Leaders’ scholarships a boost for women

Posted on 07 Feb 2023

Women leaders in Victoria have the chance to win one of 50 government-funded scholarships to gain formal qualifications as community directors.

The Office of Women Victoria is sponsoring the places for candidates to undertake the acclaimed Diploma of Governance through the Institute of Community Directors Australia (ICDA).

Applications are open now until March 15.

And following a huge demand from the community sector in 2022 for the inaugural round, the Victorian Government has doubled the number of 2023 scholarships, each worth $4500.

Natalie Hutchins
Victoria's minister for both women and education, Natalie Hutchins

The intake is part of the government’s agenda to encourage women leaders by:

  • promoting more women into leadership and decision-making roles
  • increasing the diversity and representation of women on boards
  • recognising the achievements of Victorian women.

The governance scholarship will provide governance training and networking to help women to advance their board careers, with an eye to the not-for-profit sector.

Victoria’s minister for both women and education, Natalie Hutchins, said the initiative would support more women into leadership.

The scholarships were available to women across the state under the Women’s Board Leadership Program and would help participants gain positions on community and government boards.

“Women not only have the capacity, drive and potential for roles on community and government boards, but also bring experiences, expertise, and unique personalities to the organisations and corporations they work in,” Ms Hutchins said.

ICDA general manager Adele Stowe-Lindner said the initiative fit neatly with the education provider’s mission.

“We want to boost the reputation, profile and skills of community leaders and encourage a stronger, more inclusive, and diverse pool of talent in the sector. These fully funded scholarships will make this possible.”

Priyani Withanaarachchi is among past recipients of the scholarship.

One student from last year’s scholarship intake, Priyani Withanaarachchi, had been looking for opportunities to learn more about not-for-profit governance when she heard about the scholarship. Winning a place had been “a thrill”, she said.

Ms Withanaarachchi had already written two books about her migrant journey, which aimed to “open doors for others”, and which advanced her passions of improving diversity and inclusion on boards and committees.

She found the studies immediately applicable in her many roles.

On one board, the course helped her identify “several gaps in our constitution” and would provide valuable help in her new role as the organisation’s treasurer. She urged other women to apply for the opportunity.

“Believe in yourself and give it a go. That’s what I did!”

Fellow scholarship student Mary Nega hopes her studies will build on her personal mission to help young African Australians speak up.

The CEO of the youth-led not-for-profit Global Voices said the course had helped her channel her passion to make a difference.

Joining a not-for-profit or government board was a “unique leadership opportunity to contribute to solving problems in our community”, Ms Nega said, and the course had been a chance to gain “holistic insights into how organisations work”.

Mary Nega
Scholarship winner Mary Nega

Winning a scholarship had helped to ease her fears of “imposter syndrome”, helped her to afford her goals, and enhanced her credibility for other board roles.

While she was still partway through the course, she said the Diploma of Governance had been “invaluable” in helping her to understand how to best support the Global Voices board, in teaching her what counted as best practice in the sector, and in giving her the confidence to “ask questions whenever you’re in doubt”.

The course’s lessons could be applied immediately to real organisations, she said, with the study giving her a better understanding of her responsibilities, improved financial knowledge, and great professional connections with fellow students across different sectors.

She appealed to other women to apply.

“Your knowledge is valuable. If you are from an under-represented community, I implore you to apply. Boardrooms, like other decision-making entities, should reflect the broader diversity of the community. Why not you?”

Students will undertake the part-time course over five months, with the help of online tutorials and expert trainers who provide practical guidance based on real-world scenarios.

The scholarships also provide 18 months of access to ICDA’s huge resource library, and credentials for graduates.

The Institute of Community Directors Australia unashamedly champions diversity and the social sector, but applications are open to community-minded women from any background and with any life experience. The scholarships are merit-based, and applications are assessed by an independent panel.

The 50 chosen students will begin their studies from July.

The Institute of Community Directors Australia is also working with the Victorian Government to provide training for women considering running for local office through the Women Leading Locally program, which aims to counter under-representation in target areas with 60 fellowships in 2023.

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