Emily Milton Smith is a young woman leading with empathy

Meet Emily Milton Smith: The young woman leading change with empathy

Emily Milton Smith
Emily Milton Smith is leading the next generation of young women from a place empathy.

She’s spoken passionately about girl’s rights at the UN, been named NSW Young Volunteer of the Year and is a recipient of The Queen’s Young Leader Award.

“Investing in girls and women is an investment in empowering communities. There is a stack of literature that shows how empowering a girl improves outcomes for others,” she recently told Women’s Agenda.

Milton Smith is a long-time Girl Guide leader and takes pride in her committed volunteering activities.

“Girl Guides is values-based learning. Kindness, empathy, respect. I’m always sense-checking everything I do in terms of maximising kindness and respect, and leading from a place of deep empathy,” she said.

“Guiding is truly about delivering impact, and empowering girls and young women. To be leaders, thinkers, innovators and businesswomen!”

Below, Emily tells Women’s Agenda about her passion for gender justice and why Girl Guides has been improving outcomes for girls for many years.

You’ve been named NSW Young Volunteer of the Year. Congratulations! Can you tell us a little about some of your work that has led to this achievement?

Thanks! I received the Award a few years back recognising the difference I was making in my community with Girl Guides, and the opportunities I was creating for more girls by taking the lead on state and national campaigns and initiatives that inspired girls to learn more about the things they care about, and come up with creative ways to take action, speak out and be heard! Girl Guides is a space to empower girls and I helped my group of Guides deliver super interesting impact projects.

Some of these have included kicking off recycling programs in local schools and getting the school community involved in making better choices. Another included partnering with a local hospital and sewing breast care bags to support those going through breast cancer. Other projects have included looking at health & development issues in Australia and around the world, and improving our body confidence and self-esteem – helping girls become more confident!

I’ve been volunteering for 2 decades. It’s so important to sustaining communities, but I also think it makes them flourish! In NSW, about 2.4 million people volunteer every year. Why? From my experience as a Girl Guide leader and a life long volunteer with other organisations, volunteering builds relationships and connection, and it makes people feel great!

Since receiving the Award, I set up and ran the Girls Advisory Panel; this is an appointed council of Girl Guides under 18 years old who are passionate about taking a seat at the table where the decisions are made that affect their lives, and being involved in those processes with the right skills to effective advocate. One key outcome of this council has been focused conversations around mental health strategies, and we are now in the process of rolling out mental health first aid training for Girl Guide leaders to give them the right tools, networks and knowledge to continue to provide girls with safe and supported spaces in Guiding. This strengthens and enhances Girl Guides for each and every girl, and shows how Girl Guides are empowered to be leaders of tomorrow but also leaders of TODAY!

I also joined the Board of Girl Guides NSW & ACT. Girl Guides have been improving outcomes for the girls and young women across the world for over 100 years, and we are looking forward to the next 100 years! Taking on this leadership role is a way I can be part of that for girls.

Outside of some of the things I do in Girl Guides, I also volunteer with UN Women National Committee Australia, collaborating with yet another amazing group of women to coordinate fundraising opportunities in Sydney. This includes organising the stellar International Women’s Day Breakfast! Just this year we’ve raised tens of thousands of dollars that will go directly to improving outcomes for the world’s women and girls – and especially those in the Pacific Region.

As the recipient of the Queen’s Young Leader Award, what does leadership mean to you?

The Queen’s Young Leader Award recognises and celebrates exemplary young leaders from across the Commonwealth. As part of the Award, I received some incredible leadership development, including mentoring and a short course at The University of Cambridge.

The Queen’s Young Leader Award is pretty special. What blows my mind is how the Queen has used the Award to highlight the game changing impact young people are delivering to transform their lives and those of others. The Queen’s Young Leaders are all massive change-makers and they continue to inspire me!

There are so many definitions out there aiming to define leadership. For me, I always highlight three things when explaining what leadership is:

  1. Teamwork – to be a leader, you need to know how to be a team player, and lead from behind when appropriate.
  2. Facilitation – leaders need to be able to get the best out of their teams, playing to team member’s strengths and valuing their contributions. Determining the vision, strategies and goals requires input and buy in in order for a team to succeed.
  3. Communication – being respectful, effective, managing conflict

Leadership is empowerment, and empowerment is leadership.

Emily Milton Smith with Quentin Bryce


How do you work to make sure your leadership style is effective?

I’m fortunate I’ve been through A+ leadership training having been involved with Girl Guides for nearly 2 decades! Developing leaders and leadership skills is integral to everything we do. I’ve had so many opportunities to learn through experience, and be supported to try, to fail, to reflect, to grow, and to do better were all investments in making me the person I am today. Like anything, leadership is a skill and practising it regularly is important. My learning never stops!

