Our history In the Beginning The AILC was founded by Indigenous leaders in recognition of the importance of leadership in driving sustainable change in Indigenous communities. 2021 was the AILC’s official 20-year anniversary. However, the story of how the AILC came about happened well before that. We were lucky enough to sit down with prominent Indigenous Leader and one of the founders of the AILC, Russell Taylor AM, and find out more about our journey. Russell is a proud Kamilaroi man and has been a tireless campaigner for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people for over four decades. He has spent more than 20 years in senior public service roles, including positions in the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission, the Aboriginal Development Commission and two stints as Principal at the Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies (AIATSIS). In 2016, he was appointed as a Member of the Order of Australia and in 2018 he was awarded NAIDOC Male Elder. Russell Taylor AM, with wife Judi Taylor. Image credit: The Scone Advocate The idea In the early 90’s Russell along with Rob Bourke were the first two Aboriginal participants in the Australian Rural Leadership Foundation Program, the program was specifically aimed at developing leaders in rural, regional and remote Australia. After completing the course, both men felt that it would be good to have a similar program solely for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people “I really felt that this structured program would be really good for blackfellas. We appreciated the model and the way it was delivered, and I felt that we could set up something similar” Not long after Russell, Bunuba man Joe Ross from Fitzroy Crossing also completed the 18 month long program. Russell and Joe became great mates and both felt that there should be a specific leadership program for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people “By the mid-nineties 90’s Joe and I were both convinced that there should be an Indigenous Leadership program that was modelled or had similar or structural elements to the Rural Leadership program.” How did the AILC become more than an idea? Russell and Joe took their idea to parliament and were given a grant to conduct consultation with communities about the need for a leadership program. “I was able to use that initial funding and get AIATSIS to match it for a research program involving the community, talking to them about whether people wanted an Indigenous specific leadership program. Marg Cranney and Dale Sutherland were the lead researcher’s on that consultation. The answer was a resounding yes – there was very strong support from the community.” The idea was certainly gaining traction and with the approval of the AITSIS council Russell formally set up the AILC as a corporate entity. With the little money they had, the AILC had developed a website and started to plan out what the course would look like. It turns out that the decision to get the website up and running was critical. At that time Citibank had identified that they were looking for a project to support. They discussed the project being for Indigenous people and a woman named Wendy McCarthy who worked for Citibank got on google and fortuitously came across the newly launched AILC website. “Its important to know that Wendy McCarthy who was actually doing some corporate work for Citibank was looking for a project to be supported by Citibank. They identified that it should be an Indigenous project and Wendy was surfing the web and saw the website so she rang me at AIATSIS and came down to talk to me about it.” “Dr Brian Babington who at the time working for the Heritage Commission and is now the CEO of Families Australia sat down with myself and Wendy and we did some work about initially going to Citibank Australia, it was then decided we do something more substantial so we made a pitch to the Citibank foundation in New York. Out of which came a 1 million US dollar grant, which was the biggest grant outside of the United States the bank had ever made” Our first Board So the AILC was up and running and had secure funding for the first 3 years. A board was then established. The Chair was current NT Treaty Commissioner and Australian of the Year Mick Dodson, the Deputy Chair was the Hon. Linda Burney, MP along with highly respected Indigenous leader and public servant Kerrie Timm and founders Joe Ross and Russell Taylor. The first CEO was the determined and multi-faceted Kristie Parker. “Kirstie was there – she was fantastic and such an amazing leader and CEO. The success of the courses was certainly down to Kirstie – she is a wonderful convener. We were very lucky because Kirstie could really write and she pretty much produced everything.” The Program “From then on, the rest is history – we set the course up and ran it all over the country which was a week block release approach. The program was made up of various elements including governance, advocacy, Indigenous leadership and our history. We always made sure there were two things in the program – sessions that involved real life Indigenous leaders from diverse areas like the land rights movement, health sector – people like Lowitja O’Donoghue, the Dodson Brothers and Pat Turner, certainly very high level recognised Indigenous Leaders. The second thing that we realised that many of the course participants when talking about their own journey, there was a lot of pain. So we hired and Indigenous Psychologist to be on stand by for every course if people needed to talk about issues. It was a very important component of what we did was to recognise trauma, even in the early days, understanding the intergenerational trauma that impacts on all of our lives.” “I think we ran about 3 or 4 courses in the first 3 years. We went to a different location for each course and we had a very transparent application process – quite rigorous, where people had to display leadership skills as well as express why that had aspirations for further leadership knowledge. We always received heaps more applications than places every time we advertised the course. The word of mouth was strong. Like in the Torres Strait whenever we did a course the students would go home and talk about it. Without fail we would get calls straight away from the Torres strait wanting to know when there was the next one.” “For every course we had a graduation dinner and we would invite VIP’s and donors. We had Peter Cosgrove one night we had Roy and HG another time. We made sure the graduations were really special. And we would always have a guest speaker. One of the first courses got a signed copy of the Redfern speech from Paul Keating at their graduation.” The journey continues... Today the AILC delivers accredited and non-accredited leadership courses all over Australia. The programs are now accessible through online learning, in addition to on-site face-to-face training. With over 3,000 alumni, the AILC has built a reputation as the leading, perhaps the only, registered leadership training organisation run by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander People; for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander People. Share your AILC story If you have a story about your experience with AILC as a student, employer, staff or board member please let us know by sending an email to [email protected] We would love to hear from you. Please join us in sharing the AILC story and celebrating Australian Indigenous Leadership.