26 March 2020
The 2020 She Leads College Conference was a one-day leadership event for young women, including female–identifying and non-binary people, in years 11 and 12. The event, held Thursday 12 March at the University of Canberra’s Ann Harding Conference Centre, engaged more than 120 young people to explore and discover their leadership identity and values, as well as reflect on their experiences, strengths, values, and goals.
Inspired by the theme ‘Unstoppable’, this year’s She Leads College Conference was aimed at inspiring young people to uncover their true potential and become an unstoppable force for social change. By embracing their capabilities, the day was focused on showing participants the significance of transforming power structures and empowering themselves both individually and collectively.
Moving into the future, YWCA Canberra aims to show young women and gender diverse people that leadership positions should not be confined to patriarchal power systems. We want to inspire young people to challenge the conventional and push them to become the makers and leaders of their futures.
Beginning the event, Ngunnawal elder, Aunty Violet delivered a heartfelt Welcome to Country. After leading a beautiful speech about women empowerment and leadership, Aunty Violet affirmed that young people are the future and that their actions, regardless of how big or small they are, matter.
Next up, our vibrant MC, Maddy Weeks officially opened the event. Returning to She Leads College a second time, it was obvious Maddy knew exactly how to lift the crowd through her charming personality and wicked sense of humour. By drawing on the day’s theme, Maddy thoughtfully shared her own story of leadership with us as she delved into her experience starting as a young female comedian in a male-dominated industry. She shared how she gained her confidence coming out as queer, and how that became the catalyst to her blossoming into the charismatic person that she is today. Before moving onto our next speaker, Maddy offered one powerful piece of advice:
“I think the only way we can fix the problem, is if people like you and people like me, take the leap. It’s terrifying, but the only way we can change the world is to do stuff that scares us.”
Following Maddy, came our first powerhouse keynote speaker, Vanessa Turnbull Roberts. Vanessa is a law student, activist and game-changer. After enduring an extremely traumatic childhood, being taken from her family at the age of 11, Vanessa grew up to become a strong, independent and self-assured woman, eager to show the world what she’s made of. After floating from foster home to foster home, Vanessa finally gained her freedom when she turned 18. From here, she has focused all her energy into her education, and in becoming a voice, and leader for her Aboriginal people. Drawing on her cultural and social challenges, Vanessa reflected on the power of collaboration and solidarity. She encouraged the young people to reach out to others, and value the importance of partnership, leaving us with one final thought to reflect on:
“Doing things as an individual can get done, but things shared is always better.”
Students then participated in an improv activity facilitated by Canberra acting group, Lightbulb Improv. During this activity, students were encouraged to unleash their inner leader, and play the part of a manager in charge of directing a company retreat. For this activity, each person could pitch their ideas and solutions on how to run a successful event. This activity encouraged the students to break out of their shell, think critically, while also working collaboratively with others.
Our second activity for the day, SMILE saw students engaged in the practice of self-care and mindfulness. Facilitated by YWCA Canberra’s youth engagement team, this workshop required each person to think of ways to de-stress and share methods to help promote a healthy mental mindset. This was then followed by a peaceful meditation session which offered students time to reflect on their personal qualities and achievements.
We then had our ‘Moving from dreaming to achieving’ guest panel, facilitated by Taylor Fitzgerald, the panel was set around the theme of chasing your dreams and achieving your goals. Featuring, Vendulka, Gina Zheng and Mariam Mohammed, each woman spoke candidly about their leadership journey, the challenges they faced and their key motivations. From here, students were able to learn about the importance of self-determination, the value of support and the significance of staying resilient. Upon concluding the session, Taylor closed the panel with one final question, “What does it mean to you to be unstoppable?”
Vendulka said, “it’s changing your ifs into when’s.’ For Gina “It’s loving what you’re doing”, and for Mariam , “it’s being comfortable in your own skin.”
Our last keynote speaker was Han Worsley. Han is a science teaching student, a community volunteer and a young entrepreneur. To open their speech, Han shared their experience growing up in the tiny rural town of Nullamanna. After performing well in the HSC, Han moved to Sydney to study a degree in medicine. Despite studying a highly respected field, Han found themselves extremely unhappy, and eventually dropped out. After a year of self-reflection, Han was able to uncover what their true passion was, accessible education. From here, Han was able to push against societal norms and pursue a degree they are now completely in love with, science teaching.
To wrap up the She Leads College Conference, students participated in the final activity of the day, the post-it note challenge. During this activity, students were encouraged to share inspiring messages of empowerment and self-motivation and stick them on our goals wall. This year, we wanted to encourage students to feel confident and inspire them to become the leaders we are all deserving of. After witnessing the amazing messages they shared, we have no doubt they will go on to achieve their goals and make fearless leaders for our future.
Want to see photos taken from this year’s She Leads College Conference? Check out the event‘s album on our Flickr.
If you wish to find out more information about She Leads College Conference 2021, contact our team at SheLeads@ywca-canberra.org.au