Many speakers of only one language mistakenly think of other languages as simply the same concepts represented by different words but it is not that simple. Some concepts are shared between different languages and cultures and this common ground is often the starting point to a common understanding but for more sophisticated cross cultural and linguistic understanding shared conceptual frameworks need to be carefully built. Rod Baker has spent many hours, days, weeks and months since 2004 with a number Yolngu intellectuals exploring the communication of deep conceptualisation from both western and Yolngu culture. As with western culture metaphor is an important vehicle for understanding and a number of existing Yolngu metaphors are used to conceptualise basic economic concepts and corporate governance structures.
An ability to utilise and make business decisions based on economic concepts is essential for Yolngu to become economically empowered in the modern world. Cultivate NT works through a program that starts with an understanding of what capital is and how various forms of it combine with labour to result in productivity. The relationships between supply and demand, production and consumption are then explored. The maintenance of capital for ongoing productivity is an essential behaviour that comes from this conceptual framework.
That our knowledge gives rise to our identity and that this results from various sources is an existing Yolngu conceptualisation communicated through the metaphor of water as knowledge. Current yolngu identity is a mix of the various bodies of knowledge held by different clans and the western knowledge that has been acquired in the past centaury. Shifting the western economic part of Yolngu identity from that of consumers supported by passive income streams to that of producers is a significant challenge at the core of developing socially sustainable business ventures operated by Yolngu families.
This pedagogy is carried out through both workshops and mentor supported operational experience. While the Yolngu family members who are the directors responsible for business decision making prioritise building their understanding of these economic conceptions other family members of the business focus on the practical skills required to operate the physical productions systems.
This learning continues to happen at the same time as the development of the physical production systems and this provides a vehicle for some of this understanding. By establishing plant nurseries and propergating and cultivating bush harvest species a tangible improvement of natural capital is achieved. Directors learn to distinguish between productive and consumptive uses of capital and this becomes a compass for financial descision making.
The personal transformation that this pedagogy supports is very significant and requires the strong trust based relationship that has been built over the past decade and will continue on an equivalent time scale into the future.