Jamila Gordon

Former Refugee, Director of Jayride & Keynote Speaker

Jamila Gordon arrived in Australia having escaped the Somalian civil war, via Kenya, on her own. At the age of just 18, she set about learning English before studying IT at La Trobe University.

Jamila's intelligence, aptitude and determination have led her on the journey to a global career with has included roles with some of the world's biggest brands including Group CIO of Qantas and CIMIC (formerly Leighton Holdings) and with IBM Europe. The latest chapter in her story is a Non-Executive Director of Jayride, an e-commerce marketplace for travellers to compare and book ground passenger transport, which plans to IPO soon. She is also on the advisory board of VentureCrowd, Australia's leading alternative assets crowdfunding platform.  

An inspirational and motivational speaker, Jamila speaks with honesty, humour and dignity. She uses her story to deliver memorable messages about the importance of dreaming big, the keys to effective leadership amidst change, and the crucial role of resilience and positivity.Jamila is passionate about diversity and helping refugees integrate and find opportunity in Australia.

More about Jamila Gordon:

It rained the night Jamila came into the world. Her family was nomadic and had been searching for water. They set up camp somewhere in the Somali hinterland so that she could be born. Jamila spent the first eleven years of her life in this camp, without running water or electricity and with little food.

As the oldest daughter amongst sixteen children, Jamila was expected to help her mother look after the other children, cook, clean and run the family compound from a very young age. When the family moved to Mogadishu, she helped manage her father's shop, continued her other duties, and went to school when she could. It was a happy time.

Then civil war came to Somalia, and Jamila's family was forced to scatter in fear for their lives. At the age of eighteen, she found herself in Kenya, alone, homeless and terrified in the slums of Mombasa. She had no country to return to, and did not know if her family was even alive. It was the worst time of her life.

Good fortune struck when Jamila met an Australian backpacker who helped her get to Australia, most likely saving her life.

Jamila's first step in Australia was to enrol in a TAFE course to learn English, and then she found a $5 per hour job as a dishwasher. This tiny start gave Jamila her independence and enabled her to take control of her life... up until that point, it was all she'd ever dreamed of.

However one dream leads to another and for Jamila, her next big dream was just around the corner. She met the friend of one of the restaurant's waiting staff, who had just graduated and taken an entry-level role at the Australian Tax Office. Jamila had never imagined that a woman could go to university and have a career... she was determined to follow this path.

Having been rejected from every university in Sydney, a friend suggested Jamila contact La Trobe University in Victoria. La Trobe accepted her and Jamila quickly fell in love with programming, graduating with an IT degree. She could never have guessed that fifteen years' later she'd join the University's Board.

After graduating, Jamila commenced a corporate career that took her all over the world, including Australia, the South of France, Paris and Amsterdam, where she led some of IBM's largest global deals. She returned home to Australia in 2007 to become Qantas' Group Chief Information Officer, before taking on the same role at Leighton Holdings (now CIMIC), where she successfully worked with three CEO's in five years to transform the company's digital and technology environment.

Jamila is currently a Director of Jayride, an e-commerce marketplace for travellers to compare and book ground passenger transport, which plans to IPO shortly. She is also on the advisory board of VentureCrowd, Australia's leading alternative assets crowdfunding platform. It is an exciting time.

Jamila is also on the board of CareerSeekers, a not-for-profit that helps refugees and asylum seekers find roles within corporate Australia. She spent five years on the board of her alma mater, La Trobe University.

Just before he sent her to Kenya, Jamila's father told her: "I'm sending you away for your safety. Wherever you end up, the things that will allow you to survive and thrive are: Make yourself useful, be the best version of yourself and grow big dreams!' These principles have guided her life ever since."

Jamila Gordon speaks about:

The power of dreams and having the courage to pursue them - Jamila's personal goals have constantly expanded and grown. As a young girl, her dream was simply to avoid being married off at the age of thirteen, as most of her cousins had been. In Kenya, her dream was simply to survive. Today she is living her greatest dream yet: steering the rapid growth and global expansion of a best-in-class publicly-listed tech & digital businesses as well as unlisted startups.

Leading effectively through challenge and complexity - Jamila has built her career on her capacity to bring diverse groups together and drive transformational change, at scale. She shares the leadership principles that have served her well.

The role of resilience and positivity - Jamila's has faced major challenges throughout her life, yet she has always found that the greatest adversity also brings the seed of opportunity. It is the developable capacity to bounce back and remain positive that is crucial to success.

Client testimonials

Some messages in life simply have to be heard. You could have literally heard a pin drop. We were spell bound hearing about her journey that has led her from her days growing up in Ethiopia, to Eritrea then Kenya and ultimately to Australia. It is a remarkable story of achievement in itself and a testament to the human spirit that Jamila has not only survived but seemly thrived from such an unimaginable challenge to simply stay alive. Then to hear how she has made it in the world of IT&C and to be instrumental in helping shape some of the most prominent organisations in our business community only adds to the respect one feels for Jamila and her accomplishments. I have no hesitation in recommending Jamila as an inspirational and inspiring speaker.

Commonwealth Bank

Jamila is an inspirational woman with a story that must be heard to be believed. Jamila spoke to our group of young leaders and the audience was spellbound. Starting in Australia without any formal education and without knowing the language and culture, Jamila went on to lead some of the most recognisable organisations in the world. Her incredible story of resilience, hard work, determination, and perseverance offers powerful insights into what brings success in life. Notwithstanding how tough her life has been, Jamila has a warm and wonderful nature that makes her instantly likeable. I highly recommend Jamila for her ability to inspire and move people.

Young Australia/Israel Chamber of Commerce

Jamila brings a sense of humour, charm, humility and a fierce intellect to tell an amazing story from her birth in a nomadic tribe in Somalia to roles as the global CIO for vast multinationals. Jamila presented to a large gathering of our clients and you could hear a pin drop as she spoke. Hers is an inspirational story of perseverance and triumph over adversity in the face of mortal danger in Mogadishu and Mombassa, and more latterly in the boardrooms of Australia and Europe. She is articulate, warm, intelligent, and an amazing testament to the power of never giving up. When we talk about the difficulties of creating an inclusive environment in our workplaces we think of things like gender, religion and ethnicity – the experiences Jamila had on all three fronts in her early days in the ghettos of Mombassa inform her approach to working in the male dominated world of corporate IT and we can all learn much from her

Commonwealth Bank