is that they must be pretty useless if all they did was invent a boomerang or didgeridoo while living here for thousands of years.

However, the act of innovating has been passed down through generations for millennia. Indigenous people have been innovating for thousands of years with inventions like the oldest aquaculture structure in the world that was used to farm fish and eels, thermoplastic resins, and even baking – archaeologists have dated grinding stones in Australia as being more than 30,000 years old.

We need to understand that entrepreneurship is the process of creating a business or innovating from a passion to create something that adds value to the community and creates a better world for everyone, and not doing it for the wrong reasons.

There are many Indigenous people around the world who continue to innovate today despite the challenges they face.

The Pros of Western Entrepreneurship

I’ve been thinking a lot about what makes Western society unique. In order to understand what sets Western culture apart, I think it’s important to understand the underlying values that have shaped Western society.

Western society values individuality and merit, not conformity. Western culture is also entrepreneurial, while Eastern culture is more hierarchical. Western society has been the dominant force in the world in recent times which has focused on economic development and control through military power. The West has succeeded because of its unique values and culture.

Entrepreneurship has created countless amounts of jobs and contributed to the US, UK’s and other Western countries high Gross domestic product (GDP). The United States is home to some of the world’s most successful businesses – from the multi-national corporations of Silicon Valley to the small startups in the heartland.

John Kennedy, the 35th President of the United States, famously said, “A rising tide lifts all boats.” In other words, the success of one group of people—the rich—will lead to the prosperity of all. That’s certainly been the case in the Western world, where the fortunes of the average Joe have risen with the success of the entrepreneur.

The Cons of Western Entrepreneurship

“A rising tide lifts all boats.” – John Kennedy, the 35th President of the United States

Ironically, more and more people become aware that the way of doing business in the West isn’t only far from optimal but it’s actually detrimental to the cause of progress, more people are looking for a different way of doing things (Rising inequality affecting more than two-thirds of the globe, but it’s not inevitable: new UN report).

Capitalism did not create the problem of scarcity but it has created the problems of imbalances and inequalities of wealth and technology to boot. Wealth inequality in America is not only unjust but it’s also unsustainable. The current system is NOT working Both conservative and liberal approaches are not working. Both come with their own set of values, traditions and reasons. In light of all these facts, I can’t help but feel that a new type of capitalism needs to be built on the core values of self-sustainability and social progressiveness.

In order to move forward and become a better society the world needs a new way of thinking and doing things (Indigenous Entrepreneurship?).

The Pros of Indigenous Entrepreneurship

Research has shown that Indigenous entrepreneurs are active in developing their local communities, re-shaping indigenous economies and getting innovative solutions to local problems.

Indigenous people have been adapting to their environments for as long as they have existed. We change the way we live to meet the needs of the environment around us, adapting to the environment to survive and thrive. We have created everything from ingenious solutions to basic needs to protect them from the elements.

Much of the technology that we enjoy today is attributed to Western societies (rightly or wrongly), and we often forget that our own culture actually invented many of the things that we use on a daily basis. In fact, a lot of our modern-day technology has ancient roots that we can’t even be traced. The cotton gin, for example, was invented by the Chinese in the 9th century but was then “invented” again in 1793 by an Englishman.

“When you start to understand the power of First Nations Entrepreneurship, you will see that it is not just a matter of our own communities being able to thrive. The whole country benefits.” – Dean Foley

In a recent article by The Guardian, it is stated that the economic crisis has not reduced people’s spending on ethical products.

Indigenous people have been innovating for thousands of years, and the entrepreneurial spirit runs through our blood. The world is yearning for sustainable and ethical business operations. Now is the perfect opportunity to show the world Indigenous Entrepreneurship’s full potential.

The Cons of Indigenous Entrepreneurship

For starters, not all businesses make money: there are quite a few enterprises that are not for profit, and the ones that are for profit make very less money. The only potential con of Indigenous Entrepreneurship is that the business should be operating from the community’s best interest, instead of the Western Entrepreneurship model that focuses on increasing profit.

Indigenous people have mastered the art of sustainability, living in some of the harshest conditions in the world. All businesses should aim to be as sustainable as possible, and Indigenous people can teach us a thing or two about that. The Indigenous Entrepreneurship model rewards innovation that makes the community and environment a better place.

Indigenous Entrepreneurship is not for those who are looking to make money quickly, but rather for those who want to build a business that will be sustainable and give back to the community (material possessions vs community impact).


Despite their differences, Western and Indigenous entrepreneurship both have their pros and cons. One of the biggest differences is that Western Entrepreneurship is based on individualism while Indigenous Entrepreneurship is based on community.

Western Entrepreneurship and Indigenous Entrepreneurship are both different ways to create and add value to a community in their own way.

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