Featured Profiles

From Somalia To Founder Of Lumachain – The Journey Of Jamila Gordon

One of Australia’s leading tech leaders, Jamila Gordon, is the CEO and Founder of Lumachain. Gordon received Microsoft’s global Award in the 2018 International Women’s Entrepreneurship Challenge (IWEC); she was the first Australian to receive this honour. She currently sits on the board of Questacon, Australia’s National Science and Technology Centre.


Jamila Gordon was born in a remote village in Somalia. Growing up, her family was poor, but she remembers a childhood full of kindness and happiness fondly. “My mother had 16 children, two died young and I was the second oldest. I was expected at a very young age to help my mother,” she said in an interview with CIO.


Gordon acknowledges that she owes her life to her father, who is a master of thinking on his feet. He had the foresight to shift his family out of Somali before the Civil War broke out in 1991, or they would have faced imminent death at the hands of armed rebel forces looking to overthrow the Barre regime.


Despite escaping imminent war, Gordon’s resilience was tested every step of the way. Her family soon became scattered worldwide as refugees. At 18 years, she ended up in neighbouring Kenya with some distant relatives she had never met or heard of before.  Gordon spent less than a year in Kenya during that period and described it as the most challenging time in her life.


“I was in limbo, I had made a lot of good friends, the Somali relatives really didn’t want me there because they didn’t have enough money or means to take care of the young woman who didn’t have anywhere to go back to. It was the hardest thing I have ever done, I was moved between different houses with relatives and friends, mainly Kenyan friends,” she said.


Encountering incredible odds at every junction, Gordon was finally on the right path when she met an Australian backpacker who got her to Australia, where they soon got married. She, however, found herself struggling to learn the language and enrolled to study an English course at the St George TAFE in Sydney. She took up a job washing dishes at a local eatery for four days a week for $5 an hour to support herself.  She always dreamed of receiving a university degree, especially after meeting a girl who got an excellent job at the Australian Taxation Office. “I came from a culture where women didn’t work so to watch this young woman finish university and get a job at the ATO was inspirational. I wanted to be exactly like her.”


She pursued her passion and studied Bachelor of Accounting at La Trobe University in Melbourne, and this is where she stumbled upon her love for IT and Programming.“I had one programming elective and I fell in love with it. A lecturer at the university said ‘you’re obviously good at programming, just follow your passion’.”


Her expert skill to cut code landed her the job opportunity at QSP Software as a Software Developer in 1995. Her entrance test required her to answer a logic and algorithm test in which she scored full marks to secure the job.


The job came with several benefits, including an opportunity to travel the world; this was Gordon’s dream from the start. “All my life I wanted to travel. When I was at university, I watched my friends go on holidays and I never had the means to do it,” Gordon said.


The company sent Gordon to its research and development base at Gateshead near Newcastle in England. A short while after, Reading in London, she customised and configured its software for British Gas. She was also transferred to Dubai, doing work in similar lines at Emirates Airlines.


She then returned to Australia after being headhunted by QSP Software customer, insurance company GIO. Gordon was headhunted again by IBM Global Services, where she eventually joined as a Senior Project Manager. She spent the next six years of her life at Big Blue in Senior Program Delivery roles in Nice, France; AXA Insurance in Paris; and ABN Amro Bank in Amsterdam in the Netherlands.


Diversity On The Board

Gordon did the AICD’s Company Directors Course before she joined the council. She learnt an important lesson that the board played a crucial role in setting an organisation’s culture. Gordon is adamant that having a diverse panel will only produce a more positive and collaborative culture.


“It is crucial that a board be made up of people whose thinking is informed by different experiences, backgrounds, and areas of expertise,” she says. “This diversity allows the board to help the business to come up with better strategies, to ask better questions and to better reflect the diversity of its customers.” Gordon is a big advocate for diversity and feels room for improvement across the board — particularly in the tech industry.


She then went on with her next adventure, founding the company Lumachain, a concept that she is very passionate about. Lumachain brings transparency to global supply chains that benefit producers, enterprises and consumers. Their platform tracks and traces the origin, location and condition of individual items in a supply chain, in real-time, from farm to fork. This incentivises farmers and manufacturers to create high-quality, ethically-produced products.


She’s described her journey rising in the IT and digital ranks and finally found her own company as “wonderful” despite facing what she describes as “some pretty awful behaviours along the way”.


In conclusion, she said, “When I’ve had setbacks, I’ve always been able to put them in perspective … I always make sure no matter what that I am on top of my brief and I understand my space. But I do want to see things change to a point where women can genuinely play on a level playing field to men.”