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Women in Social Enterprise - Remote Australian Communities and Cambodia

We spoke with three inspiring women whose social enterprises/organisations are integral to their communities - discussing the work they do and the impact they have on their communities. Keturah Zimran (Ikuntji Artists), Felicity Wright (Flying Fox Fabrics), and Chanveasna Nhean (Women For Women) spoke with us about their women-run fair trade enterprises.

Keturah Zimran (Ikuntji Artist)

Keturah was born in Haasts Bluff in 1978. She is the youngest daughter of Molly Napaltjarri Jugadai and Smithy Zimran. Keturah’s grandparents on her mother’s side are Narputta Nangala Jugadia and Timothy Jugadai Tjungurrayi. Narputta was a founding member of Ikuntji Artists and had been painting since the beginning of the Central Desert Painting Movement of the 1970’s. Narputta was born at Karrkurutjintja (Lake Mcdonald). The rights to this country were passed to her from her father, Talaku Tjampitjinpa. This was then passed down to her mother, Molly and onto Keturah. Keturah’s grandmother and mother have since passed away, with Keturah being the only remaining daughter in this lineage of artist to still be painting this story. Keturah’s father, Smithy Zimran is the younger brother of Ronnie Tjampitjinpa and Yuyuya Nampitjinpa. He is the youngest son of Uta Uta Tjangala’s older brother, Minpuru Tjangala. Uta Uta is the father to Artist Alice Nampitjinpa Dixon and one of the founding members of the acrylic painting movement. Smithy’s country is around Lampintja, Southwest of Kintore. Smithy was born in 1949 out bush in Pinari near Kintore. He came to Haasts Bluff as a child in 1956 with his parents and later joined the Pintupi exodus to Kintore 1981. Smithy was an important leader and educator over his life, leading CANCA (Combined Aboriginal Nations of Central Australia) with its landmark Kalkaringi Statement and the establishment of a dialysis unit in Kintore. Smithy painted with Papunya Tula Artists in the 80s and 90s. He passed away in 2000. Coming from a lineage of established artists, Keturah began painting seriously in 2005. Developing her own distinctive and bold style, she is fast becoming renowned both nationally and internationally. Most notably, her work is now a part of the Parliament House Collection and has been a finalist in numerous art awards including the 2019 Vincent Lingiari Award. Keturah is married to Ikuntji male artist Billy Pareroultja and is a mother of eight young children.

This is her life story in her own words: “I was born here and grew up here. I stay here a long time, Ikuntji is my home. My mother is from here my father is from Kintore. He is in the graveyard near the church. When I was little I would watch my grandmother and mother paint. It was when I was young I realized I wanted to paint. I started painting in 2005 and my brother paints as well. He paints waru, bush fire Dreaming. I paint about the sand hills my mother also painted about the sand hills and the Napaltjarri sisters. I have my own family now. I have seven children. I have two granddaughters and two grandsons. My husband is also a painter. He paints about his grandfather’s country: Lake Mackay. I like to paint; painting helps me forget my troubles. I paint every day. My Grandmother used to say to me when I was younger: “One day you will paint.” She told me to not go wrongly and to look after myself and go strong. When I look at my paintings I feel happy. My mother and I were closer when I was painting; I wish to be always able to paint. When I was eight we went to Lake Karrkurrutingtja, we walked around the lake, I remember playing with the white sand and then we all went swimming. Joe Multa and Timmy Jugadai came looking for us at night. The sand hills I paint are my mother’s story and the rocks I paint are my own story. My paintings are about my story and my mother’s. Jeffery is my other brother he plays in a band and is also a painter. I am proud of my brothers. Originally we grew up on my father’s side in Kintore. Then, when I was ten we moved here (Haasts Bluff) and I grew up with my grandmother. My mother joined us in 1985, a long time later. When I was in Kintore, I went to school where my father worked in the office he was also a church person. He was a pastor and looked after people. He moved to Alice Springs when he got sick. My father gave me my name from the bible, it comes from the genesis 26. Keturah comes from the bible and it’s the name of Abraham’s wife. My mother worked in the Clinic as a Health worker.” As a woman in your community, what are the greatest challenges you face? Ikuntji Artists are located in the remote community of Haasts Bluff, some 230 km’s drive from Alice Springs, with a variable population of 150 people. Women artists role in the community and art centre are invaluable and diverse, from looking after children and family, to attending meetings and making art. Most of the artists painting with the centre are parents, grandparents and great parents and also have important roles to fulfil in their community as future and current leaders and mentors and custodians of knowledge. Keturah Zimran is a proud mother of eight young children and is also one of the most prolific and known painters at Ikuntji Artists today. Ikuntji Artists was the first art centre established by women in the Western Desert Art Movement. In the 1980s women began painting in Haasts Bluff in the aged care facility. They had been instructed by their husbands and fathers, and they had often assisted them in completing their paintings. By the early 1990s these women artists decided to pursue setting up their own art centre. This was the first time that women artists could get paid directly for their work. Despite the legacy of renowned and celebrated women artists, there remains a focus on male artists and their history. Today, Ikuntji Artists welcomes all genders and age groups, creating a community hub for art making and cultural celebration. Ikuntji Artists has a number of projects that focus on the acknowledgement and celebration of the strong women artists and leaders that built this hub, and continue to mentor and inspire future generations.

