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Meet the staff: Rod Williams


Jessica Nelson
2 June 2016

Aboriginal businessman Rod Williams, owner of a management consulting business and a successful strategist, has joined Southern Cross University’s Gnibi College of Indigenous Australian Peoples, writing innovative new subjects for Indigenous studies courses.

The proud Bundjalung man is working from the Coffs Harbour campus, in the Gumbaynggirr region where he also has family heritage through his mother’s grandfather, and will continue to run his consultancy business.

The 59-year-old has had an extensive career in the private sector, from industrial relations with the Northern Territory Chamber of Commerce, analysing stocks in the 80s on Collins Street in Melbourne, to his mining consultant days in the early 90s where he was instrumental in facilitating conversations between companies such as Normandy Mining and Indigenous communities. In 1993 he established his own company, which the elders in his Bundjalung community named Gongan (pronounced Goingan) meaning ‘special’ or ‘beautiful’.

Through his business, Rod created a unique holistic business framework, incorporating social, cultural, environmental and economic outcomes, and he is often regarded as one of the most experienced and influential Aboriginal businessmen in Australia due to his involvement in national business and economic strategies.

Rod co-facilitated the first National Indigenous Business and Economic Conference and the first Queensland Indigenous Business and Economic Council conference in the 90s. He held a central leadership role in that movement which helped shape the way Indigenous businesses interact today.

“I left the comfort of the corporate lifestyle and took the risk to set up my business when I saw that communication between government, private corporations and the Indigenous community wasn’t working. I thought there must be a better way to engage between the three parties,” he said.

“Corporations tend to focus on profits and industry standards, while the government focuses on program outcome, and both needed to consider how to approach Indigenous communities which is why I’ve spent the last 23 years developing the ‘Gongan Framework’.

“I bring a holistic Indigenous perspective to that process, and Norm Sheehan, who I now work with in Gnibi College of Indigenous Australian Peoples, has mentioned to me there are a number of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people who have thought through this process, but I am the one who has put the structure and a process on paper.

“The framework can be applied to other business areas, as there are plenty of non-Indigenous companies that also want to implement a sustainable, cross-cultural, community-minded yet economically-sound business development model.”

Professor Sheehan tasked Rod as part of a team to write three subjects focusing on Aboriginal community organisations, Aboriginal social enterprise and Indigenous tourism, and to deliver those units next year.

Rod says his years of corporate experience, skills in delivering management training on the ground and previous lecturing roles at Charles Darwin University and the University of South Australia had set him up for the challenge.

His second task at the University, alongside writing and delivering content, is to build the profile of Gnibi College and be a role model to students coming through.

“I love seeing the young minds coming through Gnibi and getting them to talk and think about how they will implement their own cross cultural engagement strategy ideas and how they can help address issues in the community, and because of my background I hope to make the course content interesting and challenging for both Indigenous and non-Indigenous students,” he said.

“My other interest is to look at how the University builds income streams in the current environment and how this entity can continue to be sustainable in an ethical manner – that’s something I think through as a business strategist where ever I go.”

Rod is also in the process of writing a book about his Gongan Framework and its history.

This article was originally published in DISCOVER Southern Cross University Community News in June 2016