More than 70 Australia Awards alumni from South and West Asia gathered in Colombo, Sri Lanka, in January 2020 to celebrate alumni achievements and success as part of this year’s Regional Alumni Workshop.
The three-day workshop welcomed alumni from Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, the Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka, who all got an opportunity to share their success stories and experiences, gain skills on impactful storytelling, and strengthen their professional networks across the region. The alumni were accompanied by senior diplomats from the region, as well as representatives from the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT), Australia Awards and partner organisations in Sri Lanka.
The participating alumni were selected through a competitive process. More than 300 alumni submitted stories on meaningful development contributions the applicants have made in their own countries, partnerships they have developed with Australian companies/universities, or pioneering accomplishments following their Australia Awards experience.
The workshop, held on 27–29 January 2020, was inaugurated by Dr Tom Davis, First Secretary (Development Cooperation), Sri Lanka and Maldives, DFAT, who delivered a keynote speech on the workshop’s theme, “Celebrating Alumni Success”. In his remarks, Dr Davis emphasised on the importance of storytelling as a tool for advocacy. “Stories are powerful tools for creating change because they enable people to engage with complex issues,” he said. “Your stories show that positive change can happen, that problems can be resolved. Your stories have a message of hope and hope is a strong motivator of change.” Dr Davis was joined by Andrew Brown, Chief Operations Officer of Scope Global, in opening the event and launching a digital exhibition of alumni stories of impact.
“Your stories show that positive change can happen, that problems can be resolved. Your stories have a message of hope and hope is a strong motivator of change” – Dr Tom Davis, First Secretary (Development Cooperation), Sri Lanka and Maldives, DFAT
Strengthening personal and professional narratives
The workshop included masterclasses delivered by Digital Storytellers, a Sydney-based film agency, and Curative (Pvt.) Ltd, delivery partners of TEDxColombo in Sri Lanka. The masterclasses provided opportunities for participants to improve their storytelling and public speaking skills.
The first day of the workshop ended with a Welcome Reception and networking event hosted by the Australian High Commission in Sri Lanka. Alumnus Anuk de Silva from Sri Lanka emceed the reception and alumna Dr Randika Jayasinghe, also from Sri Lanka, reflected on the significance of compelling storytelling for changemakers. “This year’s workshop is special because it is about celebrating our success stories,” she said.
In reflecting on the workshop, Dr Jayasinghe commented, “It was a great learning experience to listen to the amazing stories of other alumni from the region. My Australia Awards story focuses on one of the most problematic socio-environmental issues of Sri Lanka: the waste issue. Waste management in developing countries needs to adopt different strategies to find sustainable solutions to the problem. I believe education and creating awareness on waste upcycling can bring about positive change and help us tackle the problem.”
On the final day of the workshop, the alumni used their newly gained skills in storytelling and public speaking to participate in a country-level competition where they presented their success stories to a panel of judges. Fourteen finalists from the country-level competition then went on to compete in the regional round of the competition, judged by a panel including Ms Victoria Coakley, Deputy High Commissioner, Australian High Commission, Colombo, Sri Lanka.
Finalists Gouhar Pirzada and Mohni Saif, Australia Awards alumni from Pakistan, applauded the opportunity. “The experience to participate among 70 contestants from seven countries has been memorable,” they said. “We learnt a lot and each success story was not only inspiring, but it called for so much more that we could do together. As we say, let’s connect the dots and create a better world in our lifetime.”
The winner of the regional competition, Australia Awards alumna Ghazaal Habibyar, is the former Acting Minister and Deputy Minister of Mines and Petroleum of Afghanistan. During her time as a senior public official, she had led the development of policies that were adopted by the Cabinet, fought corruption and worked hard to bring reform. Ghazaal told an inspiring story about overcoming barriers and breaking glass ceilings to become one of the Afghan woman working hard to make a sustainable impact in the male-dominated political sphere.
Sharing her excitement about winning the competition, Ghazaal said, “I am happy to have been able to showcase and share my story with others who have made their own mark as well. It was a wonderful experience to hear of the different accomplishments of our alumni network. I am proud and humbled that my story was selected as the winning story. I hope my story inspires women in Afghanistan and the region to break gender barriers and reach great heights.”
“I am proud and humbled that my story was selected as the winning story. I hope my story inspires women in Afghanistan and the region to break gender barriers and reach great heights.” – Ghazaal Habibyar, Australia Awards alumna, Afghanistan
The runners up of the regional competition were Australia Awards alumna Dr Sunita Maleku from Nepal and Australia Awards alumnus Dr Ahmed Shahid from the Maldives.
Dr Sunita Maleku is the Chairperson of AutismCare Nepal Society, which delivers awareness and advocacy training to parents and is making a significant difference in the lives of people with autism in Nepal. Sunita’s engaging story touched the hearts of her peers and judges at the workshop. Sunita believes that storytelling is an important skill to have. Reflecting on her learning from the workshop, she said, “I learnt a lot about the process, the importance of storytelling and the power it has to touch people. It was an amazing experience learning various strategies, preparing presentations and practising to present.” She was also already thinking about sharing her knowledge. “I want to share what I learned with my colleagues and help them learn it,” she said. “If a single mother like me can influence so many parents, the whole ripple effect has proven that we can all be change-makers and make an impact with our stories.”
Dr Ahmed Shahid shared his story of making contributions to human rights practices in the Maldives. Shahid is providing his expertise to build the capacity of rights-based institutions all over the world. “Human rights concern every one of us. Protecting and preserving human dignity is everyone’s concern,” he said. “I wish to see a Maldives where there is an entrenched culture of respect for human rights; where the fundamental human rights of everyone are respected, protected and fulfilled without exception.” Shahid also spoke about the benefits of the workshop. “The Australia Awards Regional Alumni Workshop provided me with a platform to share my story as a human rights advocate and academic trying to make a difference in my home country and the region,” he said. “Sharing my story with other alumni and listening to their stories further strengthened my resolve and motivation to make the best use of what I learned in Australia and to give back to the community at home.”
“I learnt a lot about the process, the importance of storytelling and the power it has to touch people. It was an amazing experience learning various strategies, preparing presentations and practising to present.” – Dr Sunita Maleku, Australia Awards alumna, Nepal
The Regional Alumni Workshop supported the strategic connect, mobilise and celebrate objectives of the Australia Global Alumni Engagement Strategy (2016-2020). The workshop provided an opportunity for alumni in the region to connect with each other and share information and knowledge; it provided a professional development platform to mobilise engagement with alumni by improving their storytelling and public speaking skills; and it was designed primarily to celebrate the achievements of Australia Awards alumni—while enhancing the connections among local and regional alumni, and with Australia.
About Australia Awards
Australia Awards are prestigious international Scholarships and Short Courses funded by the Australian Government. They offer the next generation of global leaders an opportunity to undertake study, research and professional development in Australia.
All recipients of Australia Awards become part of the Australia Global Alumni network, connecting them to Australia and to each other—building an engaged and influential global network of leaders and advocates, and establishing a network of ambassadors for Australia and its first-class education system. In the past five years alone, more than 1,000 individuals in South and West Asia have received Australia Awards Scholarships to study in Australia.
Applications for Australia Awards Scholarships for study commencing in 2021 are now open and will close on 30 June. Learn more.