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Lead on, the message is clear

08 August 2013

As Australia embraces a true spirit of reconciliation, my organisation, the Australian Indigenous Leadership Centre (AILC), is playing a significant role in closing the gap between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians. We have delivered historic leadership training programs for women from the Stolen Generation, young people from urban Australia and a thousand others in between.

The AILC seeks to build a spirit of resilience and confidence in Indigenous people across Australia, equipping them with the skills, knowledge and opportunities that will enable them to thrive.

The AILC is at a crossroads: for every Indigenous leader we accept on our courses, another 10 excellent applications must be rejected but new opportunities to expand the organisation are arising as both Federal and State Governments acknowledge the importance of Indigenous leadership training to the future of Indigenous Australia.

The Gillard Government in mid June announced a significant increase in its investment in the Australian Indigenous Leadership Centre (AILC), committing $8.36 million over the next four years for the delivery of accredited leadership programs to Indigenous Australians.

This investment will nearly double the number of places available through accredited AILC leadership programs and will see an additional 720 Indigenous leaders graduate from its courses by 2017.

This funding is in addition to more than $5.6 million the Government has provided to enable more than 430 Indigenous Australians take part in AILC programs from 2009 until now.

Indigenous leadership requires all of Australia’s first peoples to reconsider if they are fulfilling their potential. I say requires, because with the gap in employment, in life expectancy, in health and many other indicators between Indigenous and non-Indigenous people in Australia, it is my view that all Indigenous people have a responsibility to consider their leadership potential.

When I mentioned leadership, did you think of yourself?

Many don’t recognise the leadership capabilities within themselves. The truth is, leadership takes many forms – and it’s not just about shouting loudest, being the strongest or always winning.

The great Indian leader Mahatma Ghandi said: We must be the change we wish to see in the world.

That saying has as much power for us today as it did for the Indian people as they tried to overcome the legacy of colonisation and disharmony after World War Two. Leadership starts with a stronger sense of self. It is only when we can explore and understand the extent of our own potential and fulfil that potential that we can start to explore what it means to be a leader.

There has never been a more important time for every Indigenous person to pause to consider the change that they wish to see in the world and the ways that they can be instrumental in writing positive change into the future of Indigenous Australians.

Education is critical in unlocking the potential of Indigenous people across the country. I truly believe that I have one of the most exciting jobs in Australia. Indigenous leadership education and training gives Australians the chance to re-cast our story; to transition to a new national narrative which associates Indigenous communities with a new reality of hope, opportunity and achievement.

A Scottish politician, Lord Brougham, made a strong point about education as a critical element in leadership which we can all identify with. He said: Education makes a people easy to lead, but difficult to drive; easy to govern, but impossible to enslave.

My organisation – and your organisation - The Australian Indigenous Leadership Centre offers an Indigenous solution that everyone can support, because it’s based on education, and a powerful model of place-based education which is proven to work.

Founded by visionary Indigenous leaders in 2001, the AILC remains the only national provider of accredited Indigenous leadership training programs, and we have developed complementary programs in Indigenous Governance and Indigenous Diversity Mentoring to provide a unique Indigenous leadership development pathway. All Australians benefit from, as Indigenous people are provided with the skills, knowledge and support required to fulfil their true potential.

Australian Indigenous Leadership Centre courses don’t attempt to erase or compensate for loss and disadvantage – they actively recognise those issues for Indigenous people and help people to move beyond those constraints, to become the best that they can be.

Sometimes, even I am surprised by the power of an accredited leadership course. Literally hundreds of our graduates have spontaneously written to us, telling us how their lives have been changed after graduating from one of our course. Some have changed careers. Some have started new businesses. Some have a promotion. And others are just more comfortable living in their own skin. They are all contributing more. They are all committed to playing a part in positive change. And that is a good news story for Australia which will resonate for years to come.

In around 550 BC ancient Chinese Philosopher Lao Tzu made an inspirational comment about the power of the quiet leader: A leader is best when people barely know he exists … He acts without unnecessary speech and when the work is done, the people say ‘We did it ourselves’.

Whether you, like many of us, may crave quiet leadership, and others of you may be more comfortable behind a megaphone, we all have a potential to live up to – and we all, together stand on the brink of something special.

I extend an invitation for you to add your voice to the critical mass of Indigenous leaders that is developing across Australia right now, in a network of support, knowledge and ideas that is already driving positive change in the lives of thousands of families and hundreds of communities across the nation.

Indigenous leadership has been recognised as a critical element of closing the gap by the council of Australian Governments and a number of the nation’s largest corporations.

Learning is not something that finishes after school, or at the end of your time at university. To extend yourself, and to explore the full extent of your identity, your values and your potential, you need to keep striving to learn throughout your life. In the moments when I am feeling demotivated and a bit daunted by what could lie ahead, I think of a phrase written by the writer Joseph Conrad, who observed: It is only those who do nothing that make no mistakes.

It is time we wrote our own quotes and mapped out our own future. At the AILC as we seek to play a part in helping to build a stronger future for Indigenous people and a stronger future for the nation.

This is not as onerous as it sounds. Leadership for some may simply mean becoming a little more comfortable in their own skin – confident of identity – proud of culture. This may sound like a small consequence of leadership, but this quiet change is a powerful and distinctive leadership asset – offering opportunities for a stronger culture for generations to come.

For more on AILC:

Rachelle Towart is the CEO of AILC and has held the position for more than four years. Rachelle is a Ruby Women at Work and was one of two 2013 Mary Reibey Scholarship winners. She recently completed the AGSM Executive Programs’ General Manager Program course.