Growing the leadership capabilities of strong Aboriginal women, the Western Australian Aboriginal Leadership Institute (WAALI) saw 16 women graduate the Yorga Djenna Bidi Women’s Leadership Program on Friday.

Yorga Djenna Bidi, meaning ‘women moving forward together’ in Noongar, takes Aboriginal women from all stages of their careers on a journey to build their skill levels, confidence and networks.

The program aims to bring together Aboriginal women across different cultures, ages, education levels and experiences.

Yvonne Daddow, a Yorga Djenna Bidi alumna and current program facilitator, said each cohort starts with a three-day retreat in which the women get to know each other and pamper the Elders accompanying them.

The women have yarning circles, tell stories, sew, dance and sing together.

“[The retreat is] therapeutic, a very beautiful space,” said Daddow.

“In terms of leadership programs … this is a huge connection back to culture for women.”

While first and foremost building the capacity of its participants, Daddow said the knowledge learnt in Yorga Djenna Bidi transcends the borders of the program. After graduation, the women return and spread their knowledge to children, partners and the broader community.

“It’s systemic. This gets taken back to their families,” said Daddow.

Part of Daddow’s role as facilitator is seeing the women through the course from start to finish. She said her favourite part is always graduation.

“I can see how the girls have transpired,” she said.

“WAALI produces such confidence … we’re happy to stand up and talk about it.”

Yvonne Daddow speaking at the Yorga Djenna Bidi graduation ceremony. Photo by Hannah Cross.

Hosted at the Constitutional Centre of WA, each graduate received their certificate and shared with attendees what Yorga Djenna Bidi meant to them.

The recurring themes were the unique nature of the program and the learning of self-awareness throughout. Many graduates also spoke of the strengthening of their cultural ties as a result.

“[The retreat] opened up a new world, I became proud of who I am and my journey,” said graduate Shanyn Morrison.

Morrison shared she had previously felt disengaged with her culture.

“This [program] … has been transformative,” said graduate Roslyn Harley.

“It has anchored me to my identity.”

In her closing remarks, WAALI CEO Anjie Brook congratulated the graduates on not only completing the course, but adapting to new ways of learning during COVID-19.

“We used every single experience to explore leadership with you,” said Brook.

Once graduated, the women become part of the Kwopertok Yorga Alumni community and have access to a large network of opportunity and peer support.

Speaking at the ceremony, WAALI co-founder and Chair Dr Robyn Smith-Walley defined Yorga Djenna Bidi as a leadership course with a cultural lens over the top.

“[It’s] designed by Aboriginal women, based on Aboriginal culture,” said Dr Smith-Walley.

Founded in 2018, WAALI aims to increase the leadership and professional capacities of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.

The organisation also runs other programs, including their Emerging Aboriginal Leaders Program. To learn more about WAALI and their courses, head to: https://waali.org.au/.

By Hannah Cross