WELA was born out of the work of Dr Jane Elix as part of the Australian Research Council (ARC) study of women leaders and their role in the creation of a democratic society grandly titled Australian Women and Leadership in a Century of Australian Democracy.

The genesis of this inspirational program comes from the ‘chapter’ on women in the environment movement for which Jane Elix conducted a series of extraordinary interviews chasing down women, both visible and invisible to the public at large, to hear their stories.

After this ARC project was completed there was an amazing meeting of women environmentalists in Canberra in 2012 to report back and ask them for the ways forward. In 2013 a forum convened by the Australian Environmental Grantgivers Network catalysed the next phase by gaining philanthropic support to develop the ideas from Canberra into funding-ready projects. In the process, a number of active women environmentalists have been interviewed to help shape the program.

Many have never had any professional development or the money to afford a program like WELA. Many were moved by the concept of a leadership and mentorship program designed for them. WELA reflects their voices.

The idea that we should simply ‘add women’ to leadership-as-usual – then ‘stir’- remains enormously appealing to many. … Rather, I have argued we need to keep our gaze firmly trained on the gendered societal and power structures that shape the very discourse of leadership itself
Amanda Sinclair, Not Just ‘Adding Women In’

The first WELA program was held in 2016. It was so successful we were inspired to run it in 2017 and 2018. In 2019 we held a national gathering, bringing together WELA women from across the Australia.

WELA is growing and expanding alongside the 2020 Leadership Program. WELA will continue to empower, fund and support women’s leadership for our environment, and to transform Australia’s response to the climate and extinction crises as we have in the last few years. The exciting news is that over the next year the existing WELA Leadership Program will be built upon, offering an expanded range of programs from 2021. To date, WELA has focused on establishing an annual leadership development program to support women in the environment movement to develop their leadership skills. This has been a highly valued and very successful step towards women’s leadership and gender equality in the environment movement. But, on its own, the WELA training program will not be enough to transform women’s leadership for our environment at the scale and pace we know is needed. From 2021 WELA is planning to expand more actively into the private and government sectors alongside research and academic programs to increase its reach and impact.

WELA Organisers

WELA is a Green Institute project. The WELA reference group oversees the project and coordinates fundraising. Its members are: Dr Sue Lewis, Dr Judy Lambert, Karen Alexander, Margaret Blakers, Dr Louise Duxbury, Giz Watson, Imogen Jubb, Cherry Muddle and Victoria McKenzie-McHarg.

WELA is funded by participant fees and by fundraising. Donations to support WELA through the Green Institute are tax deductible.