Explaining the different levels of Reconciliation Action Plans

Explaining the Different Levels of Reconciliation Action Plans

Reconciliation Action Plans mean getting our boots on for the Indigenous procurement journey to ensure that we find the Indigenous procurement opportunities. It focuses on the detail of what Indigenous procurement opportunity means and how it can close the gap not only in the area of economic Indigenous participation but what it can achieve in terms of social return on investment.

Every time Indigenous procurement can deliver $4,41 per $1 revenue, we can use that $4,41 to close the gap in another area.

Developing Reconciliation Action Plans (and therefore Reconciliation Action Procurement Plans) are not difficult; Reconciliation Australia made the templates easy enough to follow and complete. The true result and benefit sit in our commitment to what it will take to close the gap.

At its most basic, Reconciliation Action Plans mean commitment to reconciliation.

It is a commitment to contribute to closing the gap.

Reconciliation Action Plans

Reconciliation Action Plans work on the basis of three pillars – relationships, respect and opportunity.

  • In the area of relationships a business works on the commitment to connect people, share experiences, governance, communication, engagement and partnerships.
  • Respect deals with pride in cultures and histories, understanding, appreciation, acknowledgment, learning, success, achievements and celebration.
  • Opportunity focuses on finding opportunities for Indigenous employment, procurement, professional development, retention, enabling access to systems and processes.

There are different Reconciliation Action Plan levels and maturity levels:

  • Reflect,
  • Innovate,
  • Stretch and
  • Elevate.

How do you fit Reconciliation Action Procurement Plans into Reconciliation Action Plans?

The Reconciliation Action Plans templates provided by Reconciliation Australia detail the requirements for each level in each of the pillars. The requirements around procurement are included in the Opportunity section. As your Reconciliation Action Plan maturity level increases the level of commitment required increases.


“A fundamental concern for others in our individual and community lives would go a long way in making the world the better place we so passionately dreamt of.”

Nelson Mandela

The procurement requirements for the Reflect Reconciliation Action Plan are simple.

Reconciliation Action Procurement Plan

This is the initial step in the commitment to discover the mutual benefits of Indigenous procurement.

It basically requires you to understand:

  • your status quo as a business,
  • where you would like to get to and
  • what you can do in terms of supporting Indigenous Procurement.

Therefore, you can start with a simple mission statement to actively seek and engage Indigenous business partners in order to:

  • build relationship,
  • earn respect,
  • understand the culture and history of Indigenous people and
  • be open to provide opportunities.

To me leadership, accountability and commitment are critical to success of Indigenous Procurement.

Action requires management to act as leaders and make sure that you create a culture of reconciliation and supplier diversity in your business, including finding Indigenous Procurement opportunities.

It is best to work out which community and which area you will be working in and find out more about customs, traditions and way of working.

Where do you find Indigenous businesses?

In Western Australia there are approximately 403 Indigenous businesses registered on the Aboriginal Business Directory of Western Australia and approximately 688 Indigenous businesses registered with Supply Nation.

  • Ask around – there are many successful Indigenous businesses.
  • Make a start even if you just try out low hanging fruit.
  • Actively look for opportunities – look at work experience sharing opportunities. If you don’t look, you will not find.
  • Get procurement out of their offices to find and build the relationships with Indigenous business.

Share our Pride have great stories and examples of success stories that will provide you with ideas and examples.  It is also a great site to learn more about culture and history and debunk a number of myths.

This level required a business not only talk the talk, but walk the walk.

You have to put on the boots and get used to walking in them.


“There is no passion to be found playing small – in settling for a life that is less than the one you are capable of living.”

Nelson Mandela

This is the next step. I think before we take any next step, it is always important to:

  • reflect on what went well,
  • the lessons learned,
  • what we can do better and
  • review your what, why and whereto.

The procurement requirements for the Innovate level are:

Reconciliation Action Procurement Plan

When you move onto any of the next Reconciliation Action Plan levels, will ultimately depend on the size of your organisation, your appetite for sharing risk and the maturity of your leaders. Thus the same applies to your Indigenous procurement opportunities.

In this phase, where do you find Indigenous procurement opportunities?

  • Start actively looking for opportunities, especially when tendering for government or RAP–affiliated companies.
  • Play around in the business directories and you will be surprised at the broad range of Indigenous owned businesses.

The Innovate level require business to develop an approved list of suppliers and actively promote these suppliers within your organisation.

I would seriously recommend appointing an Indigenous procurement champion and actively supporting this person. Your Indigenous procurement champion needs to be someone who can:

  • respectfully connect,
  • build bridges within your organisation,
  • remove bias and barriers and
  • also build bridges between your organisation and Indigenous business.

The Role of Procurement

It is important to work with Procurement to understand how they can engage with Indigenous Business and still comply with procurement rules and be able to tick some boxes (after they have been modified).

Train, coach and mentor all involved would assist greatly.

No-one will be able to run a marathon without training, yet we often expect procurement teams to enter new areas without proper training and coaching.

Innovate commercial relationships

The Innovate level requires developing as a minimum one commercial relationship with an Indigenous owned business – Indigenous owned means 50% plus ownership.

Not all relationships are made in heaven.  Your first commercial relationship may not work out.


  • takes time and commitment to find the right opportunity and develop a commercial relationship.
  • requires an open mind and a willingness to invest time, money and resources.

Starting with one relationship will help an organisation to work out system and processes required to be able to expand the commercial relationships.

Procurement Strategy

It is recommended to develop and pilot your procurement strategy and this would include:

  • Appointing the right champion;
  • Agreeing the rules of engagement;
  • Improving Cultural awareness;
  • Working out how we can simplify procurement processes and still achieve compliance in order to keep the auditors happy;
  • Working with Indigenous Business to grow and develop.

