Cindy Berwick is the President of the NSW Aboriginal Education Consultation Group Inc. For 40 years, the NSW AECG has been the peak advisory body for all levels of education for the Aboriginal Peoples of New South Wales. It has local members spread out across 127 communities and its grassroots structure is key to its success. Cindy is a Ngunnawal woman descending from the Bell family in Yass.
Cindy Berwick: Listening, consulting and being open to new ideas are at the heart of leadership
Cindy believes that what makes a true leader stand out is their ability to bring people along on the journey. She says a leader needs to be able to create a vision which is forward-looking and focussed on the greater good and not on the self. Cindy added that a leader must also have integrity, strong principles and value humanity.
Creating the vision is only the beginning, however. Cindy says the critical role for the leader is make sure that everybody can see the vision the leader has created and accept it. Only then can each person involved work towards the vision.
The primary role of the NSW AECG Inc. is to promote active participation by Aboriginal people in the consultative and decision-making process of education and training related matters. For this vision to be effective, there needs to be clear messages that people can understand. These messages allow people to accept the vision as their own and then work towards achieving it.
Consultation is at the heart of the NSW AECG. The NSW AECG Inc. has local, regional and state networks that enable effective communication. This allows an Aboriginal community viewpoint to be echoed throughout the organisation.
Working with a grassroots organisation requires significant effort and time being invested in consultation and discussion. For Cindy, this means having open channels of communication, where listening is just as important as talking – perhaps even more so.
When asked to talk about a leader who had influenced her, Cindy had a different approach from some of the other leaders we spoke to. Cindy said there were many people who inspired her, rather than influencing her leadership.
One person she mentioned was William Ferguson, a trade unionist who launched the Aborigines Progressive Association in 1937. He demanded justice, decency and fair play and he is sometimes called the Martin Luther King of Australia.
Mr Ferguson was one of the leaders who planned the 1938 Day of Mourning, to draw attention to the damage done to Aboriginal Australians by colonisation. Cindy spoke about the recognition of his work through a Day of Hope. She believes everyone needs a ‘day of hope’, not just Aboriginal people.
Cindy said, “I don’t know everything. That’s why it’s important to read and listen widely, be open to ideas and be inspired to keep going and achieve better.”
In conclusion, Cindy told us that a leader needs to get everyone on the same bus. Some people are waiting for the bus. Some are late for the bus. Others miss the bus. The leader needs to make sure, eventually, that everyone she leads ends up on that bus.