“When I started the Fellowship, I had big plans for new support systems in place. But through the mentors, connections, and constructive questioning of fellow Fellows, I realized that these already existed. They just needed to work better.
Michelle Steele, a wife of Kamilaroi/Gomeroi, was part of the first cohort of Atlantic for Social Equity (AFSE) Scholars. The project she was working on when she joined AFSE focused on supporting women leaving the prison system.
Michelle describes how, in addition to changing her way of approaching her project, the scholarship has strengthened her capacity for social change.
“It allowed me to make connections that I wouldn’t have made and it gave me 14 more sponsors for my project.”
More recently, Michelle’s leadership in social change has contributed to a rapid increase in vaccination rates for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people across the country.
“It’s about doing what’s best for our people, our families, our communities and our perennial cultures. We have read how colonization and introduced diseases have affected our communities. We still feel their impact on our culture.
The AFSE Fellowship – based at the University of Melbourne – focuses on Indigenous-led social change and represents the largest investment ever in Indigenous leadership. The scholarship community is set to grow, as applications are open for 2023.
In the foundation year, Scholars complete a postgraduate qualification in Social Change Leadership. An undergraduate degree is not required to apply, and the course is fully funded with program attendance also supported by a stipend.
Upon completion, Fellows join a global community of changemakers from seven centers around the world who all aim to advance fairer, healthier and more inclusive societies.
Another Fellow, Wiradjuri/Maori Dean Heta, worked to develop a program called Gagamin Dharramalin (Wiradjuri for young brothers or young minds) when he joined AFSE in 2021.
The program introduces traditional land management as a way to engage and build the confidence of young indigenous men in his community.
“For me, it’s about coming in and doing something positive with my own community.”
Dean says the fellowship provides people with the opportunity to network with others and reminds them that they are not alone on their journey of social change.
“It provides an opportunity for like-minded people to have positive impacts in First Nations countries.
Professor Elizabeth McKinley, Executive Director of AFSE, encourages Aboriginal, Torres Strait Islander, Maori and Pacific Islander people in Australia and Aotearoa to apply for the life-changing scholarship.
“We hope to build a cohort of Indigenous-led social change leaders who have the spirit of collective action and impact to create a better place for us all,” Professor McKinley said.
“We invite you to join us on our journey and wish you the best of luck with your application.”
Applications are made via the Application page of the AFSE website and close on Friday August 19, 2022.
This article is supported by Atlantic Fellows for Social Equity.