In celebration of NAIDOC Week, we caught up with two Canberra-based, Indigenous businesses – Willyama and Wambinya.
Willyama - Connecting the community for national security.
Canberra cyber security business Willyama has grown quickly, now a cornerstone for both for the Canberra First Nations business community and for National cyber security.
‘Willyama’ is the Aboriginal name for Broken Hill, where CEO Kieran Hynes was born. He values safe online access and the opportunities it brings for First Nations people in education, employment, and business.
Working for the national interest
With names like Boeing, Raytheon, Microsoft and Oracle amongst current commercial partnerships, in the last 2 years Willyama’s focussed in on the government sector. Kieran’s goals are in supporting the national interest and supporting others with those values.
‘People who work for us have the same intent to support national security – we attract veterans, including Indigenous veterans, to deliver on the national missions and that’s what sets us apart,’ Kieran says.
‘We’re proud to say we’ve now won the largest cyber services contract Defence has ever released, and we’ve got Indigenous staff delivering on that contract. ‘We tend to do a lot more work with defence and the national security sector, because it’s about more than making money – we focus on national capability.’
A truly sovereign company
Willyama is the country’s only 100% Indigenous- and veteran-owned cyber security company operating nationally. Three of Willyama staff are Indigenous veterans, including Kieran who has been in IT since the early 90’s.
Over 30 years later, Kieran is still working diligently for the security of his community – on and offline. He started Willyama in 2016, not just to become a commercial enterprise, but to grow First Nations economic development and employment outcomes.
‘We’ve been able to keep the social aspect of supporting the Indigenous veteran sector while running a successful, commercial business, which allows us to support Indigenous staff,’ says Kieran.
‘Our Indigenous staff are part of our business – they’re engaged, trained and given opportunities to commit.’
Kieran makes sure First Nations values and cultures are included through his whole business. Willyama sources First Nations suppliers for business needs, supports other businesses through Black Coffee networking events and an Indigenous Business Precinct, and supporting the community such as through sponsoring Indigenous sports teams and the NAIDOC Awards.
Now with over 50 staff across 4 states and the ACT, and doubling business since the start of COVID, Willyama continues to look for ways to make positive impacts for First Nations people.
‘One young man was in and out of care his whole childhood then became a cook,’ says Kieran. ‘He transitioned through a Microsoft grad program and is now supporting Indigenous and non-Indigenous business on our service desk. Other Indigenous staff are transitioning from other industries into IT.
‘Many of our staff are on a journey to discover their history, and we support them through that.
‘The key thing we’ve set out to do is to move the dial on Indigenous capability in this country and increase employment in areas where Indigenous people tend to be underrepresented, such as the tech sector.
‘You can’t be what you can’t see, so we’re creating an identity for Indigenous students to be able to look at technology careers, particularly in cyber.’
New ways of working remote
Having always looked for ways to use technology to help people work remotely, Kieran’s now looking for ways to keep young people on-Country, at home, while exploring cyber careers.
He laughs that people had told him in the past that remote workplaces ‘wouldn’t work…but then COVID came’.
‘We’re now hoping to support nearly 100 Indigenous organisations with Indigenous trainees who can service their community areas.
‘We’ll create IT hubs in remote NSW to support those areas, with a centrally-managed service desk in Canberra.’
This will give opportunities to people in areas who might not have had them before. They can live on Country while improving the safety of the local organisations and increasing the workforce for the cyber security industry.
Skilling up with Wambinya.
Supporting First Nations education and employment is top priority for Canberra cyber security business Wambinya.
When mother-and-daughter team Lyndal and Theika Andrews started out 2 years ago, they thought about how they could meet this priority within an industry experiencing a skills shortage.
Learning and growing together
Co-owner Theika is a young Barkandji woman studying project management who brings organisational and administrative skills to the business. Theika’s experience complements Lyndal’s 25 years of cyber security, and together, they run the small but mighty enterprise.
Having learned to grow a business on the job, they understand the value of a good attitude and willingness to learn coupled with the right role models. This forms the basis for how they support their goals; with traineeships for First Nations young people through a mentor/mentee model.
‘For me, the goal is to train up young kids and give back to community,’ Theika says.
‘It’s about helping people know they can do it – they don’t have to be “stuck” where they are. You don’t have to be what others think you are.
‘When you have a job in cyber security, the effects flow on. They can buy a house, they can travel and do things they never thought they would.
‘The more I’m around cyber, the more I understand and I’m learning every week. But my goal is to help young people – for them to have a future.
‘We don’t care about winning accolades. We care about creating and communicating pathways and opportunities for our community.’
Keeping it family-focused
It was a difficult start for Wambinya, which Theika and Lyndal kicked off just before the COVID-19 pandemic put a halt on travel and face-to-face work. It was a particularly hard blow for a business that wanted to base itself on supporting young First Nations people to learn new skills at work, including those living in regions outside the ACT.
They’re now finding support for their model, which brings trainees in on client-facing work in cyber governance, capability and assurance.
Wambinya trainees attend real work situations as part of their learning, and their client list is building with big opportunities, like in the Department of Home Affairs and Ivanti.
‘We operate as a family base and keep it very casual,’ says Lyndal.
‘But we deliver the same capability to the same standards [as other cyber businesses].
‘We have access through our big company partners to mentors for penetration testers, cyber operations and coders, which gives our trainees the experience across the board so they can then decide which cyber stream at they might like to specialise in.
‘There was no career diversity when I started, but now there are so many different paths you can take, and we want to expose our trainees to those opportunities.’
While focussing on the work they have at the moment, the team’s now reaching out to schools, the cyber network and their clients to expand their mentor/mentee offerings.