Bringing home new knowledge to strengthen Aboriginal organisations
Monday 28 September 2015
In 2014, Leila Smith, a Wiradjuri woman whose family is from Cowra in central NSW, became the first Indigenous Australian to undertake a top-tier overseas Masters of Public Policy program and was later able to add ‘Cambridge University Graduate’ to her impressive list of accolades after she completed a Master of Philosophy in Public Policy at Cambridge.
“(At Cambridge) we had speakers who were world leaders in their field and the luxury of having space to think about issues deeply and engage in some really interesting discussions with people from across the globe.”
Leila commenced her studies in 2007 with a Bachelor of Arts majoring in Sociology and Indigenous Australian Studies at ANU for which she was awarded First Class Honours. Some of her other achievements include being named the 2008 ACT NAIDOC Scholar of the Year, the 2007 Neville Bonner Memorial Scholar, a 2012 Aurora Indigenous International Study Tour participant and a 2013 Charlie Perkins Scholar.
The road to Cambridge
With a wealth of professional experience, Leila has previously worked as a Data Analyst at the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, as a Senior Policy Officer at the Australian Indigenous Doctors’ Association (AIDA), and as a Research Officer at the Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies (AIATSIS) where she co-authored and compiled a book on the history of the Fred Hollows National Trachoma and Eye Health Project from a wholly Aboriginal perspective. She now works as a consultant for the Nous Group which makes her the first Indigenous Australian to commence as an associate at a leading management consulting firm.
“After four years working for an Indigenous advocacy organisation, I felt very privileged to have the space to focus on my own development. On the Study Tour I learnt about what pathways I could take that would best serve Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. Best of all, I came home and immediately applied this new, better informed perspective to my application.”
On working with the Nous Group
“I studied public policy because I want to work with Aboriginal organisations and help them to have a strong and sustainable role in policy and delivery. When I graduated I was committed to learning more before returning to the Indigenous sector, so I looked to management consulting. To learn from the best, I wanted to work with the best firms, and my degree from Cambridge was critical in getting me there.
"I’m working at Nous Group and I’m involved in projects that are both interesting and challenging. I’m looking forward to applying what I’m learning to strengthen Indigenous organisations. I want to continue to build upon the fantastic work that is already being done.”
On her future career goals
“I’m passionate about Aboriginal organisations across all sectors and I’ve seen firsthand what a strong role Aboriginal medical services, legal services and peak bodies can play in building proud communities, delivering better outcomes and accurately communicating what’s happening at the coalface – to a policy level. I think they play a central role to close the gap and I think that role will continue into the future. I also think it’s a role that’s underappreciated and undervalued. I want my kids to grow up in an Australia that has strong Aboriginal organisations that are valued and appreciated and to do that we need to recognise what makes them strong but also how they can be flexible in different policy environments and that’s what I’m interested in achieving through my career goals.”
Click here to read an excerpt from Leila's speech at the 2014 Aurora Indigenous Scholars International Study Tour Reception.