WELA Impact Report 2021

Women’s leadership can revolutionise the way Australian society, politics and business are responding to our environmental and climate crises. Protecting and enhancing our natural environment and taking action on climate change are at the core of WELA’s mission. But it takes someone to believe change is possible, and to back the women who are putting their hands up to lead.

Your vision of a world transformed by women’s leadership and your commitment to making this happen have been game-changing for hundreds of women leaders this year.

Read WELA’s Impact Report here.


This year’s NAIDOC theme – Heal Country! – is really inspiring us at WELA. It’s an opportunity to celebrate incredible First Nation’s women who are dedicating their lives to heal Country – on every level: spiritual, physical, emotional, social and cultural. Dr Anne Poelina, Cheryl Buchanan, Ella Noah Bancroft and Sherie Bruce are four leaders working to heal Country through their campaigning for climate justice and environmental action.

Dr Anne Poelina

Dr Anne Poelina is a Nyikina Warrwa (Indigenous Australian) woman in the Kimberley region of Western Australia. Poelina is an active Indigenous community leader, human and earth rights advocate, filmmaker and a respected academic researcher, with a Doctor of Philosophy, Master of Public Health and Tropical Medicine, Master of Education, Master of Arts (Indigenous Social Policy) recently submitted a PhD (Health Science) titled, ‘Martuwarra First Law Multi-Species Justice Declaration of Interdependence: Wellbeing of Land, Living Waters, and Indigenous Australian People’.

Signatory to the Redstone Statement 2010, she is a 2011 Peter Cullen Fellow for Water Leadership.  In 2017, she was awarded a Laureate from the Women’s World Summit Foundation (Geneva), elected Chair of the Martuwarra Fitzroy River Council (2018), Adjunct Professor and Senior Research Fellow with Notre Dame University and a Research Fellow with Northern Australia Institute Charles Darwin University. Poelina is a Visiting Fellow with the Crawford School of Public Policy at the Australian National University, Canberra Australia Water Justice Hub to focus on Indigenous Water Valuation and Resilient Decision-making.

Among her latest work is the Regenerative Songlines Project, launched during NAIDOC 2021. It’s a network connecting regenerative projects and practitioners, led by First Nations peoples and inclusive of all Australians. The project aims at transforming the extractivist, colonial mindset and practices of the dominant industrialised society, economy and culture of Australia, towards regeneration and restoration, so that we can live and thrive within bioregional ecological limits and planetary boundaries.

Cheryl Buchanan

Cheryl Buchanan is a traditional owner from the Guwamu Nation and Nyurin Clan in south-western Queensland. She’s a deadly black woman, a dancer, a powerhouse for change and a friend to WELA since the beginning. 

Cheryl’s country is on Nebine Creek where the Darling River starts. She says: “The river is part of who we are. It is about respecting that traditional knowledge, to bring it into the twenty-first century, and to put it as two words: Cultural Flows’.”

In 2004, the National Water Initiative for the first time recognised Indigenous water rights. Since then Cheryl has been instrumental in getting recognition of cultural flows and having the concept of First Nations’ water rights embedded in Australia’s water management regimes. As  a director of the Northern Basin Aboriginal Nations NBAN, Cheryl was the driving force behind the National Cultural Flows research project and is a member of the National Aboriginal Water Interests Committee advising the Agriculture Minister. 

In 2010, with much of eastern Australia ravaged by a decade of drought, Cheryl along with Aboriginal nations from end to end of the Murray Darling came together to dance the spirit back into rivers, recreating the powerful Ringbalin ceremony, to bring the rain. Watch the Ringbalin film for a beautiful insight into the deep cultural and spiritual connection of First Nations people with water as well as land. 

Cheryl was Naidoc woman of the year in 2005, already celebrating a lifetime of leadership for Aboriginal people, women and the environment. 16 years on she says:  ‘We still have such a long way to go:  Aboriginal communities hold very few water licences, nor are they respectfully engaged in water governance. Climate change is knocking on our door but it’s still a very faint ripple when it comes to prioritising policy and resourcing. We are fighting for our water rights and interests to be recognised in the whole landscape and for Aboriginal people to be engaged in a real way, not a tokenistic way.”