Where possible please simplify your 60 page contracts.

We all know we can have simpler contracts and still have the same protection and impact.

An Indigenous business requires a clear understanding of the terms and conditions. Therefore, layering a contract with “notwithstanding” and “subject to’s”, do not help. This can be a major stumbling block and adds time and rework to the process. Neither is it good for building respectful relationships.

As always celebrate the wins – learn from the failures.

In essence, innovate requires us to get bigger boots and walk the walk more often.


“Do not judge me by my successes, judge me by how many times I fell down and got back up again.”

Nelson Mandela

It is important to fine-tune and properly implement your Indigenous procurement policy in this phase. It is necessary to incorporate the learnings from the successes and the failures.

The procurement requirements for this phase are:

Reconciliation Action Procurement Plan

This phase requires setting targets both:

  • on Indigenous procurement opportunities,
  • in terms of Indigenous commercial relationships.

It is important to measure and monitor success along the way.

I think we really have to work on accepting that failure is an option and embrace as an opportunity to learn how to succeed.

We also have to accept that risk is shared and traditional pass-off around risk will not work in the Indigenous procurement area.

This is an opportunity to work with your commercial relationships to develop their own Reconciliation Action Plans and to be a coach and mentor for them along this journey.

What types of commercial relationships would you consider?

Think of joint ventures, tendering together, look for training and employment shared opportunities. I would also recommend looking at Indigenous start-up potential.

In Western Australia there was recently an Indigenous procurement advisory services tender looking at how to improve regional procurement. The tender kindly provided details on the number of regional contracts awarded over a two year period.

I was curious to know how many potential existing suppliers there were in the regions. When you look at the average number of potential contracts per year and the number of Indigenous businesses registered in certain regions, it will be very difficult to award Indigenous procurement opportunities to Indigenous business as there just are not enough Indigenous business.

Regional Contracts Awarded 2015- 2016

Reconciliation Action Procurement Plan


Not having enough Indigenous business and not enough start ups, will require us to really consider how we can incubate business opportunities and close the gap in Western Australia.

Employment/workplace experience/training is a potential source of business opportunity.

An Opportunity to Create

In the Stretch Reconciliation Action Plan, you reflect on:

  • how we can potentially create some Indigenous business opportunities, and
  • incubate and assist Indigenous business in their start up phase.

In this level, I would look at opportunity to outsource from within the organisation – find tomorrow’s Indigenous leaders/start ups today.

Stretch requires us to get more boots to more people and get your organisation to walk the walk.


“I am fundamentally an optimist. Whether that comes from nature or nurture, I cannot say. Part of being optimistic is keeping one’s head pointed toward the sun, one’s feet moving forward.”

Nelson Mandela

This is the “first class” of Reconciliation Action Plans of all. We certainly cannot afford to hang up our boots and sit back. To me this is the phase where we do not only think small but we work on second and third generation Indigenous procurement.

The procurement requirements are:

Reconciliation Action Procurement Plan

Larger organisations have done really well to promote Indigenous business development. However we need more organisations to join the Elevate level and it would be good to see many mature I business join the ranks.

Training, coaching and mentoring of procurement and operational staff is very important. Indigenous procurement should be embedded as part of the day-to-day operation and hopefully in this stage, an organisation will have supported and assisted Indigenous business to develop as independent self-sustainable organisations paving the way for others to follow.

An inclusive approach

In this phase I think an inclusive approach to planning is useful – include your teams, including procurement and Indigenous suppliers in the planning, implementation, measuring and monitoring of the Reconciliation Action Plans.

Set meaningful targets but beware that targets can also drive poor behaviour if linked to performance management and remuneration.

This is a real opportunity to create the social return on investment opportunities.

Remember that every $4.41 return can contribute to closing the gap a little in another area.

It is important to beware of becoming procedural and compliant for the sake of being seen to do good. The larger an organisation becomes, the more prescriptive even the best of initiatives can become. It is always important to remember the why, the what and the by when and remember to connect back to the intent of the Reconciliation Action Plans  – to create procurement opportunities that will build respectful relationships.

An Opportunity to Build the Future

It is also an opportunity to:

  1. assist Indigenous business to move up the ranks and get your more mature Indigenous business to create their own Reconciliation Action Plan and procurement plans;
  2. Create “second” and third” generation business;
  3. Actively support and sponsor and Actively engage in Joint Venture opportunities.

Remember to celebrate the wins, remember to listen to the story and to find tomorrow’s leaders today.

Nelson Mandela

In conclusion, you may find it strange that on my article around Reconciliation Action Plans, I did not quote any famous First Australians. I did this intentional and certainly not out of disrespect to anyone.

Nelson Mandela ultimately was a devoted champion for peace and social justice in his own nation and around the world and an inspiration for many of what can be done in the area of reconciliation.

Leaving you with some final words from Nelson Mandela:

“It always seems impossible until it’s done.”


To learn more about the topic of Indigenous Procurement, you can also read our corresponding blog post on Indigenous Procurement Plans.

Have a great day

Celia Jordaan

About Celia:

Celia Jordaan is procurement and risk consultant at Ichiban Commercial Solutions, Perth Western Australia. With over 20 years experience, Celia has worked in different countries, locations and cultures in the areas of procurement, supply chain, contract management, law and risk. She has also worked in the area of risk management, contractor management and safety.

For more tips, checklists and free resources on procurement, please visit our website.



About the Author:

Celia Jordaan has more than 30 years international and corporate experience and worked in the areas of procurement, tenders, supply chain, contract management, law and risk. She works with business of all sizes and industries, procurement leaders and teams to develop and implement strategies to boost business performance, make tendering easy and improve bottom line performance.

To learn more about Celia Jordaan, please click here.

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