Karen Milward

Posted 6 Jan 17

Karen Milward is a Yorta Yorta woman, an award-winning consultant and businesswoman. Karen led the conversation at our event for the RMIT Business School, The Indigenous Business Studio. She is the Co-Chairperson of the Victorian Aboriginal Economic Board and Chairperson of Kinaway: Aboriginal Chamber of Commerce Victoria.

What makes you proud to be an Aboriginal woman? 

It feels great to be a First Australian and know that my ancestral history goes back thousands of years.  I have pride in this but it is also important to leave this legacy for generations to come.

Can you share some advice for young businesswomen starting out?

Young Aboriginal women who want to be business owners and entrepreneurs should follow their dream – particularly if it’s coming up with something innovative to solve an issue for the future, or if they have a brilliant product that needs to be produced and sold worldwide.  Some Aboriginal people don’t want to earn millions from their business and might want to give a percentage of profit to their Aboriginal community.

We all have different business goals – but to survive and cover your living costs and supporting your family you MUST have cash flow and pay all expenses and outgoings first before you pay yourself!

My advice is to find out as much as you can about the business world.  Joining up to Kinaway the Victorian Aboriginal Chamber of Commerce and other Aboriginal Chambers across Australia is really important for young Aboriginal tiddas, to make sure they get the right support and advice needed and also keep up to date on all things business. They can be part of an Aboriginal business and entrepreneurs network and learn from other Aboriginal people who have been in business for many years who are happy to share their learnings and challenges with young people.

Can you tell us about the Aboriginal entrepreneurial space? What kind of ideas and businesses are taking off? 

More Aboriginal entrepreneurs are thinking outside the box and doing things a little differently.  I am noticing that there are some innovative Aboriginal people out there who are testing different product markets and selling online more.  These entrepreneurs are also partnering up with other entrepreneurs here in Australia and overseas.

One thing we need to be careful about is government-backed venture and capital schemes. They can sounds good but the homework, support and cultural integrity seems to be missed.  One recent venture was announced by KPMG at the WA Indigenous Business, Enterprise and Corporations Conference. KPMG are going to support “initiatives to encourage Indigenous entrepreneurship such as accelerators, incubators and a government-backed venture capital fund as part of a suite of policies recommended by KPMG at the conference”.

What kind of consulting do you do? 

I am a strong advocate for developing culturally appropriate solutions to the issues confronting Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples that empower individuals and communities so they can confidently and effectively move forward.

My consultancy work includes evaluation and reviews of programs and services, stakeholder consultations, survey design, qualitative and quantitative research and analysis, cultural audit tool development and implementation, feasibility studies, cultural respect frameworks, written Aboriginal policies, report writing, cultural safety workshops, workshop facilitation, Reconciliation Action Plans, supporting communities to establish community controlled organisations and service models, strategic and business plans, leadership assessment and development, training development and delivery (governance, cultural awareness and leadership programs), employment and career development programs, mentoring of Aboriginal people, hosting and MC for conferences and forums and other things.

I have developed and delivered over 3,800 Aboriginal Cultural Awareness and Competency and Cultural Safety Training programs for government departments and their agencies and the private sector across Australia.  I have worked with 38 Aboriginal communities and their organisations in Victoria and with over 150 Aboriginal communities and their organisations nationally across all issues relevant to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities in Australia.

How do Aboriginal consultants add unique value?

We bring a unique skills set to the table that an organisation, government department or agency and company might not have internally.  We provide an independent view and insight to problem solving.

As an Aboriginal consultant I believe I have different skills sets that I have developed over the years. This includes knowledge of the Aboriginal community, particularly in Victoria, strong networks in community, government and agency, institutions and associations and the private sector.  Having held senior positions in government has also helped with providing advice on policy and program management in the Aboriginal space.

You need to have confidence and a strong belief that you can deliver a great professional consultancy service just like a non-Aboriginal consultant, but when working in the Aboriginal space you have an advantage.