Tech Central boss Annie Parker has pledged to make the Sydney innovation precinct the most inclusive in the world and says she won’t let local communities be priced out of the inner-city areas where it is being built.
In a panel session for private investors on Tuesday, Ms Parker followed her acknowledgment of country with a commitment to what she said will be a world first.
“It is absolutely my vision that I want to create the world’s most inclusive, sustainable and welcoming innovation district on a planet. Why is that important? Because no one has done that yet,” Ms Parker said.
“Literally every innovation ecosystem on the planet is still overwhelmingly white and overwhelmingly male.”
Ms Parker was hired as executive director of Tech Central last year after a several years leading startup programs for Microsoft, including as global lead of equity and inclusion. She has also led local startup programs at Telstra and Fishburners.
Speaking at the Australian Invest Council’s VC Industry Forum, Ms Parker said her role at a government-led innovation precinct still in the development phase offered a chance to start from a clean slate and create a world first.
“The part that I got excited about was this is an opportunity to get in at the beginning of building a new innovation district and that I get the opportunity to try and right those wrongs of these systemic issues that we’ve seen within the tech sector forever. That’s my vision.”
Tech Central is located on Gadigal land in the Eora Nation. Ms Parker said she has been engaging with Traditional Owners of the area about local communities and self-determination.
“Nowhere else in the world can boast having the longest continuing culture on the planet. That’s 65,000 years’ worth of knowledge that we can access and authentically place on the world stage. Why wouldn’t anybody want to build that into that community?” she said.
First Nations people are involved in “everything” being done at Tech Central, Ms Parker said, including sustainability policies and action plans.
Under current plans Tech Central will cover an area of roughly six square kilometres, but the government will look to “open up” other areas of the city when the initial phase is up and running, Ms Parker said.
Rezoning the lands around where Tech Central will be built, like Redfern and North Eveleigh, would be the “wrong outcome”, Ms Parker said, because it would threaten indigenous, LGBTI and migrant communities.
“The worst outcome for me would be that as we rezone and replan those areas, that we priced that part of our community out of the market. We can’t do that. And it’s certainly not going to happen on my watch,” Ms Parker said.
Ms Parker said she is not being formally assessed on the sustainability and inclusivity of Tech Central but “she should be” and it will remain a priority for her.