Research: WLI boosts Pacific leaders’ confidence and connections for positive development change  

Wednesday, June 12, 2024
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New research mapping alumni networks and experiences indicates that Australia Awards and WLI are effective in building the long-term confidence and connections of Pacific leaders to drive positive developmental change.

Through collaborative research between WLI and the Global Tracer Facility (GTF), the impact of the WLI program on developmental leadership in the Pacific was measured, exploring the leadership experiences and habits of the first three cohorts of women participating.

In a two-part case study series, Developmental leadership for women in the Pacific: Cultivating networks for change and WLI alumni reflections and insights found that WLI alumni were highly connected and used WLI networks to form coalitions to drive developmental change in their own contexts.

The research also uncovered 12 key WLI alumni who peers identified as leaders and brokers supporting developmental leadership objectives and explored how their Australia Awards and WLI experiences contributed to their exercises of developmental leadership.

About the research on women’s developmental leadership in the Pacific

The case study series adds to a growing body of GTF research analysing the long-term impact of the WLI program on developmental leadership in the Pacific – exploring leadership exercised by alumni.

Specifically, it examined connections of alumni that were part of Cohorts 1-3 of the Women’s Developmental Leadership Program (then the Leadership & Mentoring Program) participating in 2018 and 2019.

It explored how they are using leadership skills to drive change, and how their Australia Awards and WLI experiences contributed to their developmental leadership capacity.

The overall aim of the research was to use social network analysis (SNA) to explore alumni networks between leading WLI women in the Pacific, identify key network members exhibiting developmental leadership characteristics, and then use in-depth interviews to understand how these key network members are using their developmental leadership skills to drive change.

56 of the 69 eligible alumni responded to an online survey investigating their attitudes towards the WLI program and their social networks with WLI peers.

Key findings and implications

WLI alumni are emerging leaders supporting each other and forming coalitions for change

The case study demonstrated highly-connected WLI alumni using their networks with WLI peers to form coalitions for change and support to drive positive development change in their contexts.

All 69 alumni surveyed reported that they would reach out to or be connected by a fellow WLI alum to develop connections with Australia.

The majority of WLI alumni (83%) were also part of a collaborative relationship with a WLI peer, highlighting their motivation to work collectively to enact sustainable change in their contexts.

The high level of connectivity across networks also showed that alumni have formed coalitions for support that facilitate connections with Australia, expand professional networks, help to overcome professional challenges, and are used to mentor each other and other women.

[Pictured: WDLP alumni Maria-Goreti Muavesi (left) and Nanise Kuridrani]
12 key brokers and leaders in the WLI network were identified

The case study uncovered 12 women who were identified as key brokers and leaders in the WLI network who are addressing challenges (including through their relationships and work) to drive positive development change.

These women were identified either due to their structural position in professional support networks (the brokers) or because they were highly regarded by their WLI peers as exhibiting developmental leadership characteristics (the leaders) and contributing to sustainable development goals (SDGs).

Four alumni were identified as brokers whose network position resulted in them having a stronger influence over the flow of information in the WLI network. If these four women – from two cohorts and two countries – were removed from the group, information would spread less effectively across the network.

Leaders and brokers are using WLI tools to drive change

Evidence showed the 12 identified WLI leaders are making significant contributions to development through everyday leadership in their communities – through volunteering, and in their professional careers.

The leaders and brokers were reported by their peers to be highly-connected and visible changemakers driving change by/through:

This includes in areas such as environmental law and conservation, disaster management and preparedness, health research and health policy, education and development initiatives, and food security and prosperity.

When asked to reflect on why they were nominated by their peers askey network members, these 12 alumni believed this was due to being ‘genuine’, ‘effective’ communicators, ‘willing to share’, ‘well-connected’ and ‘in a role that facilitates networking’.

WLI fosters 'sisterhood' and builds confidence and networks of alumni leaders and brokers for change

The research found that participation in on-Award activities such as the Women’s Developmental Leadership Program and WLI ontological leadership training provided WLI alumni with increased confidence in their technical skills and expanded their networks.

This includes through establishing connections to fellow scholars, classmates, Australian mentors and industry contacts, and WLI mentors, event speakers, and Steering Committee Members, through the program.

In measuring the extent to which alumni were and still are in touch with connections made through the WLI program, half reported that Pacific guest speakers and friends of the program as well as WLI peers were useful in their long-term development.

Almost half (48%) found connections with Pacific Steering Committee members most useful.

Of particular interest, the research shows strong evidence that alumni use their shared experience of the WLI program to activate coalitions of support and change through their WLI ‘sisterhood’, which acts as a safe and trusted network to seek advice and reassurance, share expertise and experiences, gain contextual insights, and access additional professional connections from like-minded women in the Pacific.

Alumni also believe these networks have a shared purpose for creating sustainable change and feel they are equipped with the skills and confidence for developmental leadership.

The bottom line: WLI is building the developmental leadership capacity of Pacific Australia Awards leaders

Findings of the case study series demonstrate that the Australia Awards and WLI equip alumni with the skills and confidence for developmental leadership, and reinforce the importance of enrichment programs in building the professional networks of emerging leaders from the Pacific region.  

They show that on-Award leadership programs such as WLI encourage collaboration on collective goals that are vital for increasing cohesion across a group of alumni.

The high level of connectivity found also shows WLI alumni are actively using their WLI connections to support their professional development and contribute to development in the Pacific – at the community, organisational, and societal level.

Access the WLI-GTF Case Study Series

Download Case Study 1: Developmental leadership for women in the Pacific: Cultivating networks for change in Australia Award WLI alumni

Download Case Study 2: Developmental leadership for women in the Pacific: WLI alumni reflections and insights