Wattle Fellows: Growing leaders in sustainability

We all know Australia’s iconic wattle as the bright, fragrant flower found across our vast land. What’s lesser known about the native plant is its strong pollination abilities – and its crucial role in cultivating a positive ecological environment across Australia year-round.

Much like wattle, we must spread more ideas and sow more seeds to germinate a sustainable future. And the Wattle Fellowship, made possible thanks to generous seed funding from the McCall MacBain Foundation, is doing just that.

Taking inspiration from the plentiful array of Australian flora and fauna that together make a strong ecosystem, the team behind the Wattle Fellowship understand we must tackle sustainability from a diverse perspective too.

“We recognise global sustainability is a complex issue that intersects with every facet of our lives and every sector of the economy,” said Wattle Fellowship Director Linh Do. “That’s why our program draws students from all across the University of Melbourne – we’ve selected them regardless of what they’re studying.”

Growing potential

Designed to fit alongside an undergraduate or postgraduate student’s studies, the year-long Wattle Fellowship gives Fellows the funding and support to develop and work on a student-led sustainability project of their own design.

Linh said the program also includes activities such as “retreats, monthly workshops with world leading experts on all kinds of sustainability, and leadership programs.”

In March 2022, the Fellowship’s inaugural cohort of 18 students had the opportunity to meet with donor John McCall MacBain.

John McCall MacBain speaking with Wattle Fellows John McCall MacBain speaking with the first Wattle Fellowship cohort.

The relaxed ‘fireside chat’ featured an inspired speech from John, where he generously shared insights about his philanthropic work and his investment in scholarship programs around the world.

“The Fellows really enjoyed the chance to hear John’s story, and to have a deeper discussion about climate change, social impact and the role of leaders in creating a more sustainable future,” said Linh.

The students left feeling inspired by John’s words and generosity, ready to take on the final stages of their Fellowship journey.

Diverse and unique Fellows

From the Faculty of Science, through to the Faculty of Business and Economics, students from across the University are passionate about building a sustainable future through their chosen disciplines.

Wattle Fellow Imogen Senior
Wattle Fellow Imogen Senior

Students are chosen based on their commitment to sustainability, leadership potential and vision, motivation and experience, and personal and professional attributes.

One of the inaugral Wattle Fellows Imogen Senior studied politics and criminology as part of her Bachelor of Arts. Her Fellowship project was called Supporting young people to move from climate anxiety to hope by equipping them to take sustainability-focussed political action.

Hailing from rural NSW, Imogen believes we need to seek transformative structural change rather than just individual behaviour change. She is looking to gain experience within institutional settings to push for policy change on climate related issues.

The Wattle Fellowship allowed me to train and empower the people around me by creating my own workshops – providing opportunities for students that I would have loved to have.Imogen Senior
Wattle Fellow Helen Shen
Wattle Fellow Helen Shen

“It is such a unique experience to be able to focus on both empowering others and on my own professional development, and to be able to do so with such freedom is incredible.”

Another Fellow from the first cohort Helen Shen investigated how a sustainable future can be fostered through a different lens – musical performance.

The Master of Music (Research) student’s project – Starting EnviroSound concerts, based on the idea that music creates enhanced perceptions on the value of nature to inspire environmental action – hopes to encourage others to reflect on their relationship with nature.

“It matters to me that we start seeing ourselves as part of nature,” said Helen.

“If we become aware of this connection, we can more readily shift our perspectives to the new and creative.”

The year that was

In June 2021, the first cohort of Wattle Fellows embarked on a three-day intensive leadership course to kick off the year. Together, they brainstormed for their sustainability project and undertook a personal skills audit and leadership deep dive.

Six evening workshops over the course of the year gave the Fellows valuable tools for their future careers in sustainability leadership – covering theories and mechanisms of change, project ideation, project development and implementation, and much more.

Fellows also had access to 1:1 mentoring with staff to discuss experience, learning, and action project progress. The activity was exceedingly well received among the Fellows as they gave it a 5/5 rating.

The Fellows wrapped up their program by participating in a showcase in May 2022. Attendees had the opportunity to engage with hands-on demonstrations of the Fellows’ sustainability focused action projects.

The cohort have now transitioned into the Wattle Fellowship alumni program where they can stay connected and receive support into the future.

Blossoming into a bright future

With the generous support of the McCall MacBain Foundation, Linh has planned an inspiring program for the current cohort of Fellows. To help them succeed in their aspirations, they are learning skills in values-led decision-making, social impact measuring, public speaking, and so much more.

"Designing a program for such a diverse group of students is both a complex challenge but also a really exciting opportunity," said Linh.

We want to equip our students not just with the knowledge they might need, but with the skills, networks and community support to embed sustainability skills and practices into their lives and professional careers today and into the future.  Linh Do