The Emerging Indigenous Leaders Program is putting AGSM at the “cutting edge of modern leadership.”
A Q&A with two of AGSM’s EIELP alumni: How modern leadership can benefit from an Indigenous approach
A Q&A with two of AGSM’s EIELP alumni: How modern leadership can benefit from an Indigenous approach
The international award-winning AGSM Emerging Indigenous Executive Leaders Program (EIELP) provides executive level leadership development to the next generation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander leaders.
The program was developed by Professor Mark Rose, AGSM Adjunct Faculty Member and EIELP Executive Director, in collaboration with private and public organisations across Australia, Elevate and AGSM @ UNSW Business School, to offer a ground-breaking opportunity that will cultivate the next generation of Indigenous business leaders.
We sat down with EIELP 2017 graduate and AGSM Adjunct Faculty Member Aaron Clark, and EIELP 2018 graduate Natalee George, to discuss the program and how higher learning can impact personal, professional, and cultural development.
Aaron: I was working as Director of Korin Gamadji Insititute (KGI) and, as part of a collaboration with Elevate Reconciliation Action Plan, a proposal was developed to establish a leadership network for Indigenous leaders. That became the EIELP.
I was part of the early conversations with Professor Mark Rose, AGSM Adjunct Faculty member; and Eva Freedman, AGSM Associate Faculty member and Indigenous program director, around there being a ceiling or limit to where Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people found themselves within an organisation.
To partake in a program designed to marry up our own expertise and leadership style with a qualification from AGSM, with its academic reputation, could only amplify us and elevate Indigenous leadership.
I was in the inaugural year, and we were really fortunate to have a group of very strong and vocal leaders. I feel like we kind of co-authored the rulebook on how the program should run.
Natalee: I had found myself wondering about what I wanted to do in my career, I had lost my confidence.
When I moved to the Department of Health, my new boss suggested the program, and I saw it as a great opportunity to rebuild myself, while working with other Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander people across the public and private sector.
I also thought it could be a possible steppingstone to university, as I’d never studied before.
Aaron: We talk about this concept of “walking in two worlds”. Having the program linked to AGSM, the best business school in the country, gives a level of comfort and legitimacy to your own organisation. It carries a weight and a lot of knowledge, and people value that highly. But for our own mob, the value is in the connection piece and the cultural piece as much as the academic piece. This program is a unique balance of both.
Natalee: The program had great personal value for me. The best thing was finding my confidence and the ability to share my cultural identity story. I missed out on the opportunity to grow up on country or learn my cultural values and practices, and at 15 when I learned I was Aboriginal, I immediately connected and felt like I belonged spiritually and emotionally. I have great cultural mentors who are showing me the way, including people I met on this program, who gave me the confidence to step forward and own my journey.
Aaron: I think the value proposition for your employer is that you bring the expertise back into your workplace. I've found myself implementing some of the different modules and concepts at work. As an employee, there's the interstate travel component of the course and the intensity of the other modules, but by giving it your full attention away from family and the pressures of work, a lot of which is outside your comfort zone, it allows for that growth to take place.
Natalee: Yeah, I agree. When I was traveling, I was able to completely detach from work and really focus on myself. And then the return on investment as an individual and for my organisation is nothing that you can really put into numbers or words. You see a different way of thinking about and valuing what we have to offer as Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.
Natalee: Learning from the strong Aboriginal leaders around me gave me a lot of confidence, as did the actual course content. I've always strongly identified with being Aboriginal right from when I found out. But as a professional, and whenever I was around other strong leaders, I often felt I wasn’t good enough and I would default to a position of observer.
The program gave me the courage to say that in a safe space, and the support to navigate through it. It really strengthened how I felt about myself, how I was also ensuring that my kids learn their culture, through language and other cultural activities. And that then, helped me also share my story and truly realise that I could inspire others in their own journey by sharing my story.
And speaking about sharing culture, Aaron, have you seen a cultural shift towards valuing Indigenous knowledge since becoming an AGSM Adjunct Faculty Member?
Aaron: Our Indigenous communities are untapped knowledge holders, holding systems and processes that have sustained a community for more than 60,000 years. I feel we’re only scratching the surface in terms of extracting that value in a modern-day context.
But having the opportunity of working with different organisations, where they want to create collaborative processes, work on ways to be more inclusive and look after the collective, they’re essentially becoming more Indigenous.
