Scholars consider Leadership and Changemaking at Scholars Symposium in Melbourne
Posted: 12 December 2023
On 22 November, Australia Awards scholars in Melbourne participated in the first Scholars Symposium, a flagship enrichment activity for Australia Awards scholars from South Asia and Mongolia. The Symposium had the theme of Leadership and Changemaking and allowed scholars to hear from leaders in Australia and consider how to enhance their ability to have an impact in their communities.
More than fifty scholars from Bangladesh, Bhutan, Maldives, Mongolia, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka attended the Symposium, joined by 22 scholars from Myanmar and two from Timor-Leste. One of the key strengths of the Symposium was that scholars were engaged in the event as speakers and facilitators, as well as having the opportunity to ask questions of the assembled experts and network with guests and each other.
Iris Yam, Assistant Director of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade’s (DFAT) South and Central Asia Development Section, opened the Symposium by welcoming the scholars on behalf of DFAT. She noted the Australian Government’s investment in Australia Awards and the ongoing importance of Scholarships, as highlighted in Australia’s new International Development Policy. She also encouraged the scholars to follow the lead of the esteemed existing alumni in their home countries.
Australia Awards scholar Radhika Orari of Bhutan delivered a response on behalf of the scholars. Radhika called on the scholars present to revisit their Development Impact and Linkages Plans (DILP) on the basis of their learning experiences in Australia.
“As I reflect on my own DILP journey, it’s remarkable to think how I began as a mentee in cybersecurity and various tech fields during my initial months in Australia, and now find myself volunteering as a mentor,” Radhika said.
“My personal growth mirrors the remarkable journey we’ve all embarked on and today marks a pivotal moment as we reassess our DILP. Looking back, it sometimes feels surreal—like a dream turned into reality, all thanks to DFAT for flying us beyond our wildest dreams.”
Carly Findlay OAM, a disability advocate and writer, delivered the keynote address, recalling her own journey and providing advice to scholars on how they could advocate for the removal of disabling barriers ahead of International Day of Persons with Disabilities.
Carly then joined a panel to discuss diversity in leadership. The panel also included Cassandra Fernando MP (Member for Holt), Sandith Samarasinghe (the Consul-General of Sri Lanka) and Dr Simona Carbone (co-director of the Integrated Neurogenic Mechanisms Laboratory at Monash University and science leadership podcast host). The discussion was facilitated by Lam-Ya Mostaque, an Australia Awards scholar from Bangladesh.
Drawing on her experience as the first Sri Lankan-born woman to be elected to the Parliament of Australia, Cassandra told the scholars to lead by example and “create their own space” if they saw an area that lacked diversity. She reflected that her electorate of Holt had more Sinhala speakers than any other electorate in Australia and yet before her election in 2022, it had never been held by a woman, let alone a Sinhala speaker. She noted her pride in contributing to the Australian Parliament being the most culturally diverse it had ever been, better reflecting Australia’s multicultural community.
Consul-General Samarasinghe advised scholars to embrace Australia’s diversity while they were studying and to pursue inclusivity when back in their home countries. “Take your agenda for change and include everyone in your work,” he said.
Highlighting her experience in science, Simona noted the benefits that come from including people with diverse backgrounds and ways of thinking. “You don’t know what ideas you’re going to get from groups of people until you actually bring them together,” she said.
The next panel was facilitated by Maldivian scholar Shaziya Ali and featured Jimi Chakma (an Australia Awards alumnus from Bangladesh), Tuya Gombosuren (a Mongolian-born life coach and Manager at PwC Australia), Alice Tamang (proud Dharug woman and Indigenous Engagement Adviser for Australia Awards – South Asia & Mongolia) and Julian Jefferys of StudyMelbourne.
Speaking as an Australia Awards alumnus, Jimi called on scholars to take advantage of every opportunity to build their skills and linkages. “You can look at internships, field visits, course audits and vocational training: all are important for building your professional networks,” he said. He also observed the importance of scholars building their online presence and using tools like LinkedIn to develop connections.
Building on this theme, Tuya told the scholars that “the university grounds are your playground” and encouraged them to focus on building their personal and professional connections. She asked them to consider the value that they could bring to the Australian community and to identify the contribution they could make through their skills and experience.
Alice discussed opportunities for scholars to engage with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, including through industry associations, local groups and university Indigenous student service bodies, and by following Indigenous media, such as the Koori Mail. She called on scholars to learn from Indigenous ways of working and ensure they listened to Indigenous voices when seeking to engage, noting “relationships are at the heart of everything we do”.
Julian pushed scholars to work on their elevator pitches to enable them to network better. He noted that storytelling was a key skill in the modern world, and that it was important that scholars be able to articulate what they had learnt.
After this panel, the scholars had the opportunity to put into practice what they had heard during the day by working on their elevator pitches, building their online presence, and re-examining their DILPs in light of their experience in Australia so far and what they had learnt during the Symposium. Some scholars volunteered to share their elevator pitches in front of the Symposium participants.
The day concluded with final remarks from Mason Interlandi from DFAT’s Victoria State Office, who first congratulated those scholars who had already completed their degrees. He encouraged them to engage with alumni groups on their return to their home countries and prompted them to leverage their networks with Australian organisations and individuals in their work. Mason then addressed the scholars who would continue studying in 2024, encouraging them to use the summer break to build their networks, skills and experiences to contribute to their countries’ development.
Speaking of her experience at the event, Mongolian scholar Nergui Enebish said, “Attending the Australia Awards Scholars Symposium 2023 was truly a remarkable experience. The event was packed with engaging panel discussions, inspiring speeches, and ample networking opportunities to connect with individuals from diverse backgrounds and industries.”
Following her role in facilitating the second panel, Shaziya Ali said, “I was thrilled to participate in the Scholars Symposium and am eager to absorb the valuable insights from the day’s engaging conversations.”
Echoing the sentiments of many, Sri Lankan scholar Sambavi Arulananthan said that the Scholars Symposium had “given me a new perspective on my DILP and how to be a changemaker. I feel more confident now”.