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Leading with heart

18 May 2021 at 8:07 am
Maggie Coggan
As the CEO of Nalderun Aboriginal Services, proud Yorta Yorta woman Kathryn Coff is on a mission to create a sustainable and fair future for generations to come. She’s this week’s Changemaker.     

Maggie Coggan | 18 May 2021 at 8:07 am


Leading with heart
18 May 2021 at 8:07 am

As the CEO of Nalderun Aboriginal Services, proud Yorta Yorta woman Kathryn Coff is on a mission to create a sustainable and fair future for generations to come. She’s this week’s Changemaker.     

Kathryn Coff describes her leadership style as slightly unconventional – one that involves the whole community, leading with the heart and being vulnerable.         

While it’s not a traditional leadership approach, over the past decade she has used it to establish and develop numerous key programs run through Nalderun Aboriginal Services to support Aboriginal children and young people in Jaara Country.    

Coff is also a respected member of the First Nations community in Castlemaine and sits on the Mount Alexander Shire’s First Nations round table.

She holds the firm belief that when Aboriginal communities are supported by non-First Nations Australians who have open hearts and minds, amazing things can happen for the whole community and the way forward is together, walking side by side.

In this week’s Changemaker, Coff discusses what drew her to impact work, the importance of trusting your instincts, and making time for the things you love. 

What drew you to working in the social change space?

About 11 years ago I was really encouraged to step up in community. It probably sounds weird but I stepped up because I felt really awakened by my ancestors to make a change. People wanted me to step up to do something that would help our kids and the next generation, because if we don’t, they are going to have the same issues we have, and I didn’t want that to happen. 

And what does an average day look like for you?

Well, that’s a really good question because I’m doing a lot of consulting work, working on my PhD, or talking to other Aboriginal organisations about how we can look after our kids better. So one minute I could be talking to a whole heap of people in high positions in non-Indigenous organisations, [the next I’m] going to the school to advocate for one of our kids, making sure someone has food, sitting in on a Zoom meeting teaching and lecturing. So yeah, I suppose my day is never boring! I also really honour Country, so I always have to spend time on Country as well. 

What are some of your favourite parts of your job? 

I run a program called the Meeting Place, where once a fortnight we take the kids out of mainstream school and take them to another venue and we teach them through culture and Country. We’ve got another program called the First Nations Youth Leadership Program, where young people between 20 and 25 years old come back into the school as deadly awesome humans who are at Uni or doing some kind of training [to act] as amazing role models and support for kids who might be struggling. That sort of stuff really nurtures my spirit.

What advice do you have for others trying to make a change in the world?

I lead in quite a different way, through vulnerability, and for the greater good of the community. And so what I would say is trust your intuition and listen to the cry of your ancestors. I also believe that change has to be sustainable, and sustainable change has to be for everybody, which some people say is unrealistic, but I don’t think you can really achieve anything unless you are bringing everyone along for the ride. 

And what do you like to do in your spare time?

I’m a wind and water chick, so I love going out on the water. I have a stand-up board. I have some gorgeous emu’s on my property. I love being out on Country, and hanging out with my children and my support network which are really important to me.

Maggie Coggan  |  Journalist  |  @MaggieCoggan

Maggie Coggan is a journalist at Pro Bono News covering the social sector.

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