And for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people like us to be involved in the decision making and leading those discussions with the backing and support of the academic world, puts AGSM and UNSW at the cutting edge of modern-day leadership.
Aaron: I think every people's country we go to has its own story. When we spent time in Brisbane, we learned about Boundary Road and the segregation that took place, and also the resistance. How active leaders fought hard there, and its unique stories of resilience and leadership and overcoming adversity.
When we went to Melbourne and visited Fitzroy, that’s where a lot of the national organisations for health and education were born. In every location we unpacked that and looked backwards, but then also put it in a modern context by looking forward. So you’re taking that highly academic lens into the real-world and talking about the past, but also seeing some of the harsh realities that some of us are still living with. It is somewhat of a grounding exercise that was really important.
Natalee: I absolutely agree with that, Aaron. And now I have the biggest privilege of working with Anangu at Uluru in employing First Nations people in the national park.
It's a really great connection as part of my new job as Director of Indigenous Employment Pathways in the Parks Australia division of the Department of Climate Change, Energy, the Environment and Water. So I’m in a position to help the community in accessing those employment opportunities.
Aaron: Visiting Uluru is one that really centres people because it is a magnetic place in terms of power and people’s relationship with that particular location. Just being out there together and reflecting and bonding from a cultural sense is something that your work doesn't normally facilitate, or value. And to do it with such a diversity of voices and cultural backgrounds from different mobs in that one cohort is vastly unique.
Natalee: I work in the Parks Australia division, and my role is to increase employment and career pathways for local Aboriginal people in jointly managed national parks (Uluru, Kakadu and Booderee National Parks). I provide connections and facilitate information sharing about career pathways within the Parks Australia workforce so that First Nations people continue to have meaningful opportunities to live and work on their country.
It’s all about looking at how we as a government organisation can improve employment and social opportunities for Aboriginal people in remote areas.
Aaron: It’s a really exciting natural progression for me, as I’ve anchored my roles in sport and community. I’ll be leading meaningful engagements of our community and also ensuring that capital flows beyond the opportunities that exist within the Games.
Being that it is called the Commonwealth Games, the relationship with the monarchy definitely adds to the complexity. The sporting part comes natural to our community, but it's the other aspects where I’ll help facilitate an Aboriginal voice at the table.
Aaron: It’s a $2.5billion investment in hosting and putting on the games here in Victoria. We need to think about procurement strategies, business, tourism, infrastructure and managing and operating facilities in our regional communities. So I see having to gain support to connect with our communities and engage our mob in the Games.
We want the 2026 Games to be an investment that goes far beyond just the two-week event – a legacy of creating everlasting change for our community, as we know sport has a positive impact on health and well-being benefits for our communities.
Young people engaged in sport are less likely to be involved in the justice system, and we know community cohesion that our community needs can come from being involved in sporting carnivals and festivals. There's also that international tourism lens, sharing our Aboriginal culture with the world. There are five different traditional owner groups hosting different aspects of the games, and we get to telecast to the world that we are still here, and our culture is vibrant.
Aaron: There's the adaptive leadership modules – how do we see patterns through chaos? We want to draw on the strengths and the capabilities of our community to seize opportunities. AGSM solidifies what you’ve experienced and gives you confidence to reference things you've learned in the program.
Natalee: I regularly refer to the frameworks that we used, as Aaron mentioned, adaptive leadership is a really big one. But also things like ancestral mandate, walking in two worlds and my ability to “get up on the balcony” and look at what is happening or what has happened.
With my role in particular, a lot of people have done great work in this area, so I'm looking to build on that and innovate by using these key frameworks to map my way through.
It's also inspired me to look at other strategic thinking and policy frameworks and use those elements to structure projects or implement the work we're delivering.
Natalee: I've learned we’re our own biggest critics. And if we just back ourselves, that's the biggest investment we can make. You don't know what you can achieve if you don't put yourself forward. I feel that this program put me on a path that I needed to be on, for the opportunities at the right time.
Another thing I learned is there's such power in talking with someone. So whether that's your manager, your mentor, your family or community member, it’s taking the time to think about and having that conversation about what you want to achieve. And what you might need to get there.
To learn more about AGSM’s Emerging Indigenous Executive Leaders Program (EIELP), click here.
To find out more about AGSM @ UNSW Business School Executive Education programs, click here.
Applications for the 7th EIELP Cohort are now open until 31 March 2023
(AGSM will continue to receive applications after this date, however a late fee will apply).