Meet the M-power Mentees, Class of 2019/2020
Meet the M-power Mentees, Class of 2019/2020. These remarkable women are blazing a trail in Business, Medicine, Tech and the Arts. If they are any indication, the future is bright.
DR. NICOLE PAPADOPOULOS
The benefits of dance classes for children are myriad, from the emotional to the physical, but kids with developmental difficulties are often not encouraged to join in the fun. Clinical psychologist Dr. Nicole Papadopoulos heads up AllPlay Dance, a groundbreaking program developed by the Deakin Child Study Centre in Melbourne that provides dance resources and opportunities for schools to foster inclusive environments. “I would like to help children and families to reach their full potential and provide research to make the world a fitter place,” she says. Her PhD thesis, completed in 2003, explored the impact of motor proficiency on children with neurodevelopmental disorders. Through AllPlay Dance, Dr. Papadopoulos will also contribute research that highlights the positive impact of dance for children with autism.
On being a MECCA M-Power mentee: “It’s a great opportunity to meet like-minded people and learn and grow personally and professionally.”
The definition of an empowered woman: “A woman who is confident, has a strong vision, feels supported and is driven to achieve her goals.”
Inspirational women: “My boss, Professor Nicole Rinehart. Her drive, dedication and support have been the cornerstone of my career achievements to date.”
Ayesha Tauseef is a young activist from Brisbane who wrote a poem about sexual harassment that went viral on social media. Entitled Chadar and informed by a visit to Pakistan, it prompted hundreds of people to open up about their experiences on her Instagram account. “I realised there is a need to create a safe space online to break the silence around sexual harassment,” says Tauseef, who is working towards launching an online platform that provides healing to victims and raises awareness about the prevalence of harassment. CHADAR is an acronym for Challenging Harassment and Abuse, Demanding Action and Respect. “The name itself is a bridge that seeks to challenge eastern and western conceptions of sexual harassment and abuse in order to achieve a global impact,” she adds.
By helping women you help everyone: “The system that oppresses women also oppresses people of colour, the queer community, the disabled community, and other minority communities, albeit in different ways.”
Impact on the world: “I’m still young and figuring out what my footprint will be on this world. But if I could help just one woman through something that I’ve struggled with personally, I would be happy.”
Beauty products always in reach: “Self-care brings me joy. I am obsessed with Frank Body. I use their lip balm and caffeinated hair mask. Taking care of my hair is important to me because I wear the hijab and, despite what people may assume, hair care is a hijabi’s priority too!”
“I’d love to leave a legacy which motivates people to see beyond stereotypes, labels and assumptions.” So says Bianca Orsini, a director at YLab, the social enterprise that trains and employs young people to work with government, corporate and community organisations. “They bring multidisciplinary skills, lived experiences and fresh ideas to projects,” says Orsini, of the venture established by the Foundation for Young Australians. Prior to YLab, the Sydneysider coordinated The Oasis initiative, which focused on the early intervention and prevention of youth homelessness in schools. Right now, she is developing the next stage of the strategy. “We want to engage more young people who have experienced homelessness to lead the program design and delivery, and to engage more schools and communities,” she says.
On women bringing a different perspective: “One of YLab’s values is working with the ‘unlike-minded’. Including diverse ways of thinking is important to ensuring the challenges we’re working on have been considered from different perspectives. Women play a vital role in this.”
By helping women you help everyone: “That’s the first time I’ve heard that! I agree and at the same time I try to embody a collective approach—start with everyone to help everyone.”
A must-read book written by a woman: “I love Where’d You Go, Bernadette by Maria Semple. It’s really clever, funny, strange and an absolute emotional rollercoaster.”
Social entrepreneur Claire Wiglesworth is planting a seed so that older women facing chronic unemployment and homelessness will flourish. Her start-up, Plantful, intends to offer employment opportunities with creative nature programs as well as horticultural skills to NDIS participants. “With funding from the National Disability Insurance Scheme, these women can gain income that empowers them to remain living in their neighbourhood and be more financially independent” she says. The programs will make the joys of gardening and being in nature accessible to more people with disabilities. The initiative is informed by Wiglesworth’s background in healthcare, her appreciation for nature connection and her impressive green thumb. “When we truly see and apply the capacity of women, we are honouring each other in the most valuable way I can imagine,” she adds.
On women bringing a different perspective: “When I think of women in my field, I see a particular strength of empathetic perspective, an ability to translate data into a cohesive and meaningful story, and a vision that seeks to lift up the many rather than the few."
The definition of an empowered woman: “An empowered woman is both strengthened from within, with knowledge of herself and her innate value, and empowered by the people and wider society in which she lives.”
