As the first five-year phase of the Australia Awards Women’s Leadership Initiative (WLI) nears completion, participants and alumni come together to reflect on the life-changing lessons learned and opportunities they have had; to grow professionally and personally.
During their time with WLI, they have also built “lifelong connections” that they “wouldn’t have had without our association with the WLI”.
Over two days, 30 Australia-based men and women scholars and alumni of WLI’s LeadershipConnect and Leadership & Mentoring programs joined special guests in Canberra to broaden their networks, consolidate leadership lessons, and celebrate coming to the end of WLI’s Phase One.
Attendees from seven Pacific countries - Papua New Guinea, Solomon Islands, Vanuatu, Tonga, Samoa, Tuvalu and Kiribati - reflected on their WLI journeys and made plans to exercise leadership for positive development change on their return home to the Pacific Islands.
Kiribati duo and LeadershipConnect participants, Anitita Bonnari and Christopher Atanteora, shared how the program taught valuable lessons “that we all need to imprint on our lives” to become better leaders.
LeadershipConnect is an online platform empowering fellow Australia Awards scholars from the Pacific Islands to consider the role of leadership and connect with each other during the pandemic.
“We are so fortunate to meet and connect through this program virtually. We may not get to meet them in person today, but our connections have already been created,” remarked Anitita during a speech in which she addressed the WLI network.
Among these connections was Australia’s (then) Ambassador for Women and Girls Christine Clarke SCS, who spent time with the 30 emerging men and women Pacific leaders.
The vital role of men in empowering women's leadership was highlighted by Chris when he shared his own WLI experiences with attendees.
Over two days, participants and alumni took part in workshops designed to support their leadership journeys, with standout sessions delivered by guest speakers on the political and technical exercise of developmental leadership, recent research on women’s leadership, and building skills to pitch themselves and their development and leadership aims.
According to participants, other key highlights included the chance to network face-to-face after so much time spent isolated during the pandemic, being among the wider DFAT network, and learning from Pacific participants who shared their work and research.
“Our sincere gratitude for the wonderful two-day session of reflections and networking with other Pacifika women and men leaders, and the different great speakers who came and spoke or networked with us,” said Leadership & Mentoring program participants, Amelia Faotusia (Tonga), MariaAriti Ioakim (Kiribati) and Jocelyn Loughman (Vanuatu).
When reflecting on their experiences of WLI as a whole (including through their experiences with LeadershipConnect, the Leadership & Mentoring program, and Learning & Networking events), participants and alumni expressed the value in having access to intensive training and ontological leadership coaching, internship opportunities, and a platform to discover their own potential and come across Pacific news and issues.
The opportunities to build networks, coalitions and cross-learning connections with the wider WLI network, establish lifelong friendships and professional connections, improve leadership skills and confidence levels, and navigate the political aspects of making change were highly regarded as having the most impact on WLI respondents.
“We are very grateful for the journey that the three of us took ... and our own personal growth since February 2021, for truly being very supportive and mentoring and coaching us along and linking us to many lifetime connections and opportunities that we wouldn't have had without our association with WLI..., we say, ‘Malo Aupito, Kam bati n rabwa, tenkiu tumas, our deepest gratitude','’ Amelia, MariaAriti and Josie added.
When considering the most challenging parts of participation in WLI, event attendees highlighted implementing the leadership and self-care lessons learned to make change, managing time and responsibilities (including delivering real-world leadership projects) while studying on-Award, and navigating the re-integration process and sustainability of networks gained on returning home.
The first phase of WLI officially concluded in June 2022.