Sherie Bruce

Sherie Bruce is of Aboriginal descent from the Central Arrernte of Mparntwe (Alice Springs) with a deep cultural connection to the Yolgnu of Ramingining, Northern Territory and has Scottish ancestors. She is currently living on Darumbal Country near Rockhampton in Central Queensland. We were proud to have her as a WELA 2020 alumna.

Sherie is an Environmental Scientist currently researching Environmental Biotechnology waste solutions at CQUniversity and Lecturer of the unit Indigenous and Community Engagement. Her other roles are as a tutor for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students preparing to enter study or currently studying at CQUniversity. Her full-time job at CQUniversity as a Project Research Officer is working on an Australian First Nations digital training tool. Sherie is deeply committed to indigenising the Curriculum at CQUniversity and is one of the Champions supporting the Communities of Practice team.

Sherie is a passionate advocate of equality and equity, focusing on Australian First Nations rights, social justice and the environment. She has lived and worked in remote, regional, and urban communities. Having worked in environmental advocacy, mining, Queensland government, academia and non-profits, Sherie has developed unique insights into communities’ needs.

Sherie is the Deputy Chair of Queensland Conservation Council (QCC), the peak non-profit body representing Queensland conservation groups. She is pleased to be working with the QCC Executive and staff on implementing reconciliation practices, including a Reconciliation Action Plan and other decolonising strategies.

Sherie is proudly following her mother’s footsteps, Esther Pearce a passionate advocate for equality for all Australians through her work in community development and her Grandmother Elizabeth (Betty) Pearce, who has been a prominent Aboriginal activist in the Northern Territory, Australia and Internationally.

Ella Noah Bancroft

Ella Noah Bancroft is a Bundjalung woman, descendant of the Bundjalung peoples of Northern NSW and with blood lines to Scotland and England. She is a change-maker, artist, storyteller and an active advocate for The Decolonisation movement. Through her writing and work Ella has been promoting re-wilding, the rise of the female energy, as a way back to deep relationship nature and decolonizing  of personal, social and ecological well-being for 10 years.

Ella is the founder and director of The Returning, a Not-for-profit gathering that takes place just outside of Byron Bay, Australia. The Returning is a 2 day event that provides a place for all women, all walks of life to come together to relearn the way of their past, to connect to herbalism, activism, motherhood, health, movement and deep connection to the land.

Ella believes in local communities with local economies as a way to find hope for the health of our planet and people. That by creating small movements and communities of women to reconnect back with our wisdom, each other and the land that we can solve a lot of the  root causes of our current social and environmental crises. 

“Women are the backbone to our society, and healthy mothers who are healers create healthy communities of humans who care.” – Ella Noah Bancroft 

Ella Noah Bancroft also curates the female-led interview podcast “It Takes Courage To Tell The Truth” to explore the myths of society and the world of womanhood.

WELA Leadership Development Program – Applications Open

Applications for the WELA 2021 leadership development program are now open! 

  • 20 women actively working for our environment from diverse locations, communities and backgrounds (paid or volunteer capacity)
  • May to October, 2021
  • Online and face-to-face retreats (COVID-safe measures will apply)
  • Applications close 15th February, 2021

Designed by and for women actively working for and committed to our environment, the WELA Leadership Development Program has successfully supported the leadership, career development and influence of over 70 women leaders across the sector since 2016. 

The program brings together 20 women a year for an intensive online and retreat-based leadership development program. Participants come from diverse backgrounds, ages and communities and are working on a variety of environmental issues and campaigns around the country. Some will be employed in the movement. Others will be working as volunteers or individuals. 

WELA aims to address the ways in which women’s crucial leadership can transform our response to the environmental and climate crises that we face. We empower women to identify their own approach to leadership, and to recognise and step into their power to influence. 

What does the program involve?

  • Two residential retreats (4 days each plus travel) held at Commonground near Seymour, Victoria – COVID-safe precautions and measures will be taken throughout
  • An initial online program held over two months 
  • A personal mentoring relationship with an experienced environmental leader, tailored to your needs
  • Collaborative fundraising to build skills, equity, networks and confidence, and support the delivery of the program
  • Online connection to participants during and after the program
  • Connection to a growing WELA network of women leaders across the country
  • A comprehensive collection of materials and resources 

We encourage Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women, women of colour, gender diverse people and trans women, and women from working class and regional, rural or remote communities to apply.  

