Following his MBA, UNSW graduate brings skills to remote community.

Originally from the Philippines and with a background in finance, Louie de Guzman followed his sense of adventure and desire to make a difference to the Tiwi Islands in the Northern Territory in 2012. Louie accepted a position as a finance manager at Nguiu Ullintjinni Association Incorporated (NUA), a local not-for-profit (NFP) and charity responsible for operating the local supermarket, restaurant, café, bakery, post office, fuel and home delivery for the 2,500 residents on the islands.

NUA was founded in 1971 and throughout the years it has remained self-reliant and independent. Operating as a NFP and charity, much of the income goes back into the community in the form of donations. NUA is the biggest employer in the Tiwi Islands, employing around 40 staff and giving them opportunities that would not otherwise exist.

“The organisation is really like the centre of gravity in the community,” Mr de Guzman said. “Most people don’t have any savings here and barely have enough to get by every week. When emergencies happen, they come here and ask for help. We also provide public transport on the island because in our remote community there is no public transport.”

In 2013 Mr de Guzman was appointed as the General Manager of NUA. “From the moment I took over, I could see that there were gaps in my knowledge and experience in managing and directing this big organisation,” he said.

Mr de Guzman’s goal was to earn his Master of Business Administration (MBA) from the AGSM at the UNSW Business School. His plan was to bring back the skills he learned to the Tiwi Islands.

In 2020, Louie was the recipient of the Andrew Thyne Reid Scholarship, designed for an outstanding executive from the NFP sector. He graduated in December 2020 and was the only executive student in his cohort to complete his MBA while working full-time in just two short years.

“When I first started my MBA, I thought I would learn an exact solution,” said Mr de Guzman. “Instead, AGSM taught me to be resilient and adaptable. I learned we can shape our environment.”

This year marked Mr de Guzman’s ninth year living on the Tiwi Islands. “The next stage is to create a synergy between all of these different business segments. We’re trying to transform it into a shopping centre location. We want to become a business facilitator in the community; that is, we don’t necessarily have to operate the business.”

In addition, Mr de Guzman would like to provide a space for Aboriginal people, who make up roughly 95 per cent of the population of the island, to start their own businesses.

“The experience and skills I learned from my MBA are needed here,” he said. “The gap is so wide in terms of living conditions, economic and educational differences. We need to bridge that gap by gaining the right knowledge, training and skills. For future students I would say, if you are willing to go into these areas and invest time into them, you could really change people’s lives – you could transform communities.

“For me, it’s not just about the business side of knowing the knowledge and skills, it’s about seeing ideas come to life and watching the community transform.”