Alumni stories

Ready to be empowered

11 November 2020

“You don’t get to sit in circles like that every day,” Emma Hickey says, as she reflects on the people she has met and been inspired by as part of the Milparanga leadership program.

“Being around people that your visions and your passions align with… It was a powerful setting, and the people there were really inspiring. My way of thinking changed and opened up,” she reflects.

“I had to step out of my mindset and my comfort zone to be able to get everything I could out of that program.” She says.

The candid young leader and Woopaburra woman from Newcastle is yet to experience the second session and graduate from the Milparanga program, due to the interruption of COVID-19, but she’s already aware of a transformation in herself.

“I was so surprised by how much it really changed my outlook. It was a lot more difficult than I thought and really challenged me emotionally, it was way more than I could ever expect a program to give me.

“It made me feel really empowered and inspired. My leadership style changed too. I thought I already knew what I wanted to do, but as other people put things on the table, I saw there was so much more,” she says.

“Professionally I thought I knew what I wanted and what was possible, but this program showed me there was so much more I could reach for.” She says.

In August this year, Emma finished an 18-month program through the Public Service Commission called the Aboriginal Employment Development Program, resulting in a Diploma in Leadership and Management. She was placed with ‘host employer’, Revenue New South Wales, which at first Emma feared wouldn’t hold much inspiration for her.

But, finding herself providing support and outreach for vulnerable clients from Indigenous communities throughout NSW, Emma very quickly embraced the position.

“Dealing with our vulnerable clients, and especially my mob, it’s where my passion lies. That overcomes everything else. Knowing that I can assist them and help and support them – especially throughout these times – is just so rewarding.”

She credits the Milparanga program with the leap she’s recently been able to make in her career, now working as the Aboriginal Customer Advisory Officer with Revenue NSW, educating and assisting vulnerable communities to manage fine debt, and find sustainable options to reduce debt.

“I felt when I came back from Milparanga that I was so motivated. I had so much confidence within myself that I could actually put myself forward for these more senior roles. There’s no way I would have put myself forward for this position if I hadn’t done the program. I was coming out of a of a traineeship and thought there’s no way that I could go up in grades or take on a role that involves management. I thought I’d have to work another 5 years towards that goal.” she says.

“The Milparanga program set me up with the right mind-frame to take on an opportunity like this. I hope one day I can sit in a position to start implementing new and positive processes within communities, in addition to what I implement now.”

Emma says session one of the Milparanga program involved the leaders talking about their own visions, and having their assumptions challenged.

“They made you think about what you want to do and your visions, not just the job you were in or thought you wanted to do,” she says.

“In the program, I was with Aboriginal leaders from all over Australia. This program has helped me take into account how different all of our mob and different communities really are. The one-stop approach doesn’t work for all Aboriginal people,” she says.

In pre-pandemic times, Emma’s work travels took her to diverse communities, from Broken Hill to Tweed Heads and out to Burke, Brewarrina and Taree.

“When I go into a community now, I don’t go in thinking that I know what needs to be done just because I’m an Aboriginal person. A really important thing that I did learn on Milparanga is that you speak as an Aboriginal person, not on behalf of Aboriginal people.” Emma says.

Hanging on to the inspiration and motivation she has taken away from Milparanga has become a matter of habitual contemplation.

“Every day I still take my notepad and go back and reflect on the things I had learned along the way on Milparanga. It’s like a little bible to me.”

And she’s passionate about others benefitting from an experience she has come to treasure.

“The best thing you can do for yourself as an Aboriginal person coming out of your community or wanting to upskill in a workplace, is to get out of your comfort zone and do something like this.

“We need to take with both hands opportunities that are there for Aboriginal people, and I really want to see more of our mob benefitting from this program.”

Emma acknowledges the Milparanga experience will be different for everyone.

“I would say go in with no expectations at all, because you can’t fully grasp what this program will offer you until you do it yourself. Get ready to be empowered and to be put into a room to have some of the most powerful conversations that you’ll ever be a part of.”

Emma Hickey is a graduate of Milparanga 7.1