Why Katrina Mohamed studied an Executive MBA to help strengthen her community
When Katrina Mohamed identified a higher level of business expertise was needed at Indigenous thinktank the Kaiela Institute, she took it upon herself to provide it.
"We're an Empowered Community organisation working at the local, state and federal levels in areas that underpin building a strong economy for Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal people in the Goulburn-Murray area and beyond," Katrina says.
"When I noticed that we mostly had people with health, research and education skills at PhD level, and fewer with business and finance acumen to lead our community, I felt an obligation to our people to take up the challenge and begin fixing that void."
As Executive Assistant to the head of the Kaiela Institute, Paul Briggs OAM, Katrina applied to study an Executive MBA – an intensive program designed for managers.
"The administrator who interviewed me said I'd be a tough sell. I was an executive assistant applying to do an MBA aimed at people working at a higher level," she says.
"I told him that it depends on what you're looking for. I work in a regional area. I'm a female. I'm Indigenous. I'm in a not-for-profit. They're things that I can bring to your cohort that possibly nobody else can. MBS said 'yes' and now here I am."
When she started the program, Katrina says there was some trepidation on her part. She felt a small case of imposter syndrome come on.
"I was very nervous. I came into it thinking, 'What the hell am I doing? How did I get here? I'm not capable of this.' I didn't think that my opinion counted," she says.
"But I quickly learnt that while my perspective was quite different from others because of my area of expertise and business experience, it was equally as valuable and I brought a traditional-owner perspective to our learning environment that MBS and our cohort embraced.
"Regardless of the challenges, I wanted to be an example to my daughter, Cody, as well as to the entire community, so they could see that despite age, circumstance, past barriers, gender, race and what others think you're capable of, you can achieve your goals."
The program helped Katrina build a new sense of confidence and taught her to see how all the different aspects of business connect to each other.
"The MBA is fantastic in how every subject lays out this beautiful foundation for you to grow and learn on," she says.
"Initially, I tried to apply the course through an Aboriginal Affairs lens in how I could apply the learning.
"I saw how it could be extremely useful in different areas of our business and how we do business as Aboriginal people, but I just didn't know how to apply it. It became overwhelming and at times frustrating."
Early on in her studies, Katrina was given a piece of advice by a lecturer that proved useful in how she approached the course material.
"He said that what I was dealing with was complex and completely different to what others in the cohort were dealing with, so I should just learn first, implement later," she says.
"It was great advice because it really helped me to learn with an open mind and gave me clear direction in how I could draw on it to apply at work and help realise our community aspirations."
As well as learning new ideas in class, Katrina says she got just as much from working together with other students in the Executive MBA program.
"If you are willing to be vulnerable and not pretend that you know everything already, then you'll experience diverse and vibrant conversations that challenge the status quo. We had that, it was just extraordinary," she says.
Katrina also discovered an unexpected level of trust and care with her classmates after she was diagnosed with breast cancer.
"When I got diagnosed with breast cancer during the course, the entire cohort came together for me, stood with me, held me up and walked side-by-side with me," she says.
"The weekend of my birthday, every single member of our cohort wore pink shirts, dresses, socks, suit jackets, scarves, you know name it. I walked into that room and I thought to myself that there's absolutely nothing that this group could not achieve.
"If they they could do this for me, imagine what else we could achieve for others. We had each others' backs in work and in life."
Katrina is currently undergoing treatment for her cancer and is at a safer stage of health, which she says made her stronger as she pushed through to finish the degree.
"It was an extremely challenging period. I was juggling full-time work, getting my daughter through Year 12, travelling to Melbourne every month, undergoing treatment for breast cancer and completing an MBA," she says.
"But I now have significantly increased my ability and confidence to contribute more to the conversation at work and across community to have greater influence.
"As my health situation improves, I will be looking to change my role and align myself onto boards at a state level, which will be great for us as an organisation."
Now back at work after only a month off, Katrina says she's beginning to focus on the Kaiela Institute's "short-term" priorities.
"Our short-term priorities actually cover anything from five to 10 years, because as Indigenous people we think very long term, we think generationally," she says.
"We work in partnership to build economic strengths using a rights-based approach in education, employment, finance and cultural expression with government, community, business and corporate entities. Our intervention to investment model will transform and increase prosperity for all Australians."
Katrina is a proud Gooreng Gooreng woman who has lived and worked on Yorta Yorta country for the past 30 years. She continues the legacy of unwavering and transnational leadership by her Aboriginal Elders past, present and emerging.