Inspirational women: “I’m inspired by people of my own generation, who I know and who are working hard to create and become the change they wish to see, like Avalon Bourne, Aleesha Rodriguez, and Bri Lee.”
Growing up in the Torres Strait Islands, between Australia and New Guinea, gave Erin Hughes deep insight into the challenges faced by children in far-flung communities. For the last four years, the young engineer, a volunteer with Engineers Without Borders, has sought to inspire underrepresented groups within STEM fields (science, technology, engineering and maths), including women and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. “The Torres Straits is remote, and students are sometimes not aware of STEM disciplines—I had no idea what engineering was,” says Hughes, who works as a water engineer at a hydrology consultancy. “I am innovating new ways to safely manage our water sources and creating water resilient communities.”
On women bringing a different perspective: “An engineer is a problem solver, and we are required to solve problems that directly affect communities. To be able to do this effectively, we need a workforce which can provide us different perspectives.”
The definition of an empowered woman: “A woman who has the power to make life choices and stand up for what they believe in. To me, the key enabler is increasing the capacity of women through education, which is a mechanism for a more equitable world.”
A must-read book written by a woman: “Educated by Tara Westover and My Place by Sally Morgan. Sorry, I couldn’t narrow it down to one!”
Sakshi Thakur is the founder and CEO of Humanism, a social enterprise that aspires to eliminate global poverty—one job at a time. Founded in 2018, the initiative employs marginalised women in Pondicherry in South India to produce artisanal lanyards and organic cotton tote bags for Australian events and conferences. “Our vision is to create an equitable world that leaves no human behind,” she says. Thakur admits she has dealt with gender bias in her career, but feels privileged to have faced less obstacles than the generations of women before her. “I was born in a country where, at the time, women still didn’t have the right to vote,” she says. “My parents migrated to Australia with very little, so that if I wanted to run for prime minister I could. I’m grateful for this every day!”
The definition of an empowered woman: “Someone who has the courage to dare greatly. It’s inspired by this quote from Brene Brown: ‘Daring greatly is being brave and afraid of every minute of the day at the same time.’”
Impact on the world: “I’d like to leave this world with more empathy, kindness and with equal opportunities for every human. I also secretly hope my grandkids can look back at my journey and think I am the coolest grandmother ever.”
A must-read book written by a woman: “Give Work by Leila Janah. She’s an incredibly hardworking, ambitious, resilient and humble social entrepreneur. She changed the way I think about business and the kind of impact I want to have in this world.”
Hollie Fifer is an award-winning director and producer on the radar of the Shark Island Institute, the Sydney-based group renowned for its social impact documentaries. “I am drawn to stories of social injustice and abuses of power that can be developed into an epic cinematic journey,” says Fifer, whose first feature, The Opposition, explored a David and Goliath tussle over a slice of Papua New Guinea paradise. Fifer is currently developing her second documentary, Between Us, which follows the plight of the South Sudanese community in Melbourne as they deal with racial vilification from the state and media. “I think of documentary filmmaking as constantly leaping over obstacles to get to the finished film,” says Fifer, who’s preparing to shoot in Egypt and South Sudan. “That’s what it means to dance with reality.”
On being a MECCA M-Power mentee: “There are few opportunities like this one that work with you to ensure you can launch into the next stage of your career. It is allowing me to be creatively and professionally brave knowing I have the MECCA community’s support with me.”
On women bringing a different perspective: “I often think of my first film as masculine. I am now considering what the female gaze looks like in documentary filmmaking and how my style changes because of the perspective I have of the world.”
Inspirational women: “Extraordinary directors like Ava DuVernay, Andrea Arnold and Jill Soloway. Closer to home, I’m inspired by documentary makers Gabrielle Brady and Alex Kelly (Island of the Hungry Ghosts) and Maya Newell (In My Blood It Runs).
Born in New Zealand of Irish, Scottish and Māori descent, Renee Cosgrave explores her rich cultural identity in her . In her lyrical abstract paintings—which veer from soft shades to bolder colours and grace canvas, linen and even brick walls—she reflects on subjects including land, genealogy and whānau (family). “I’m always inspired by the wahine (women) in my family, particularly my aunties and all of my cousins,” she says. “I’ve never met my dad’s mum, Jean Rawhiti-Rangataua, but I constantly think of her and what she went through.” As the recipient of the MECCA M-Power NGV Arts Mentoring Program, Cosgrave is excited to extend her creative forays. “It offers me an opportunity to return home to Aotearoa (New Zealand) to connect with my Māori culture and develop research in Europe to understand more about my pākehā (European) heritage.”