Equipped with three decades of rich experience, Sonya Pearce has achieved the unachievable. As a senior Indigenous academic and administrator, Sonya has a clear vision for the needs of Indigenous communities, the compassion and influence to drive change and the energy and commitment to make a difference.

Sonya, a Gooreng Gooreng woman, has invested 30 years in working alongside Aboriginal and Torres Islander communities in the challenging yet rewarding realms of education, spanning early childhood to TAFE and University.

One of her most pivotal achievements to date is her recent PhD degree, Born from Fire, in the area of Aboriginal Women Entrepreneurship and Social Change of which she received an ARC Indigenous research Grant. She is the first Aboriginal woman in Australia to achieve this award.

No stranger to accolades, Sonya is also the humble recipient of the 2006 UTS Teaching and Learning Award for her work with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Students in the UTS School of Business, as well 2007 Carrick Citation for Outstanding Contribution to Student Learning – Sustained and a UTS Human Rights Award for her work with Aboriginal Women with tackling violence in Aboriginal communities.

Sonya Pearce
Senior Lecturer, University of Technology Sydney

As a part of a national ARC project, Sonya is looking at determining the factors influencing the success of private and community-owned Indigenous businesses across remote, regional and urban Australia. She is also undertaking research in commercialisation of Indigenous knowledge and property.

Here Sonya shares with Amber Best the inspiration behind her PhD, trends in Indigenous business and the main barriers for Indigenous women starting in commercial enterprise.

Sonya can you share the passion that inspired your PhD Born from Fire?
After working with Eva Cox from UTS around Aboriginal women and violence, I often thought about the biggest barriers to leave. Second only to fear, is financial independence, this question often is “how do I re-establish myself and my family?” After securing somewhere to live, finding a job and settling their children back in school, what were the next steps?

I often found speaking about economic development as a means to creating business difficult due to the circumstances surrounding domestic violence and the stigma of many women feeling incapable. Far from being incapable, the women are just in a situation where they’re not able to cope and not supported enough to transcend. In my view, they need a purpose to move forward and a goal.

A number of my students, who’ve experienced domestic violence, have gone on to finish post grad work and now help other women. It’s important for us to acknowledge and talk about trauma but also to focus on the future. I touched on trauma with the women I spoke to in the PhD, but they didn’t want that to be their legacy or their product or service branded with them being a victim. They didn’t want that to be their narrative, because it’s about narrative with aboriginal women.

The women wanted to talk about how they transcended, transformed, and their resilience, which is what the focus became – the resilience of aboriginal women.

I liken the women to gum trees, the fire passes through and then when the rain comes they grow again, when there is hope again. You have to move forward. That is what encourages me and sustains me – watching people grow