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Do you want to Bridge Gender gap and support local women leaders like Australia Awards alumna Gayatri Pande? Here’s how

Applications are open until 31 January 2024 for the next Regional Alumni Workshop

Gayatri Pande is an alumna from India who completed her Master of Environmental and Resource Economics at the Australian National University in 2021.

In 2022, Gayatri attended the Regional Alumni Workshop in Kathmandu, Nepal, where alumni had the opportunity to reconnect with one another, discuss career progress and share the ways they had helped their countries’ development.

At the workshop, Gayatri met Dr Madura Thivanka Pathirana, a professional in sustainable tourism and alumnus from Sri Lanka. This led to the pair co-authoring a research paper about sustainable tourism in Sri Lanka.

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The paper was presented at the 14th International Conference on Business and Information (ICBI) 2023. It explores the potential of emphasising biodiversity to promote sustainable tourism in Sri Lanka. The paper adopts a unique lens of exploring this in the context of Indian tourist arrivals in the region. The paper is a prime example of regional cooperation and highlights the role of community-based tourism management in the region.

In 2023 Gayatri was also part of a multinational team, which included other RAW participants, that received a Women in Leadership Regional Alumni Grant to conduct a joint climate project. We recently contacted Gayatri to learn more about her continued contributions to development. Our questions and her responses follow below.

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Image: Gayatri enjoying her time as a scholar in Australia (Source: Australia Awards)

How has the Australia Awards helped you to find new opportunities and grow your professional network? What benefits have you experienced from participating in the 2022 Regional Alumni Workshop?

Being a member of the Australia Awards alumni network has significantly broadened my horizons, both professionally and personally, providing numerous opportunities for collaborations and partnerships. Within just a year of participating in the workshop, I have had the privilege to collaborate with other Australia Awards alumni like Asfia Sultana [an Australia Awards alumna from Bangladesh who participated in the 2022 Workshop]. Currently, we are jointly working on a project supported by the Women in Leadership Regional Alumni Grant 2023, alongside other alumni from Sri Lanka and Nepal. Our collaborative efforts have enabled us to identify potential areas for future synergies and enhanced our understanding of the challenges and threats prevalent within the region.

During the 2022 Regional Alumni Workshop, I had a brief interaction with Dr Madura Thivanka, a passionate advocate for sustainable tourism. Our discussions revolved around issues related to biodiversity and the promotion of sustainable tourism in the region, leading us to recognise an opportunity for future collaboration. Following the conference, I reached out to him to develop a paper on this topic, and he promptly responded with valuable suggestions on how we could advance our work. Over the course of a few months, we successfully authored a paper that we presented at the ICBI 2023 event in Sri Lanka, hosted by the University of Kelaniya. This experience not only expanded my knowledge in the field but also provided the invaluable opportunity to collaborate with leaders like Dr Madura.

On a personal level, as an early career researcher, Australia Awards has proven to be a tremendous opportunity for learning, growth and active involvement in community leadership. I am continually inspired and encouraged to tackle challenges, fostering both personal and professional development.

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Image: Gayatri (second from left at front) taking part in the 2022 Regional Alumni Workshop in Kathmandu, Nepal (Source: Australia Awards)

Can you tell us a bit more about your experience at the Regional Alumni Workshop?

The Regional Alumni Workshop 2022, held in Kathmandu, was the first workshop I attended after completing my master’s degree in 2021. Personally, it reminded me of the impact the Scholarship has had on my life and I felt grateful to share this experience with others in the region. The workshop focused on a crucial theme of leadership in both local and global contexts. Learning from the experiences of stellar alumni who shared detailed anecdotes of their leadership journey and created meaningful impacts in their areas of work was very inspiring. Professionally, my network expanded significantly as I interacted with alumni working on similar themes to mine. The workshop enriched my perspective on leadership and further inspired me to take more steps towards leadership in my local community while striving to be a global citizen.

Please describe the research paper you co-authored with Dr Madura.

The research paper is titled ‘Unlocking the Potential of Biodiversity for Promotion of Sustainable Tourism: Case of Indian Tourist Arrival to Knuckles Wildlife Conservations Region’. It focuses on the promotion of tourism in biodiverse regions in a manner that is sustainable and equitable. The paper identifies several pathways for driving conservation efforts while creating livelihood opportunities for the local community, through the promotion of a community-centric approach to tourism development. The paper is crucial in today’s context of globalisation, where tourist arrivals often lead to overcrowding and unsustainable tourism development. It is important for us to highlight tourist behaviour in this regard since it can put forth a case for sustainable tourism to the supply-side stakeholders. The acceptance of our paper at ICBI 2023 is crucial because the stellar panellists and audiences attending the conference can view our research, creating a wider reach for our findings.

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Image: Gayatri with other alumni at 2022 Regional Alumni Workshop, Nepal (Source: Australia Awards)

You were part of a team of alumni which received a Women in Leadership Regional Alumni Grant. Can you tell us about the project you are conducting using the grant funds?

The Women in Leadership grant has been a gamechanger for me when it comes to advancing my work on sustainable food systems transformation. I have successfully conducted vulnerability assessments in remote villages of the western Himalayan region, which was highly rewarding both personally and professionally for me. Due to accessibility challenges, the region has been left behind in the current research landscape. The goal of my research is to identify the key vulnerabilities of the population residing in one of the most climate-vulnerable regions in the country and to present to relevant Forest Department officials a case for climate adaptation efforts in the region. I have completed my initial assessment and conducted stakeholder consultations and will be interacting with the Forest Department officials in the month of December to discuss the key findings.

How has your Australia Awards Scholarship helped enhance your career?

Australia Awards has given me the required skills to act on key environmental challenges in my country. My current work on developing a climate change adaptation and mitigation toolkit as part of the Women in Leadership grant project was inspired by the courses I took in environmental governance during my master’s degree. Through the Scholarship, I was able to create a strong skillset for my research, which informs every step in my professional journey. Beyond the education I received, being in a multicultural environment shaped me as a person, as I was able to learn from the experiences of other scholars. For example, I did not have a clear understanding of the impact that the rise in sea level has had on island nations until I became friends with people from Pacific Island nations. I learnt that the rise in sea level is more than a fleeting issue. It threatens the survival of many island nations and their cultural heritage.

You have already applied your new skillset to several projects. What do you plan to do next?

I will be commencing another community project in January 2024 that aims to develop the capacity of smallholder farmers in the western Himalayan region. The project is in partnership with the local agriculture universities in the Indian Himalayan state of Uttarakhand. The work is an extension of the vulnerability assessment I conducted during the Women in Leadership grant project. A key finding that emerged from the assessment was smallholder farmers’ lack of capacity to transform their food systems and address the climate change challenges in agriculture. Hence, to upskill the farmers, I will be conducting capacity building workshops that will inform farmers about regenerative agricultural practices, climate-resilient crop varieties and building resilience in the face of natural disasters. The project will help in closing the knowledge gap that I witnessed during my research, and allow farmers to realise the true value of their produce and reduce their losses in the face of natural disasters.

Applications are open until 31 January 2024 for the next Regional Alumni Workshop, to be held in Bhutan on 22-24 April 2024 with the theme of “Bridging the gender gap and supporting local women leaders”Details can be found here.

This interview was first published on the Australia Awards website and has been republished here with their kind permission.

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