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Future Generation: Hannah Wandel

Emma Macdonald

Hannah Wandel understands Canberra’s unique role as the national capital, and how complex its corridors of power can be.

And she wants to help more women from across the country to negotiate those convoluted passages.

A social entrepreneur and gender equality advocate, Hannah founded Country to Canberra in 2014 at the age of 24, after having made a mind-boggling adjustment to life as an employee with the Defence Department after an upbringing in the tiny South Australian town of Blyth – population 306.

Hannah won a YWCA Great Ydeas grant to set up Country to Canberra – which nurtures young regional and rural female leaders. She’s been named in ‘100 Women of Influence’ by the Australian Financial Review/Westpac in 2015, is a World Economic Forum Global Shaper, a United Nations Youth and Gender Equality Taskforce member and the youngest ever Director of the National Rural Women’s Coalition.

As eloquent as she is passionate, Hannah is a regular commentator on gender politics and Australia’s rural and regional divide.

Why is Canberra so important?

It’s the heartland of Australian democracy, where ideas are turned into reality. As part of our Power Trip program, I love bringing young rural women to Canberra to connect them with phenomenal female role models and mentors in our city. From Gai Brodtmann MP to UN Women Australia’s Janelle Weissman, the girls are always so inspired by these trailblazers and go home empowered to make a positive impact in their local communities.

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Are there any tricks to opening doors here?

Be bold. Canberra’s home to a bucket-load of philanthropists and social change makers, but people couldn’t help my mission until I spoke my ideas and passions out loud. By pushing past my comfort zone and asking for help, I was able to secure sponsors, mentors and incredible opportunities that have helped empower scores of young rural women.

Fortunately, I’ve found Canberra to be a refreshing place that values vision and authenticity more than where you went to school or who you’re related to, so my message was able to cut through. There are also fantastic formal leadership pipelines for women, through organisations like YWCA Canberra, which I’d encourage everyone to grasp with both hands.

Do women receive as many opportunities for self-promotion and career progression as men?

Canberrans are switched-on, and the majority understands that diversity is better for business productivity. However, there’s still a long way to go in terms of turning sentiment into action, and sadly, I don’t believe we’ve reached the point where opportunity is equal.

We need men and women to take responsibility for calling out unconscious bias, sponsoring women, and promoting fair policies for working parents. In Canberra, we have an amazing female-majority Legislative Assembly, killer entrepreneurs and female academics, so we need to keep up the momentum and push for change.

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Canberra is often likened to a country town, but what’s your experience?

Know everyone when you walk down the street? Bump into your netball umpire at the supermarket? Yes, Canberra definitely has that country feel. For me, the best part about the country is the sense of community. Relationships and social participation are key. I cannot count the number of ACT organisations or people in Canberra that want to help a cause, volunteer or create positive social change. Moving to Canberra re-ignited the sense of community that I felt growing up in rural Australia. At times, Canberra does feel like a country town, and I think that’s one of the best compliments a city can receive.

Read the entire Future Generation series here

Photography by Martin Ollman

This article originally appeared as part of our Future Generation editorial in Magazine: Future for Winter 2017. Find out more about Magazine here

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Emma Macdonald

Emma Macdonald has been writing about Canberra and its people for more than 20 years, winning numerous awards for her journalism - including a Walkley or two - along the way. Canberra born and bred, she’s fiercely loyal to the city, tribally inner-north, and relieved the rest of the country is finally recognising Canberra’s cool and creative credentials. More about the Author

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