​UNSW Business School Alumni Panel, L to R: Lucy Brereton, Yanti Ropeyarn, Rebecca Harcourt

Over 600 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women gathered at UNSW Sydney on Bidjigal Country last week for the National NAIDOC Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Women's Conference; the largest gathering of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women in over 32 years. 

This year, the theme for NAIDOC is 'Because of Her, We Can', celebrating the achievements of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women.

UNSW Business School are proud to have been a major sponsor and integral to the development and preparations in the months leading up to the National NAIDOC Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Women's Conference hosted by Ngiyani Pty Ltd with our students, staff and alumni involved as ambassadors, speakers, panellists and curators.  

On day two of the Conference, we hosted a panel of UNSW Business school alumni chaired by Rebecca Harcourt, Program Manager for Indigenous Business Education.

The panel explored 'Culture Community Education Technology Governance Entrepreneurship Industry' and shared how Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Women are navigating significant social and economic change with cultural nuances and agility.

The panellists reflected on their vision of driving change in the western world, building on the legacy of women who have fought to improve the lives of Indigenous people.


Lucy Brereton, Indigenous Programs Coordinator at Commonwealth Bank, considered the role of financial knowledge and self-determination in achieving reconciliation.

"There are 'waves' of reconciliation and self-determination for the Indigenous population. First there is employment, but this is where the support usually ends," Brereton said.

While there has been a lot of work to have Indigenous representation in the workforce, the panellists emphasised that there is still some way to go to ensure that these people are supported.

"People who are employed should aim for decision-making roles, and need support to make their way up. We need to work towards our own businesses and build intergenerational wealth. We've been so removed from the economy, but we need to start making these topics part of conversations at the dinner table," Brereton said.

Zoe Betar, who is working at Reconciliation Australia to strengthen the understanding of Indigenous people in schools, discussed how culture and western business can intersect.

"You are walking in two worlds, one of western institutions and the other of an ancient culture that did things differently," Betar said.

"We can see things through a culture lens, not just a western lens, and can take our projects one step further."


Both Brereton and Betar participated in the Emerging Indigenous Executive Leaders Program (EIELP) at AGSM. The program is designed to provide Indigenous businesspeople with executive-level leadership skills suited for senior management positions.

"We met a group of people from different Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities doing amazing things," said Betar. 

UNSW's Indigenous Winter School program was also running during NAIDOC Week, providing Indigenous high school students with a week-long taste of university life and aiming to foster lifelong learning. 

Year 12 student Leana Scott from Bourke in NSW, enrolled in the Business program for this year's Winter School.

"I've learnt new skills that are good for my future and that I can apply to everyday life," Scott said.

Ryan Jones from Campbelltown in NSW was excited to meet diverse people from all over Australia.

"I'm into business, but I never had the idea of going to university. This really inspired me to look into it," Jones said.

The female Winter School business students had the opportunity to attend the NAIDOC Conference and meet some of the inspirational Indigenous leaders and entrepreneurs.

"I'm looking forward to making connections with the strong and empowering women at the conference," said Abbey Bourke, Student Ambassador for the NAIDOC Women's Conference.

Abbey is a proud Kamilaroi woman from Bathurst, who participated in UNSW Indigenous Winter School in 2017 and is now in her first year studying a Bachelor of Commerce and a Bachelor of Information Systems at UNSW Business School.  She is committed to working towards a better Australia, particularly for our First Peoples.

Rebecca Harcourt concluded: "The currency of business knowledge and practice is key when it comes to self-determination, from the ability to build and manage your personal finances to determining the impact of budgetary decisions whether in a community, corporation, government policy, educational context."

"When we are able to live well, true to our individual and shared aspirations, we can harness all sorts of possibilities to support ourselves and our families, connecting with the lives of our friends and colleagues."

Who were our panellists?

Yanti Ropeyarn, who hails from the small remote community of Injinoo in Far North Cape York, graduated in 2014 with a Bachelor of Commerce. As an Indigenous Reference Librarian, Yanti is passionate about making Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander materials at the Library accessible online to communities far distant from the national capital.

During NAIDOC week Yanti gave a series of talks as part of our UNSW Indigenous Winter School Business Program, the National women's conference at the National Library of Australia, as well as sharing insights on our panel.

Panellist Leanne Howard, a Biripi and Worimi woman who recently graduated with an MBA from UNSW Business School, and is a passionate advocate for improving outcomes for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples in her local community.

Leanne recently established the not-for-profit Gupparr Foundation exploring opportunities around mental health and is also working here at UNSW as a Technology Engagement Partner.

Panelist Elsie Amamoo is a proud Cubbi Cubbi and Durumbal Aboriginal woman from Queensland, and shared many experiences and achievements, including her recent trip to Israel for the Australian Light Gorse Centenary to honour her great grandfather Frank Fisher's contribution to the successful charge at Beersheba during the first World War.  

Elsie works at UNSW and is an avid entrepreneur, establishing the company Inception with her partner. For over 20 years Elsie and Damian have led through innovation collaboration and tireless engagement significant outcomes for Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians.

UNSW Business School and UNSW Business and Campus Services are proud to be so closely involved and aligned with this pivotal and historical gathering hosted by Ngiyani Pty Ltd; the National NAIDOC Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Women's Conference: Because of Her, We Can.  

We especially pay tribute to all the incredible Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Women, past, present and future who alongside their communities have led, share and continue to practise their teachings over thousands of years.