One year of Women Leading Change

The Humanitarian Crisis Hub’s Women Leading Change Forum has been bringing diaspora leaders from South Sudanese, Sri Lankan, Hazara, Oromo, Ogaden, Bahai and Iranian communities together for the past year to share skills and build links.

By Wendy Bruere


Women at the October meeting of WLC in Melbourne.

It was launched after an HCH event in December in Melbourne at the end of 2012 where a group of women community leaders spoke about activism, human rights and development projects in their countries of origin. Participants requested that it become a regular event. A similar event in Sydney in September 2013 also resulted in the formation of a network.

HCH Community Coordinator Lisa Vettori, who facilitates the forum in Melbourne, says the goal is to, “connect, resource and strengthen women working in human rights, peacebuilding and development, and to enhance their ability to advocate and influence government and the humanitarian sector.”

Shanta Perera, who volunteers with Diaspora Lanka – mainly working in fundraising – as well as holding down a full-time job as a medical scientist in diagnostic pathology, says she has found the forums useful, especially as she is new to community work. “At the last meeting [in Melbourne] we had speakers from Care and Oxfam – that’s a link I have now that I can use to take Diaspora Lanka issues further,” Shanta says. “Some of the ideas from the forum were about sourcing government funding and how we can put our case forward to present our work.”


Kamal and Grace from Diaspora Lanka at the IT Platform office in Mannar. Image courtesy of Shanta Perera.

Shanta, who has lived in Australia for 25 years, became involved in Diaspora Lanka a few years ago after meeting members of the organisation at a Sri Lankan friendship dinner. Diaspora Lanka works in Mannar, northwest Sri Lanka, running projects such as women’s micro-business development, IT skills training, and support with advocacy. Shanta says, “My husband and I were interested in this work, and how it worked at a grassroots level, empowering the people.”

Since then, Shanta has been to Sri Lanka to visit the project and stay with one of Diaspora Lanka’s counterparts in the IT skills project. “It was interesting to see that they have a livelihood because of what Diaspora Lanka has created. I find it quite exciting that I can help out people at their level, to empower them to create their livelihoods,” she says.

“This is the best part of Diaspora Lanka – we are generating work and helping people think about what they want to do, not what we want them to do.”

Even before Shanta and other members of Disapora Lanka attended the WLC forum, the idea of linking with and learning from other community groups was something they already saw the value in – Diaspora Lanka had already been inviting other diaspora groups in Melbourne to its meetings.


Women at the October meeting of WLC in Melbourne.

After one year of the WLC forums, Lisa says participants are positive about the forums, especially the guest speakers, and that benefits can be seen. “At the last meeting we talked about directly advocating to government, and afterwards women from one group wrote to Foreign Minister Julie Bishop’s offices and were successful in getting a meeting with some of her advisors,” she says. “Forums coming up will focus on engaging the media, advocating to your MP, developing a campaign strategy, and raising awareness of issues with the public.”

In Sydney, the program is facilitated by Kelly Nicholls, an experienced human rights advocate. The forums are supported by a volunteer committee, and the women are making plans to put on a public event in early 2014 to showcase the work and issues that women’s organisations are focused on.

The forums are currently held in Melbourne every two months and Sydney every month. On alternate months HCH runs tailored sessions in Melbourne for specific women’s groups.

The Melbourne forums are supported with funding from the Victorian Multicultural Commission.



Melbourne: meets every second month on the first Saturday, 2-4pm, at Ross House, 247 Flinders Lane, Melbourne.

Sydney: meets each month on the first Saturday, 2-4pm, Auburn Centre for Community, Corner of Macquarie and Hutchinson Road, Auburn.

For more information, contact the Community Coordinator on 03 9008 2394, email, or check the event listings for upcoming meeting details.