What does International Women’s Day mean to you?

International Women's Day is a day to celebrate and remember the legacy of those women who pioneered the Western desert Art movement. A legacy that continues today as a key vehicle for cultural production, celebration and intergenerational knowledge transfer. This is also a day to acknowledge and thank those women who continue today their invaluable roles in our families, community, and art centre. What does it mean to be a woman in the part of the world and society you live in? Women in our community are powerhouses of knowledge and culture. Their work in keeping culture strong through the art centre and in the community is invaluable. Women are passed down important knowledge from their mothers and grandmothers, and are then responsible for passing down this knowledge to future generations. In the art centre context, senior women artists take on the role of mentor for younger artists, sharing knowledge and skill through painting, song and story.

How does your social enterprise contribute to society? Ikuntji Artists is key to community wellbeing in Haasts Bluff. As an Aboriginal owned and run art centre, it provides a space for art and cultural celebration and production as well as key economic opportunities for community members. Ikuntji Artists is a member- based, not-for-profit, Aboriginal owned and managed organisation. As such the whole business model is structured to maximise returns to community members be it fiscally, socially or culturally. This guiding principle directs all of our business plans, structure and future directions and is best achieved therefore through the guidance and voices of community members. We are governed by a board of Indigenous directors all of whom live and work locally. Therefore, through Ikuntji Artists, community members have a voice, and the power to direct their own futures. Directors express local values, concerns, interests and aspirations. One of the most important roles that Ikuntji Artists plays is in directly contributing to the social and cultural wellbeing of the Haasts Bluff Community. The art centre provides individuals with meaningful ways of cultural production and inter-generational transfer of knowledge. The studio is a safe place for people to gather with their friends and family, on their own terms. Art Workers skills are enriched through professional development opportunities and encouragement to take on increasing responsibility. Through our central activities of art- making and storytelling, visual and oral culture is passed from Grandmother, to daughter, to granddaughter. In these ways (and a myriad of others) we are contributing to future generations with strong connections to cultural practices and beliefs; a pride in their identity; the power to speak and act for themselves and for their communities. We view the Art Centre as a community sanctuary and many of our projects are guided with this in mind. The following have been some of the most powerful of these projects:

  • Art workers continued work in the native garden at the art centre. The space was designed to be a productive garden, and to foster wellbeing in the community. It was planted with both native plants for medicinal and food purposes, to support a holistic approach to wellbeing.

  • It is the only Aboriginal-owned and run organisation in Haasts Bluff and it creates income for the largest number of Indigenous people in the community. As mentioned previously, through their management, Chrischona and Christian train and employ over 20 arts workers annually for various jobs including priming, packing artworks for freight, photographing, cataloguing, screen printing, and representation of Ikuntji Artists at art fairs and markets. They have also created culturally appropriate work such as cultural liaison, interpreters, making short films about country in language using interpreters for the subtitles.

  • Through empowering community members to speak up for themselves Ikuntji Artists promotes self-esteem, feelings of self-worth and ability. Community members have been supported and encouraged to travel throughout Australia and confidently present their views and stories.

As previously mentioned Ikuntji Artists organised and held a festival in 2014. As a charity (PBI and DGR status) Ikuntji Artists gives back to the community in all ways possible.

