Research on WLI alumni exercising COVID-19 leadership in the Pacific
A newly published research paper exploring the experiences of Australia Awards Women Leading and Influencing (WLI) alumni exercising leadership in the Pacific region during the COVID-19 pandemic provides valuable insights for those supporting women’s developmental leadership.
‘Supporting Women’s Leadership During COVID-19: Women Leading and Influencing in the Pacific’ was published by the Developmental Leadership Program (DLP) - an international research collaboration supported by the Australian Government - in partnership with WLI and La Trobe University’s Institute of Human Security and Social Change.
The paper looks at recipients of the COVID-19 Leadership Fund - a small grant program devised by WLI in 2020 to support Pacific women participants and alumni to mitigate the impacts of the pandemic in their respective countries.
The paper explores the women’s understanding of leadership, how the Fund provided a platform to put their leadership skills and tools into practice, and lessons learned from supporting women’s developmental leadership.
Key findings and implications
The participating women framed their understanding of leadership and ways of working in distinctly Pacific ways. In particular, the idea of service to the community as a Pacific concept is important to how women see their roles and contribution as leaders.
The women made use of a range of strategies to navigate the space available for them to lead and to challenge gender norms in their communities. Factors such as their age, their family status and the area in which they had grown up could also create contextual opportunities and challenges.
Based on these findings, the paper highlights several implications for those supporting women’s leadership, including:
- the benefit of integrating non-Western understandings of leadership into program design; and
- creating a larger role for peer mentoring between WLI participants and experienced women leaders to share knowledge of how best to apply leadership strategies and navigate their cultural contexts.
Evolution of the WLI Leadership Fund
The COVID-19 Leadership Fund was developed at the height of the COVID pandemic, to provide WLI participants and alumni with opportunities to practice their leadership skills, work with others and design/ implement a range of initiativies to respond to the pandemic in the Pacific.
In 2022, the Fund was re-launched as the WLI Leadership Fund. While it continues to include the capacity to provide small 'project'-style grants, the Fund will also allow for the ongoing provision of small amounts of opportunistic funding (ranging from $100 - $10,000) to support different types of leadership action in-country. This may include, but not be limited to:
- Provision of technical advice or research support on a specific policy or development issue;
- Discrete funds to convene a meeting between alumni and other stakeholders on key issues;
- Strategic alumni engagements, events and community service projects (where these are not offered by other program areas); and
- Establishment of women's professional bodies (e.g. women engineers) to grow networks and /or undertake advocacy on sectoral issues.
Women's Developmental Leadership Program participants and alumni are eligible to apply for the WLI Leadership Fund through the WLI Leaders Hub.