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$1m to boost Indigenous representation on Australian boards

David Prestipino -

An elite group of Indigenous business leaders from across the country have been earmarked for future boardroom roles.

The 45 experienced executives were the inaugural recipients of the federal government's $1 million First Nations Director Scholarship, a three-year program delivered by the Australian Institute of Company Directors (AICD), with the Australian Indigenous Governance Institute, which focuses on creating sustainable, self-governance systems across First Nations communities and businesses.

The three-year program launched last December accelerated AICD's work building gateways for future and potential First Nations directors, kickstarting with the development of the 45 Indigenous senior business leaders selected.

Indigenous Australians minister Linda Burney said 135 Indigenous leaders would eventually complete the 2024-2026 program, funded by the Albanese government's National Indigenous Australians Agency.

"This is a groundbreaking program to boost the representation of First Nations people in boardrooms across the country," she said.

The First Nations leaders would receive world-class, expert governance education and mentoring, accelerating their prospects of board appointments across the country.

The inaugural 2024 group of experienced and highly-skilled First Nations scholars was drawn from a diverse field of senior business leaders across the country's First Nations community-controlled sector and supported the National Agreement on Closing the Gap.

AICD managing director and CEO, Mark Rigotti recognised more First Nations business leaders would join leading boardrooms across Australia and said enhancing the relevance and reach of governance education and services for then was a key focus of AICD.

"This is a groundbreaking initiative and we are pleased to be working with AIGI, and the inaugural intake of First Nations leaders," he said.

"The program represents an important step, as we build our capacity to deliver culturally-sensitive governance training to First Nations directors."

AIGI chief executive officer Jessica Bulger said the 45 inaugural members had already made meaningful contributions across Indigenous communities, and the program would only leverage that success and further refine their skills through its educational and experiential courses.

"Leadership that is enriched by cultural knowledge and perspectives is crucial to strong community and industry governance, and we value the opportunity to have initiated a program that sets the scholars up for success," she said.

The scholars would undertake an AIGI-led mentorship program led by First Nations directors with a wealth of Indigenous governance experience, as well as the institute's industry regarded Foundations of Directorship – Indigenous Organisations course, an education of the responsibilities and duties of boards and directors.

Mr Rigotti said the scholarships were crucial to AICD increase the relevance and reach of governance education and services for First Nations members and directors.

"We firmly believe through this program, and especially its emphasis on collaboration, the AICD can make a serious and important contribution to increasing First Nations representation in the boardroom," he said.

The successful recipients would also receive top-tier governance education, mentoring and workshops tailored to cultural and community contexts, with courses and training complemented with benefits such as AICD membership and travel and accommodation funding support.

AICD's Reconciliation Action Plan is available here.

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