As a leader, I play to my strengths and build teams around me that complement and challenge my skills and experience. I ensure their voices are heard and valued – and everyone has buy-in to the shared vision and clear understanding of the goal. Then checking in with people!

Leaders set the tone, and that tone needs to be grounded in values.

Of course, Girl Guides is values-based learning. Kindness, empathy, respect. I’m always sense-checking everything I do in terms of maximising kindness and respect, and leading from a place of deep empathy.

Girl Guides helped me examine my leadership and communication style at different times of my leadership journey.

What do you value most about Girl Guides?

That is really is a place to grow, for any girl and every girl. Girls learn through Girl Guides: they connect with themselves, their peers, and the world. They learn key leadership skills and other core soft skills critical to today’s world. And the girls are in the lead every step of the way – making choices, challenging themselves further, and exploring things relevant to them! And all while having buckets of fun, making new friends, doing good stuff for the community, and having adventures!

A key example of this is Girl Guide Biscuits! May is Girl Guide Biscuit Month and Girl Guides are selling biscuits right across Australia. Selling biscuits is about building financial literacy, learning project management, improving leadership and enhancing communication skills. In addition to important outcomes for girls, funds raised through the Biscuit drive helps provide sustainability for groups of Girl Guides – investing in the work we do for a world where girls are valued, empowered and resilient. It’s so much #morethanabiscuit.

Guiding is truly about delivering impact, and empowering girls and young women. To be leaders, thinkers, innovators and businesswomen! This all leads to vibrant communities and a better world! I think what Girl Guides offers for girls and young women is now more important than ever!

You’ve spoken at the UN about girl’s rights and gender justice.  What makes you passionate about this topic?

Investing in girls and women is an investment in empowering communities. There is a stack of literature that shows how empowering a girl improves outcomes for others.

The UN is a global stage. Getting decision-makers to agreement is difficult, but it’s one key area to get commitments from our world’s leaders: the folk who then go back to realise those commitments in their home countries. Being in those spaces, I take the responsibility seriously: to speak out for girls and young women while also helping them to raise their voice and be heard. Girl Guides is global, so we have huge infrastructure to be able to connect with girls as young as 5 years old and ensure they have opportunities to feed in.

I did a lot of work on the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) and continue to do so much on the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). I was really involved in review of the MDGs and the design of the SDGs, running youth consultations and enabling greater participation for young people to share with our global leaders the things they are concerned about and what is important to them. The #2030Agenda is all about improving the world, and for me – it’s a call to action. We all have a part to play!

I’m a gender advocate. I’m especially passionate about girls’ rights because girls are too often disenfranchised from decision-making processes across all aspects of their lives. Girl Guides is #ForHerWorld so government, school, family… we want a world were girls are valued. Where their voices are heard, and people listen. Where they are empowered.

Emily Milton Smith
Emily Milton Smith


Girl Guides has been an incredible learning space where I’ve grown and become the person I am today, but also I’ve reinvested that knowledge into others – helping them find their path. I’m passionate about it because I know it works. I’ve seen the transformation! Girls’ right and gender justice is about fairness. Whether that’s ending violence against women and girls, centering women and girls’ participation, and boosting women’s leadership! This all starts with primary prevention strategies and solutions that engage, equip and empower! I believe these sorts of things can no longer be seen as “women’s issues” or “women’s work”. We need to promote and embed respect, because we are #MorePowerfulTogether.

Impact is borne out of inspiration and action, influencing change for a better world!

What are your plans for the rest of 2019?

Well first, I’ll be heading out to my local Girl Guide group and buying a pack of biscuits to support them! Actually, probably at least 3 packets: the traditional vanilla are glorious!

I get to do some really great stuff with a number of organisations dedicated to making the world a better place. I’m looking forward to launching some new projects that are in the pipeline. This will accelerate the work so many of us, including me, continue to do to help girls shine! Some of these projects include thinking about how girls can amplify their impact in their communities, and how we can all join together to achieve the SDGs, or the Global Goals, with a clear vision for #Youth2030

I’m really excited about seeing Girl Guides continue to grow. New Girl Guides are joining as members, and even more women are joining us to volunteer and lend their sparkle (and general awesomeness) to inspire and empower this generation of girl!

Also, I work for The Duke of Edinburgh’s International Award – Australia, and this year we are celebrating 60 years of the Award in Australia! The Duke of Ed is another amazing organisation committed to non-formal education; it helps young people find their purpose, passion and place in today’s world! Celebrations have kicked off and a bunch of brilliant things have been planned to recognise the value the Award brings to young people.

It’s always busy, but super focused – which I think is a good way to lead your life: with focus.


Stay Smart! Get Savvy!

Get Women’s Agenda in your inbox