Ikuntji Artists

Address: 8 Marks Street, Haasts Bluff Northern Territory 0872

Mon - Fri 10am - 4pm

Closed Sat & Sun

Phone: +61 (08) 8956 8443


Felicity Wright (Flying Fox Fabrics)

Felicity Wright has been passionate about textiles since childhood. Finding herself in Yuendumu, in a remote community art centre in 1986 where women made batik was a wonderful introduction to the world of Aboriginal textile design. She has been actively involved in promoting and advocating for Indigenous Australian artists and especially textile artists since that first encounter. As an administrator, researcher, writer, curator, gallerist, speaker and consultant she has had the privilege of working in and with more than 70 remote community art centres in the NT, WA, QLD, SA and Victoria and the peak bodies ANKA, Desart, Ananguku Arts, UMI Arts and IACA. Living and working ‘out bush’ for more than 12 years in four communities included managing Warlukurlangu Artists Aboriginal Association, Yuendumu (1986-1988), Bula’bula Arts (2001) and Injalak Arts Aboriginal Corporation (1991-1995 and 2013-2018). Felicity also loves enterprise - so combined her love of Indigenous textiles with a zest for fair trade in 2013 creating a cross-cultural project that facilitates the manufacturing of products made out of hand-printed/woven fabrics. This work is undertaken by disabled and disadvantaged artists through social enterprises. It now trades as Flying Fox Fabrics. In 2020 Flick contributed two essays to the forthcoming Fowler Museum/UCLA exhibition catalogue Aboriginal Screen-printed Fabrics from Australia’s Top En’, curated by Joanna Barrkman. In early 2021 Flick is opening large art, crafts and events space in Darwin called Songlines. Felicity was creator, researcher and co-writer of a major research project from 1996-99. The findings were published as The Art & Craft Centre Story Volumes I-III, ATSIC 1999/2000. It involved extensive surveying of 39 remote community art centres and the Reports are benchmark publications in the sector.

What does this year’s International Women’s Day hashtag, #ChooseToChallenge, mean to you? When this project was being hatched we discussed the IWD theme of 2021. I hadn’t heard it “choose to challenge” before and I had an immediate reaction (it wasn’t positive). Talking it through with Susanna I realised that the women I work with – Indigenous women in Australia and women with disabilities in Cambodia – do not have a choice. Every day of their lives they are being faced with challenges. For some, leaving their homes is a challenge, especially if they have difficulties with mobility. Walking down a street and going to a shop and being racially profiled is a challenge. Living in a remote community is a challenge. Being a person who is a minority (disabled, Indigenous) in any society is a challenge, being a woman in those situations is next level tough. Choosing to challenge or be challenged is a luxury. Those of us who live in relatively comfortable situations (for example, able-bodied, white/western in a modern capitalistic world that favours Caucasians) can choose not to be challenged or to avoid a challenge. We have a level of privilege that we can fall back on. I want to encourage those amongst us that have (enjoy) levels of privilege in our societies to be mindful of all those women for whom the challenge is not a choice. Let’s think of ways to respect and support them – in sisterhood. What advice would you give to your younger self? That positive change towards a more just and balanced society and the planet is slow. That patience will be a life lesson. It does not come naturally to my temperament but I will develop it and grow comfortable with it. That focusing on making a positive contribution to others/the environment, large or small, every day will create a fulfilled life. That being born a woman is a lesson in compassion and strength. That hormone will wax and wane and have a huge impact on your life – but that is being a woman. That you will always find your peace in nature. That we are all living in times that are like no other in history, with accelerated change and connectivity and we all have our contributions to make. We were born for it. That nothing is permanent.

What advice would you give to a younger woman who wants to make it to where you are today? Social enterprises are tough. Business is tough. It takes A LOT of work and a lot more than you might be able to imagine. Be prepared for it to be a slog. Lots of grunt work. When you see one of my products (and they are much better in real life) – that’s the cumulation of hours and hours of work (weeks! months!) and not just mine. It took relationships, negotiations, procurement, logistics, skills of the designers, printers and bag makers, photography, tagging, boxing up, marketing … so bloody much! Having it on a shelf in a shop or online in an Etsy store or website is the cherry on the top. Be prepared to be disappointed. Social enterprises are even tougher than normal enterprises because you have to be accountable for the supply chain. You see the dirty side of production/capitalism. You will see other people cutting costs and corners to make goods cheap (because they can). You will see consumers make decisions based on fads (ie. fashion) and instant gratification/price, rather than ethics. I ran businesses for Indigenous Associations/Corporations. The first time was in 1986 and I was 22 and became Coordinator of Warlukurlangu Artists in Yuendumu. It was an honour and I took it really seriously. Luckily hard work is fine with me and it was amazing to discover that there is so much to learn in running a business, so many opportunities for professional development. As a human you get stretched in so many different ways in a small business, there are so many areas to cover from finances to supply chain, production, marketing, communication, administration and more. I am an experiential learner, so love to learn on the job. It’s like the majority of the population, but for some reason, we’re in a society that thinks you can learn from books/words ie. theory. Indigenous people didn’t learn life skills from theories, they learnt them in real-time in real life. To run a business for Indigenous Australians is such a privilege. In an art centre, I could bring (and develop) my entrepreneurialism with the incredible talents and skills of my employers – Warlpiri Aboriginal artists. The good news? It’s a blast. Passion about a project or enterprise that makes a positive difference is life-affirming. It’s a wonderful reason to get up in the morning. It counterbalances our exasperation and existential angst about the state of the world – injustices, discrimination, inequity … to be active doing something positive keeps sadness and a feeling of overwhelming at bay. Although I am not a self-described Buddhist, I have great respect for Buddhist teachings. While there is no necessary connection between secular Buddhism and engaged Buddhism, engaging in the world to reduce suffering and facilitate human flourishing is essential not just to help others and solve social problems, but essential for our own internal transformation. Plus, people (customers) express heartfelt gratitude when you are able to give them something (a product or service) that is both beautiful and ethical. I am amazed by how many people write reviews on Etsy saying “thank you”. I have sold them something and they are thanking me!!

