Emma Hickey’s leadership journey began with uncertainty but has since transformed into a deliberate effort of inspiration and empowerment for the young leaders she mentors. A proud Woppaburra/Butchulla woman, Emma reflects on her journey since participating in the Milparanga Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Leadership Program in 2020. Her insights and experiences from this program, and later the Milparanga International Leadership Program in New Zealand in 2023, have equipped her with a profound understanding and determination to guide others towards their potential.
“I lead a community of young leaders and I see myself in them every day, and it’s what drives me,” Emma shares.
Her own path, once unclear and lacking role models, is now a source of motivation and an example that she uses to empower the next generation. Emma’s progression into a principal advisor of Aboriginal Service Design at Service New South Wales is a testament to her growth and the impact of Milparanga.
A leap from uncertainty to leadership
Initially, Emma approached Milparanga without a clear vision for her future, despite her innate leadership qualities. It was this program that challenged her preconceptions and exposed her to a diversity of First Nations leaders, each with their unique approach but a common understanding. Milparanga gave Emma a realisation that she is enough, and that she has the knowledge to be able to sit at the table and share.
Emma recalls the personal transformation she experienced through Milparanga, marking her first steps towards vulnerability and openness—a significant leap for someone who felt compelled to consistently present strength. She recognises the collective challenge Indigenous leaders face: the pressure to always show up for their communities despite personal or communal hardships.
“Milparanga was unique, being able to push down barriers and learn to also show that’s not how we need to live or lead, it’s ok to not get it right, or miss the opportunity and provide you with better ways to move forward,” Emma states, appreciating the program’s role in allowing her to embrace her vulnerability.
A blossoming career and renewed perspectives
Post-Milparanga, Emma witnessed her career flourish. Holding a significant decision-making role, she embarked on the Milparanga International Program with a fresh perspective and an eagerness to refine her leadership style.
“It really challenged me again and broadened my perspective on higher level governance,” she reflects.
The international program broadened Emma’s approach to advocate for change, offering insights into how First Nations leaders in another country navigate their roles.
“It really challenged me to sit back and think about how we actually get our voices across, taking that stigma away that we are hard or angry,” she elaborates, emphasising the gentle yet powerful nature of Indigenous leadership.
“Aboriginal people are natural leaders, and we’re naturally quite soft in the way that we do that, so the international program really opened my eyes to what the path forward looks like for advocating change and staying true to who we are.”
Igniting a passion for growth and change
Since Milparanga, Emma’s pursuit for self-improvement and change advocacy has intensified, especially concerning Indigenous, rural, and remote communities. The program not only kindled a passion for continuous personal development but also forged a valuable network of alumni and friends. Emma underscores the program’s role in self-discovery: Milparanga has shown a side of herself she did not know existed, not only as a leader but also personally.
For those contemplating the Milparanga experience, Emma offers a compelling endorsement:
“Our communities can never be short of passionate leaders,” she asserts.
The program represents more than just leadership development—it’s a journey to self-awareness and empowerment.
“Milparanga gives you the opportunity to identify what that is and who you truly are,” Emma concludes, hoping others will seize this transformative opportunity.