Back in 2019, Glenn Johnston, then a Director at Transport NSW, was working on the company’s Reconciliation Action Plan (RAP). A proud Dharug man, Glenn was also looking for an opportunity to develop his individual leadership skills, while influencing how the organisation developed and nurtured Indigenous talent.

"I wanted to have some sort of cultural reference and insights in the learning," he explains. “Then I was having a yarn with a fellow Aboriginal colleague at Transport, and he mentioned the Emerging Indigenous Leadership Program (EIELP) at AGSM.”

Developed by Professor Mark Rose, EIELP Executive Director, in collaboration with Reconciliation Australia and the Elevate RAP Working Group and AGSM @ UNSW Business School, the internationally award-winning AGSM EIELP program provides executive level leadership development to the next generation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander leaders.

With a unique course structure that is made up of a series of learning and career development experiences and supportive networks, Professor Rose also works with each of the cohorts to strengthen the connection to their individual ‘Ancestral Mandate’. This makes for a culturally safe environment for the free and frank exchange of traditional and contemporary knowledge.

According to Glenn, the way the course contains and recognises both Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander and western knowledge systems, while being culturally aligned to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander thinking, was key to why he found it so valuable. He says this provided a level of comfort and cultural safety to both mature and aspiring Indigenous leaders on the course.

“We were given a yarning circle, people were allowed to talk about their stories,” he says. “Over the course of a year I saw others mature into the aspiring Indigenous leaders that we were seeking. Ones who had previously been shy, reserved and unsure, now blossomed.”

Now a Director at Infrastructure NSW and AGSM EIELP graduate, Glenn says there were moments of unexpected insight, strength, and connection in the excursions the cohort took. For example, the cohort visited Fitzroy, Melbourne, with Professor Mark Rose leading a discussion on the area’s Aboriginal history.

“Walking the lanes helped cement what we were already doing in Sydney, where we were based,” explains Glenn. “The cohort had representatives from every state and territory, but it didn’t matter where we were from. The journey and the history was the same.”

Launched in 2016, over 124 Indigenous leaders from the private, public, and for-purpose sectors have graduated from EIELP. AGSM collaborates with organisations like KPMG and Services Australia (just two of its Elevate RAP partners) to raise awareness of its program among aspiring Indigenous leaders.

Applications are now open for the 2022 program, and Eva Freedman, AGSM EIELP Program Director, says the organisers are hoping to bring other organisations onboard.

“If you’re a company, revisit your Reconciliation Action Plan and consider how you could support your Indigenous staff with further leadership development," Eva says. “If you have scope to support this, investing in Indigenous leadership is essential.”

“If you are an individual looking to make the next big step, or to progress to senior leadership roles, present it to your manager or key stakeholders at work, and ask how they can support you to do this. Alternatively, you can reach out to us here at AGSM.”

Glenn, who is also an Adjunct Lecturer at AGSM, and sits on the boards of three Aboriginal organisations, also encourages others to apply.

“It helps take us on this journey of walking in two worlds and having a really strong appreciation of that. Coupled together it makes us much stronger, well-rounded leaders.”

To find out information on AGSM’s Emerging Indigenous Leadership Program (EIELP), click here:

Or email Mary Jones at Deadline to apply is 1 April 2022.

Originally publish in Koori Mail, 23 February. Republished with permission.