How does your social enterprise contribute to society? In Cambodia, my Flying Fox Fabrics social enterprise makes a significant contribution to Cambodian people, economically and socially. Five of the six social enterprise partners I work with are fully Cambodian owned. Last year I paid more than US$25,000 to partners there (during COVID). In 2021 it will be more. Cambodia is in crisis and there is desperation. First tourism collapsed and so many people lost work and there were very few customers for handicrafts. The on and off lockdowns also created problems but the virus did not go mainstream. In the last months, COVID finally struck the population and the situation now is very serious. It’s a watching brief. I have fabric out In Australia, initially, I worked almost exclusively with Injalak Arts and we sent thousands of products made from handprinted fabric out into the world. Value-adding to the fabrics printed onsite gave them a much wider audience and customer base. Fabric lengths alone appeal to a very niche audience. So many people have a wallet, purse or bag with a genuine hand-printed Aboriginal design on it from that project. More recently I have worked with Bula’bula Arts in Ramingining (Arnhem Land) and Ikuntji Artists in Haasts Bluff (Central Australia) both in the Northern Territory. Both have partnered with Flying Fox Fabrics to get products made from their fabrics. The wonderful thing is that the art centre members LOVE them. It is important to me that the customer base is not just external people but community members too. As a major fan and promoter of Indigenous Australian art and textiles for over 35 years it’s been so satisfying to be involved in a project that creates benefits (impacts) for individual designers, printers and artisan/bag makers but also cash flow for art centres in Australia and social enterprises in Cambodia that create safe and positive working places for local people.

PO Box 40, Coffin Bay, SA 5607 Australia

Chanveasna Nhean (Women For Women)

Chanveasna (Veasna) Nhean, has been working for 15 years in the field of the private sector such as set designing, Managing Director of Cambodia Silk Trading Company, Business Development Manager & Co-Founder M Silk, mentor for the younger generation, capacity building to women entrepreneurs and building a strong network with international women in the world like, for instance, Canadian Trade Facilitation Office TFO, Women Economic Forum WEF, Now she is serving as an Executive Director of Women for Women Foundation. That WFWF is a member of WFTO. She is a part of the VV GROW Fellowship Program, Khmer Enterprise, and also President of Cambodia- India Chamber of Commerce in Industrial Council: WICCI As a woman in your community, what are the greatest challenges you face? As a woman in my community, the greatest challenges I face is as a working woman and doing housework at the same time. During the COVID-19 pandemic, I needed to work very hard because I had many responsibilities: jobs for my staff and needed to handle the cancellation orders of buyers. What does this year’s International Women’s Day hashtag, #ChooseToChallenge, mean to you? This year’s International Women’s Day is a very dangerous year for all of us because we need to keep our social distance. This challenging time is making me resilient, and creative. I need to find new ways to sell our products such as selling online.

What advice would you give to your younger selves? I would tell my younger self how important it is to have an education, learning new skills, and having a dream. What advice would you give to a younger woman who wants to make it to where you are today? The specific advice to young women: keep learning and have a skill. Be happy and love what you do. Extend support to others who are less fortunate.

What does International Women’s Day mean to you? International Women’s Day is a symbolic achievement of women who fought over inequality. What does it mean to be a woman in the part of the world and society you live in? For me, it means all my efforts will count even if it looks like a drop of water in the ocean. For the society that I am living, as a woman, I have contributed to my country through the work that I do with disabled people and poor women. How does your social enterprise contribute to society? I started to become a social enterprise woman, I created my job and skill then find a job for them also, until now 16 years ago that I keep to continue my job with my people and training them to be entrepreneurs like me too. Women for Women



Phnom Penh, Cambodia.


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