Malparara Leadership Program – A unique leadership offering

Background

Stories of Female Leadership (SoFL) is a network that connects influential, inspiring and courageous Indigenous, corporate and government female leaders to drive change at multiple levels. It began in 2015 with the question, ‘How can Jawun foster Indigenous female leadership through collaboration with corporate, and government partners?’ In response, the Stories of Female Leadership Network was created. The desire to strongly connect some of Australia’s leading women led to what is now one of Jawun’s key initiatives for strengthening a sustainable pipeline of Indigenous leadership.

Today, Stories of Female Leadership is a network of over 250 influential female leaders from a cross-section of community, corporate and government sectors, who come together for workshops, network events and conventions to invest in their own leadership development and to create pathways for the next generation of female leaders.

At the 2017 Gawooleng Convention, the network prioritised specific areas of focus, including the development of a bespoke leadership program. Designed by SoFL members exclusively for SoFL members, the Malparara Leadership Program provides members with the opportunity to understand and enhance their personal leadership skills and work with them to build the networks, confidence and self-awareness to be leaders within their communities – be it family, work, local and broader community.  The word Malparara is a Pitjantjatjara concept for ‘working hand in hand’, lent to the network by a SoFL member from Pipalyatjara, South Australia.

As the idea was floated amongst members, a select group volunteered their time, resources and knowledge to explore further and move into the design of the program. The team issued a needs analysis survey to the network, participated in numerous program design sessions and engaged external facilitators and program design experts to authenticate and inform the design of the program today. 

Approach

At the core of the Malparara program is a focus on participants’ Lyarn, inner-voice and a deepening of self-knowledge, and brings together four components of ‘me, work, family and community.’ The concept of Lyarn was kindly shared with the SoFL network by our Indigenous members at the start of this network and has remained a fundamental empowerment philosophy in everything that we do. Lyarn is a Kimberley word for an ancient tool that everyone has within them.  It sits very deep in our core and is our spiritual being.  With this in mind, the program was designed to give participants:

  • An increased self-awareness of their lyarn, purpose, inner calling and knowledge of their unique gifts;
  • An ability to understand and communicate the strength of their lyarn to empower themselves and others;
  • An ability to set intentions and create a vision;
  • An ability to build authentic  and sustainable pathways for success and unlock hidden potential; and
  • An ability to deepen and create meaningful relationships with self and others.

In 2019, the inaugural Malparara program was officially launched with 9 female leaders from community organisations from across Jawun regions and 11 female leaders from Jawun’s corporate and government partners came together in Sydney to kick-start the the next chapter of their leadership story.   The program incorporated a dynamic combination of face-to-face workshops, group sessions, 1:1 coaching with expert leadership coaches, access to podcasts to support self-guided learning, peer networking, and self-discovery tools.

The first workshop took place in June 2019, and centred around the theme ‘Looking Within’, which involved participants understanding their personal vision and values, and empowering their inner voice. Led by highly qualified and experienced coaches, the group had various sessions focussing on creating a personal vision, purpose and mission, setting intentions, exploring how they contribute and make a difference, defining their personal sense of leadership, understanding internal and external challenges, discovering their thinking style preferences, and enhancing self-leadership skills. Of the first workshop, one participant remarked,

“It is always great to reflect on yourself, who you are and what your strengths are. I welcomed the opportunity to just pause and think about me as a leader, mother, person.”

The second workshop focused on ‘Connecting and Leading Authentically.’ The participants were joined by a guest panel of Ann Sherry (Chair, Carnival Australia) and Mayrah Sonter (Co-Founder and Co-Director, 33Creative) to share their experience with ‘What it means to be an authentic leader.’ The panel were generous in sharing their experiences, how they overcame challenges, and how they defined themselves as ‘authentic’ leaders. The opportunity to connect with highly regarded, repsected and passionate women leading in their chosen fields of experience resonated strongly with the women with participants sharing: 

“I really think you have assembled a wonderful group with many different experiences, and you’ve created a great environment where trust has been built in a short period of time.”

“Having the opportunity to listen to the amazing women around me share stories, experiences and personal growth journeys was quite insightful. I found the content really interesting and loved the way all the elements of the program were woven into one another to complete a story and gift that I have taken away and reflected on/ shared with others.” 

The final workshop rounded out the program by encouraging the women to ‘Take the Lead’. Sessions focussed on participants owning their authenticity and communicating effectively, being present and harnessing their network, being courageous and giving back, and asking, where next? It also provided an opportunity to reflect on the program overall, and how future SoFL programs could be shaped for the network. Looking forward, a participant remarked

“I’d like to remain connected to the cohort – I think we’ve only just scratched the surface on what’s possible together.”

Outcomes

The program was both an opportunity to strengthen participants’ leadership qualities and an opportunity for Ngapartji Ngapartji to transpire. Ngapartji Ngapartji is a Pitjatjatjara concept of reciprocity and exchange, meaning “I give you something, you give me something.” Feedback from participants highlighted the uniqueness and power of networking and collaborating with a diverse group of women.

Over 60% of participants strongly agreed and 23% agreed that the sharing of ideas and experience with other women on the program was valuable:

“The energy in the room was welcoming, even comforting, and full of trust. I think this is rare and has been the difference between this course and many others I have experienced.”

“I really think the way you have structured the course to explore different perspectives on understanding oneself (preferences, values etc) supports a richer and far more useful self-reflection than any other course I have done.”

Further feedback showed strong outcomes for self-empowerment. Over 80% of participants agreed or strongly agreed the program increased their ability to understand and communicate their strengths to empower themselves and others.

“I learnt a lot about me and what I can offer… what makes me who I am”

“I have more clarity on my own leadership style, how I naturally operate under pressure, and what can cause me to become frustrated. I feel I am now able to recognise and refocus my energies when under pressure and in response to dealing with people.”

Overall, the group felt as though the Malparara program offered new insights. Over 90% of participants agreed or strongly agreed they have learnings to take away.

“My gifts, how to articulate them, apply them and how to maximise my gifts in situations that are both comfortable and uncomfortable.”

“The focus on how our values inform our leadership approach was excellent. Intellectually you know that is true, but to really unpack that was super useful, (and) being able to recognise where you draw energy from is very helpful.”

Next steps

Our inaugural participants provided rich and constructive feedback with an overwhelming recommendation that the Malparara Program should be offered to all Stories of Female Leadership members on a yearly basis. The vulnerable reflections and commentary from this initial cohort provided invaluable insights around the value of investing in oneself and the strength of sharing in this experience with women from across the rich tapestry of the network.  With this outstanding response from our inaugural members, Jawun is well placed to resume promotion and recruitment for the next instalment of the Malparara Leadership program in line with the resumption of activities post COVID-19.  Jawun looks forward to promoting and amplifying the voices and stories from our inaugural members as they bring to life the lessons learned from this powerful journey.