If you’re looking to take the next steps in your leadership for our environment, WELA 2021 could be the opportunity you’re looking for. 

You’ll find all the information you need on our website program page including retreat dates, program fees and scholarship information, testimonials from previous participants, and the application form. 

WELA 2021 Program Information Session

Wednesday 16th December 2020 5.30pm AEDT

Do you have Questions about WELA 2021?

Applications for the WELA 2021 leadership development program are now open! 

  • 20 women actively working for our environment from diverse locations, communities and backgrounds (paid or volunteer capacity)
  • May to October, 2021
  • Online and two face-to-face retreats (COVID-safe measures will apply)
  • Applications close 15th February, 2021
  • Find out more at our website

If you have any questions, join us for an online Information Session on Wednesday 16th December at 5.30pm AEDT to chat to the WELA team, including: 

  • Louise Duxbury, WELA Lead Facilitator 
  • Victoria McKenzie-McHarg, WELA Strategic Director and co-facilitator
  • Libby Harper, WELA Administrator

Bring all your questions, we’ll start with a brief overview of the program then open it up to you. 

If you’re a woman or gender diverse person looking to step up your leadership for our environment and climate action, WELA 2021 could be for you. Check out the information and application forms on our site, or feel free to get in touch directly with any questions. And please share with any friends or networks who could be interested. 

Register today to join the WELA team, for a brief presentation and Q&A on the 2021 program.

WELA Impact Report

2019/20 has been an exciting and unexpected year for WELA. Our first annual Impact Report outlines our key activities and achievements over the last year, including our expanded mission, and our new three-year plan for action. We particularly thank our donors, supporters program participants, and alumni for your generous support and leadership through this period, and we look forward to working with you to deliver our plans.

Read the report now.

Preparing for Summer: Women’s leadership for bushfire resilience

On Wednesday 21 October, over 40 people from across Australia (and a few internationally) joined WELA for our panel discussion, Preparing for summer: Women’s leadership for bushfire resilience.

If you missed the event you may want to watch the recording or follow up with our speakers organisations.

A huge thank you to our incredible speakers, for sharing your wisdom and experience.

Watch the panel presentations and Q&A session here. While you’re here, don’t forget to subscribe to our newsletter to receive notification of future WELA events.

Preparing for summer – Women’s leadership for bushfire resilience

Wednesday 21st October, 5.30pm – 7pm

An online panel discussion Q&A hosted by Women’s Environmental Leadership Australia (WELA). 

Women play a critical yet often overlooked role in how communities are preparing for and responding to bushfires. With climate change significantly increasing the threat of bushfires, how can we better understand, value and encourage womens’ leadership in all its forms so that all threatened communities can become bushfire adapted and resilient communities? 

This panel discussion will bring together three leaders in bushfire preparedness, response and resilience to explore the unique contributions of women to bushfire resilience.


  • Amanda Lamont, co-founder of the Women in Emergencies Network
  • Jessica Wegener, Co-Chair of the Firesticks Alliance Indigenous Corporation 
  • Jo Dodds, Councillor Bega Shire Council, Founder of Bushfire Survivors for Climate Action

The discussion will be moderated by Victoria McKenzie-McHarg, Strategic Director of Women’s Environmental Leadership Australia (WELA) and delivered via Zoom. 

When: Wednesday 21 October, 5.30 – 7.00pm

Where: Online, via Zoom

RSVP: Please register via this link.

Women’s Environmental Leadership Australia appoints Strategic Director.

Following 12 months of work and consultation on a comprehensive proposal to significantly expand the work of WELA, we’re pleased to formally welcome Victoria McKenzie-McHarg into the position of WELA Strategic Director. 

Victoria is an experienced leader, campaigner and network builder, having spent the last 15 years in a variety of climate campaign leadership positions at the Australian Conservation Foundation, Environment Victoria, Bank Australia and as the current Chair of the Climate Action Network of Australia (CANA). 

