Dance, dreaming and deadly dedication: Toumanda Fohrman MAICD


    She’s only 23, but as an aspiring lawyer from a family which is committed to change, Toumanda Fohrman is keen to start young in the world of governance and boards in order to forge her own path to help her community in the future. The proud Worimi, Bundjalung woman was awarded a scholarship under the AICD’s First Nations Scholarship Program 2024-2026 and studied the Foundations of Directorship course in March 2024 in Adelaide. Here she outlines learnings so far and how her AICD course, adapted and aligned to the needs of First Nations people, has motivated her to connect with her community in an unexpected and unique direction for the future. Round 2 of the First Nations scholarship program opened on 1 July. Learn more here. #NAIDOCWeek

    While Toumanda Fohrman was always hoping to be a board director at some stage in her career, when the opportunity came along earlier than planned, she wasn’t sure if it was the right time.

    “I had always known I wanted to be a board member or director in the future, but personally didn't believe I was at that point in my life where I was ready.

    “So when this scholarship came along and I applied, I really took some time to think. After having completed the course, I now know that I am ready, and have the confidence to continue that journey.”

    Fohrman has already been an advocate for her community and her people for many years and hopes that a career as a lawyer and her governance aspirations will build on that strong foundation and give her a voice at the table.

    “Any voice is important, but from my point of view, I think my voice is important from a young age and a young perspective. I like that a younger voice is being heard at the table. I'm very appreciative of my elders and those who have supported me. But unfortunately, as time goes on, our elders are no longer going to be at those tables. So it is important that the younger generation is being trained and builds on those strengths that our elders give us, so that we can eventually carry on their legacy,” she told the AICD in a recent interview.

    Last year, Fohrman was admitted as a lawyer after completing her qualifications at the College of Law and Charles Sturt University and she is currently working as executive assistant at the Commonwealth Director of Public Prosecutions, with many aspirations for the future.

    Former advocacy roles include two years as mid North Coast Representative for the NSW Aboriginal Land Council Youth Advisory Committee and as a member of the Shellharbour City Council's Aboriginal Advisory Committee, alongside youth advocacy work in high school.

    She sees the law as an important pathway to social justice outcomes for First Nations people. “One of the main reasons and passions for going into law was that I wanted to learn how to support my community in the world of justice,” she says.

    “I really wanted to step up to the challenge, so that I could one day hopefully encourage other younger women to chase their dreams. So my passion for law is not only to my community in the world of justice, and fighting for their rights, but also to encourage younger women or men to join law and pursue that career.”

    First Nations people have always had law in their communities and also their own justice and punishment in culture as well, but there is a “disconnect” between culture and justice in today's world, she adds.

    “I want to be that person who is on the path to hopefully helping to make a better system where Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander individuals aren't victimised by the law that our society holds.”

    Governance and culture

    Last year, Fohrman wasn’t sure how to take that next step in her career or in her journey of advocating for her community.

    However, since completing the AICD scholarship course and requirements, she has been applying for board roles, which is progressing along “nicely”, she says.

    “I really think this directorship course is now the foundation of my next journey.”

    Her ambitions in this area relate to walking alongside people in her community in order to better their lives.

    “My intention with directorship and board positions is not to necessarily be a role model or a leader, it’s more or less to be someone to guide others and walk alongside my community. I don't want to stand up on a pedestal. I want to be with everyone else helping to support and guide them. That's always been my intention.”

    The Foundations of Directorship (FOD) course was “to me, extremely useful”, Fohrman says.

    “It combined my previous knowledge and understanding of governance and company law as developed through my Bachelor of Law degree, and combined practical situations and scenarios that arise in companies and corporations, particularly Aboriginal corporations.”

    Networking with fellow AICD First Nations scholarship winners on the course was also very valuable, she explains.

    “One of the benefits was having such a strong cohort and being able to draw on their past experiences. And discussing how we can, in the future, develop together to make sure that Aboriginal corporations are running smoothly and successfully.

    “So with this course, my skill set was enhanced and with these new enhancements I aspire to be more confident, go forth and begin my directorship journey and hopefully affect change for my community.”

    She found the course “very inspiring”, with many First Nations people from different regions, communities and backgrounds. “They talked about how they faced certain challenges, but rose above it. That’s powerful, because you then believe that you can achieve as well, and that you know you're not alone. People do struggle, they do face challenges, but there is light at the end of the tunnel.

    “It was interesting to see their journeys, and how they've progressed and then to see how that path might fit for me, or might not fit for me, so I can learn what path I should take.”

    Dancing to connect to culture

    As an Aboriginal dancer who has performed for 13 years, Fohrman believes artistic practices are helping to preserve her culture.

    “I think keeping that culture alive through dance in terms of song, storytelling, telling of dreaming stories, that's how we keep that culture alive through generations.”

    Dance has taken her to different communities around NSW. “We've done a few cultural immersions with different mobs around the place,” adding, “I've always drawn my strength from dance. My dance background has been my most powerful tool and connection to culture, and how I've learnt about my culture.

    “With dance, I was able to engage with the community and learn the stories shared by elders and translate them into dance. Physical movement and making those stories come to life through dance has always been quite a moving source of empowerment for me.”

    Two-way governance

    Fohrman believes models of two-way governance are the way of the future in Australia, where Aboriginal governance systems can be combined with traditional models.

    “Until we have effective two-way learning and understanding of good governance between Aboriginal corporations and non-Indigenous corporations, I think there will still be a barrier.” Greater board representation among First Nations people will only result from greater understanding between Aboriginal and non-Indigenous community representatives who are in positions of power, she believes.

    Fohrman is following in the footsteps of other family members who advocate for their culture. Her mother is a teacher who has held positions in the community including Aboriginal Education Liaison and Community Officer and NSW Aboriginal Education Consultative Group member. Fohrman says she also owes her strength to her grandparents, uncles and aunties.

    Reconciliation Action Plans (RAPs) will help to close the gap in two-way understanding, but must be implemented with actions rather than words, she says.

    “I think RAPs are a good foundation for what needs to happen. It's a piece of paper, but it's what transpires which is important. You can say something, but it doesn't mean anything until it actually happens. I think action over words is very important.”

    More about the First Nations Scholarship Program

    The AICD, in partnership with the Australian Indigenous Governance Institute (AIGI), awarded in 2024 a number of scholarships to First Nations people drawn from a diverse range of leaders working in the First Nations community-controlled sector. The scholarships are funded by a grant from the National Indigenous Australians Agency.

    Scholarship recipients hail from seven states and territories, including from regional and metropolitan localities.

    Round 2 of the First Nations scholarship program will open on 1 July 2024 and we plan to offer up to 56 scholarship places in 2025. More details can be found on our website. Register here if you would like to be notified of the requirements when the next round opens.

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