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Professional Development Activity Grant: Puvaneswary Ponniah

Posted: 11 January 2024

Sri Lanka, Experience, Grants, Scholar,

In addition to their world-class university qualification, Australia Awards scholars have the opportunity to use their time in Australia to build their networks and capabilities. Sri Lankan scholar Puvaneswary Ponniah (Puva) received a scholar grant to develop her leadership skills and support women’s empowerment. 

Puvaneswary Ponniah (Puva) is currently undertaking a Master of Development Studies, specialising in gender and development, at Melbourne University with the support of an Australia Awards scholarship. Prior to her arrival in Australia, Puva worked as a gender adviser in the social entrepreneurship sector in Sri Lanka.

In order to enhance her leadership skills and networks, Puva successfully applied for an Australia Awards Professional Development Activity Grant to attend a one-day course titled ‘Women leaders: Own your success.’ This interactive course was designed to help women develop and create a successful leadership career. Through the grant, Puva says she gained tips and strategies to leave her comfort zone and develop confidence in public speaking and networking to advance in her professional career.

Puva at Melbourne university.

‘One of the things I learnt with the grant was the importance of having self-awareness, keeping my authenticity and my natural leadership style while trying to improve it at the same time,’ Puva says. ‘Furthermore, I realised that when supporting women in leadership, I have more opportunities to deal with my self-doubt and imposter syndrome.’

Puva believes that this grant was a great opportunity to expand her network by interacting with professionals during breakout sessions and discussions. ‘The course has created a space for dialogue on common issues affecting women and cross-sharing our experiences with diverse professionals,’ she says. After the course, Puva also connected with some of the professionals she met during the workshop via LinkedIn, which allowed her to receive more information on relevant events happening around the world and in Melbourne.

Beyond the opportunity to pursue her master’s degree, studying at Melbourne University has been a lifechanging experience for Puva, especially in improving her critical thinking and analytical skills. It has given her an opportunity to interact with diverse students from multicultural backgrounds. She believes that this helps students to better respect each other and understand different perspectives and the richness of diversity.

Puva has also travelled to different parts of Australia and explored life in various cities. ‘My childhood dream was to do my higher studies abroad, particularly in Australia,’ she notes.

‘Australia is such a beautiful country with diverse landscapes. Together with my friends, I managed to explore so much during my short stay.’

Puva interacting with other Australia Awards scholars based in Melbourne.

Reflecting on her future ambitions, Puva looks forward to resuming her career; promoting gender equality, disability and social inclusion; and becoming a positive changemaker for Sri Lanka and the world. Puva believes that it is crucial to create more awareness on managing attitudinal and behavioural changes among various stakeholders. She is determined to collaborate with all relevant development stakeholders, so that everyone can make a positive change and no one is left behind.

While studying in Australia, Puva is working to expand her professional network further by joining various clubs and student associations, seminars, panel discussions, exhibitions, and cultural and social events in and outside of the university. As a student studying abroad away from her family, Puva pays special attention to her mental wellbeing, which she has begun to prioritise after attending the course.