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By: KIA DOWELL •  4 years ago •  

As serendipity would have it, through a series of seemingly unrelated circumstances back in 2008, Kia Dowell and Chantal Harris found themselves working together to event manage the East Kimberley Aboriginal Achievement Awards. This regional gala event afforded them both the amazing experience of working with a number of Aboriginal Communities (including Kia’s home community of Warmun), large government agencies, support services and corporate organisations who engaged with those Communities.

With a lifetime of personal and professional experiences, Kia quickly recognised the untapped potential for business and economic independence as a means to change the way Aboriginal people are represented and participate in the broader economy. She spent 5 years working with a global mining company implementing Native Title Agreements in the East Kimberley and Pilbara regions of Western Australia. This experience saw her draw on her international business experience and leadership skill set to design innovative large-scale Cultural Education Training Programs with Traditional Owners, develop business opportunities with Aboriginal people, design culturally appropriate strategies and policies, and establish an exchange program that could utilise professionals in local Aboriginal communities.

Through her experiences of living, travelling and working throughout Western Australia, The Northern Territory, Far North Queensland, the UK, Asia, India, Nepal and the South Pacific, Chantal has a real passion for the cultural, business and leadership dynamics required to respectfully develop the independence of communities so they can successfully action their own futures.

It was this experience and the work they were both doing in their respective jobs that led to the eventual start-up of The Cultural Connection Code in 2012. Then in 2016, Kia and Chantal joined forces with Ingrid Cumming to continue to grow one of Australia’s leading Aboriginal-owned consulting and coaching companies. Together, these 3 passionate women have deliberately built a company that has the flexibility to evolve and adapt to achieve their very specific mission.

There is one question that continuously drives our business: “HOW can we do things differently to progress the social development of Aboriginal Communities, where economic development drives new opportunities?” We need sophisticated new models of participation that can balance community values and commercial returns.

Our relentless search led us to practically applying coaching to entrepreneurial thinking. Richard Branson once said that entrepreneurial thinking usually comes about when people have a vision for a new kind of world we can all live in together, and then they go about making that vision a reality. For us, this kind of entrepreneurial thinking started at a very young age with our own personal experiences. This has become the catalyst and guiding light for what we now do together as a business. It is important to acknowledge our personal stories, our achievements, our struggles, and share them with the people we work with to create a meaningful connection to our vision.

Our vision, as a company, is to put the heart and soul back into how business is done. We achieve this through the innovative infusion of Aboriginal wisdom, lived experience and neuroscience into the core fundamentals of business and leadership. We quickly discovered that coaching can exponentially increase understanding and cultural capability leading to accelerated business and leadership growth.

In our work, we look at both sides of the cultural interaction. Yes, we coach Aboriginal people but we also coach the executive decision-makers, managers and leaders who are engaging with Aboriginal people to typically increase participation in training, employment and business opportunities based on a set of business objectives.

We use a range of adapted coaching methods, grounded heavily in the foundations of both neuroscience and Traditional Aboriginal culture, to focus on the core of one’s identity. We have found that the biggest transformations and long-lasting behavioural changes come when the coaching techniques focus on the individual’s core identity. This is largely driven by their value systems, not just their skills and capability.

When someone experiences a profound shift in their own identity and how they view the world through the perspective of that identity, it translates to deep changes in behaviour which then naturally contributes to an increase in skill and capability.

We are most concerned with the kind of thinking that is buried deep within our unique system of values that cultivates our identity within our collective culture. In cross-cultural settings, this is often what is driving the interactions – positive and negative. It depends on the alignment of a set of universal values and the specific knowledge systems that people have to access their ‘outer’ worlds based on their respective cultures, backgrounds and experiences.

One of the main frameworks we work within is adapted from the Cultural Intelligence work done by David Livermore, PhD. The way we coach, harnesses the core elements of cultural intelligence – those being the things we can definitely see and also those things that remain invisible – and map those against coaching modalities to focus on where people are now and where they want to be. This framework allows us to apply those personal breakthroughs to areas of business and leadership.


Coaching this way allows us to be able to co-design solutions with Communities on behalf of the people who become the owners, the managers, the end-users and the improvers of those solutions. We have also developed a set of Cultural Protocols that sit beside our coaching protocols to ensure that our coaching is done in a way that respects people’s heritage, ways of living and their aspirations for their Communities.

The good news is that we are finding more and more people who realise the benefits and competitive advantage they can get through coaching and enhanced performance. However, there are a range of challenges that come with coaching.

 People can have a misguided understanding of what coaching is. Often coaching is confused with mentoring. Mentoring is a more informal relationship where people who have had a particular set of experiences and achieved outcomes give general advice to others about how they did it.

 There are different standards of coaching and regulation which can lead to significant variance in coaching results based on the ability of individual coaches.

 People may believe that there needs to be something wrong with them to start a coaching conversation, which can cause initial resistance.

As business owners who want to see real change happen, we are constantly thinking about and what we need to apply in our daily work to achieve these objectives:

1. VALUE ADD: How do we continuously create value for the people and Communities we work with?

2. POSSIBILITIES: If we take away our pre-programmed thinking and limitations, what is possible?

3. PATTERNS: What can we learn from past and future patterns that will guide the relationships we create and the work we do?

4. RISK: How do we, as a company, embrace the risk that comes with change?

5. ACTIONS: What are the practical things needed for the possibilities to be realised?

6. MEANING: Often it is not about what is created, but rather how it is created that gives the meaningful impact we are all looking for.

For us, coaching is the essential element that makes the achievement of those objectives become real. Coaching is the “special sauce”, the “secret weapon”, the “extra turbo charge” – whatever analogy you want to apply – because it takes what you already have as a business person, a manager, a leader, a sports person – and provides a proven pathway to the next level of attainment, continual evolution through improvement and the eventual achievement of your goals.

There is now an urgency for equity and a level of consciousness around the new economies that are being created that needs people who have the ability to be able to look at HOW something is done not WHAT. Coaching and co-design is about taking knowledge from both sides of the table, acknowledging the WHY and working out a new HOW to get to the WHAT. This needs to be done in a way that works for the people involved in the interactions. The ongoing benefit of that will be more education through interaction, more meaningful relationships and the continued evolution of co-design best practices of working with Aboriginal Communities.


Kia is a Gija woman from Warmun Community (Turkey Creek) in the East Kimberley of Western Australia. As a CEO, business consultant and leadership coach with extensive commercial, cultural and community experience, she is passionate about working to support the growth of profitable and sustainable organisations that serve a greater social purpose for Aboriginal communities. She uses her expertise to strategically build models of cultural connection that lead to business success and leadership development to achieve meaningful community impacts.


Chantal is an intelligent business strategist and behavioural change expert who specialises in increasing the collective human capacity within cultural and business contexts. Chantal has spent over 10 years working with a range of organisations in the fields of commerce, human development and change management to implement strategies that effectively balance economic, community and social development objectives.


Ingrid Cumming is a Whadjuk Noongar woman from Fremantle, Western Australia, and an Indigenous Australian entrepreneur. Ingrid has incredible experience in innovative consultancy and community engagement, training and workshop delivery across Australia promoting reconciliation and increasing awareness of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander strengths and strategy. She is also a Board Member of the National Indigenous Women in Business Group.

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