When you think about office supplies, you probably think about things like the reams of paper it takes to get business done. But to Indigenous communities in Australia, that paper is a pathway to equality and a brighter future through an Indigenous-owned company called Muru Office Supplies.
Muru means pathway
Muru CEO Mitchell Ross explains that in the language of his people, Muru means “pathway”: “I’m an Indigenous man myself, and going into business… there was a huge drive for me to give back to other Indigenous people, so part of our vision as an organization is to create a pathway for the next generation of Indigenous people.” Ross explains that Muru gives part of its profits back to Indigenous community programs and has strong Indigenous employment goals.
Challenging history, new opportunities
This is a moment of opportunity for businesses like Muru. Challenged by a history that has often left First Australians behind, the Australian government a year ago created an Indigenous Procurement Policy. In its first year, the government awarded A$284.2 million in contracts to 493 Indigenous businesses. At the same time, many large Australian businesses are finding both purpose and profit in partnering with and buying from Indigenous suppliers. This policy is potentially even more powerful when combined with innovative, cloud-based procurement technology. The opportunity is ripe for smaller, Indigenous businesses like Muru to partner with other suppliers and also to get on the radar of larger buyers.
The power of the business network
Muru has found an expert partner in Complete Office Supplies or COS, Australia’s largest family-owned office products supplier, which has 41 years of experience. At SAP Ariba Live in Sydney in August, COS’s Sarah Trueman explained: “Over the years, we’ve helped Indigenous-owned small businesses, whether distributing their product or helping with logistics and services.” And a partnership with COS can help small Indigenous companies compete with larger organizations: “We support Muru Office Supplies with logistics, with supply chain, customer service, and IT, to make sure that they have the same service level as a company the size of COS.”
This effort is putting Muru in a position to work with Fortescue, the world’s fourth-largest iron ore producer. Chelsea Gray, Fortescue’s procurement systems and services manager explains: “Ending Aboriginal disparity has always been a core part of Fortescue.” Beginning in 2011, Fortescue’s Billion Opportunities program has awarded nearly A$2 billion in contracts to over 100 Aboriginal-owned businesses and joint ventures, including Muru.
COS has been a vendor of Fortescue for many years and saw an opportunity to build Muru’s capability by forming the joint venture Muru Office Supplies (MOS). MOS was successful in an open tender to provide Fortescue’s stationery requirements a few years back. COS’s Sarah Trueman says “the joint venture with Muru has been very successful and has resulted in MOS winning further business.”
The digital pathway
Muru, COS, and Fortescue are linked through technology that automates the procurement process and keeps business moving on the pathway between the three companies. Ross says that helps Muru fulfill its purpose in several ways: “It really comes down to streamlining processes for our customers and our buyers, so it reduces the administration costs, particularly in the high-transaction environment that we’re in. It reduces the human error rate because of the integration and automation that’s involved; it’s extremely helpful.” That helps Muru stay competitive, build its credibility, and grow so it can help more people.
SAP Ariba president Alex Atzberger notes: “Across procurement, we see people trying to tackle issues that impact the global supply chain such as slavery, poverty, and diversity. But they are struggling because they lack visibility and data on their suppliers. We can help deliver the intelligence and transparency they need to manage these challenges and effect change.”
The value of purpose
Including Indigenous businesses in procurement benefits companies around the globe. Atzberger points out: “Procurement is in a unique position to address these issues and, beyond saving money and creating efficiencies, improve lives.” Ariba vice president, products and innovation, Padmini Ranganathan points out: “Companies have seen value, cost efficiencies, and have enhanced their brand reputation.” Trueman agrees, saying it brings COS and its employees: “a sense of pride that we are helping Indigenous communities and giving back. As Muru talks about providing education to small children in these communities it’s really touching, it really makes you want to do more.”
Muru’s Ross adds: “As an Indigenous person, it’s easy to think about doing business with a purpose. It’s who we are as a people, so for other organizations and other buyers and suppliers out there, think about the bigger picture and about the world you want to live in, and come up with a purpose that you’re happy to strive towards.”
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