Victoria is also an alumni of the WELA leadership development program, having participated in our inaugural program in 2016. 

“In these disrupted and uncertain times, the need for women to play a key role in leading and shaping a future in which people and the planet can thrive has never been more urgent.” Victoria McKenzie-McHarg

This new position is a sign of the ambition we have for how WELA can empower, support and fund women’s leadership for our environment and climate action, and transform Australia’s response to these crises. 

We’re incredibly grateful for the support and ambition shared by our funders and advisors, who’ve made this leap possible. We look forward to working with you all as we embark on our new plans, and warmly welcome your feedback, ideas, input and support. 

We’re particularly excited about the opportunity to work with women across different sectors and communities, building diversity of leadership and collaborative opportunities with indigenous women and women of colour, women from regional and rural communities, women from working class backgrounds, and women working across business, government and civil society. 

If you would like to discuss how WELA can work with your organisation or networks to support women’s leadership for our environment, we’d love to hear from you

Women’s Environmental Leadership Australia

Growing WELA’s impact – will you make a gift to support our work? Women’s Environmental Leadership Australia (WELA) empowers, supports and funds women’s leadership for our environment and climate action, in order to transform Australia’s response to these crises. 
For five years, the WELA leadership development program has successfully supported the leadership, career development and influence of women working for our environment. WELA graduates have gone on to stop a new coal mine, to stop dangerous incinerators in Sydney’s suburbs, to be elected to State Parliament, to lead campaigns to save forests and habitat, build renewables and stop Adani.  

Now, with the challenges to our environment ever growing, and the leadership of key decision makers so sorely lacking, our task is more important than ever. 
We’re undertaking a significant expansion of the work and impact of WELA. Will you help us make it happen with a gift to WELA?
With your gift to WELA, we will:

  • Support women from diverse backgrounds (including indigenous women, women from migrant communities, and women from rural and low-income communities)  to participate in our life changing leadership development program
  • Expand our leadership development work to include women from the business and government sectors
  • Develop the support networks and communities of practice for women across different sectors and communities, and 
  • Establish Australia’s first giving circle dedicated to funding women-led projects and initiatives for our environment. 
  • Fund an experienced leader and campaigner to deliver our expanded program of work and establish the partnerships needed to maximise our impact and influence.

We’ve already secured 78% of our funding target of $216,000 for the first year of our plans. That means we need to raise $48,000 by 30 June to reach our goal. Can you help us get there?  

You can read more about our plans for WELA here.  

Womens Environmental Leadership Australia

WELA 2019 National Gathering

WELA and Covid-19

Covid-19 has changed the world with astonishing speed. It is an enormous threat to our communities but also an opportunity to remake the world as we know it for a genuinely sustainable future. WELA will play its part in making the most of this opportunity and we are actively monitoring the implications of the pandemic and adapting our plans.

WELA 2020 is going ahead but a bit later and in a different format than we planned. We have selected the 2020 cohort from a record number of applications from amazing women across the country. The first part of the WELA 2020 program will be delivered online starting in May. The virus permitting, we hope to hold retreats later in the year.

We are also planning a significant expansion for WELA – watch for more news a bit later in the year. In the meantime we wish everyone the best in adjusting to life with Covid-19.

WELA 2020 Program

Women’s Environmental Leadership Australia (WELA) is empowering and supporting women’s leadership for our environment, and transforming Australia’s response to the climate and environment crises (www.welaprogram.org.au). 

Designed by and for women environmentalists, the WELA leadership development program has successfully supported the leadership, career development and influence of dozens of women leaders across our movements for the past four years. 

When it comes to the major crises we face, we will not get out of this by relying on the same leadership that got us into it. Instead, we need new leadership styles that are networked, collaborative and responsive to diverse communities across colour, class, gender, sexuality, ability and location. Women’s leadership must play an increasingly important role in this transformation – and we are not there yet! 

Now, you have the opportunity to apply to participate in the WELA 2020 leadership development program, and experience the support, skills and personal development and networks that will assist you to take the next steps in your leadership for a better future. 

Find more information on our WELA Program page