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Canberra’s Future: Nip and Hannah lead the way

Josephine Walsh

Canberra women reach semi-finals of Australian Women’s Weekly Qantas ‘Women of the Future’ competition.

When did you last take a leap of faith?

Hannah Wandel, 26, and Nipuni (Nip) Wijewickrema, 22, both of the ACT, were recently revealed as semi-finalists in the Australian Women’s Weekly Qantas ‘Women of the Future’ competition; and taking a leap of faith is a good way of framing what both Hannah and Nip have done to earn this national recognition, as it’s taken courage and ingenuity to get them to this point.

‘Women of the Future’ celebrates female entrepreneurs who have founded meaningful and creative initiatives that have long-term positive impacts on their communities. Judges decide which of the 15 semi-finalists will win the Judges Choice award, and there is also the People’s Choice award, a $10,000 scholarship.

Hannah Wandel.

Hannah Wandel.

‘What would you do if you weren’t afraid?’. They’re the words that Hannah uses to challenge young women.

Following a Great Ydeas grant from YMCA Canberra, Hannah founded Country to Canberra in 2014, a youth-led non-profit which empowers and inspires girls from rural communities to be leaders. Country to Canberra connects these girls with powerful women and motivational mentors, and seeks to break down geographic barriers to success.

“At its heart, Country to Canberra is about fairness,” says Hannah. “We want to ensure that young women are empowered to achieve their potential, no matter where they live.”

Nip Wijewickrema with her sister, Gayana.

Nip Wijewickrema with her sister, Gayana.

Nip is similarly driven by a passion for equality and tolerance. She is a co-founder of GG’s Flowers, a socially-sustainable florist which provides employment opportunities to people with disabilities. Nip loves working with her sister Gayana, a 16 year-old woman who has Down Syndrome, and seeing her thrive in a supportive and fulfilling work environment. 

“As a young person, it’s a great privilege and an honour to be in a position where I can be making a difference at 22,” she says proudly.

Hannah and Nip have both drawn from their own powerful personal experiences in their efforts to make change happen.

“After I moved away to boarding school, I noticed education and career opportunity imbalances between the city and country,” Hannah explains.

“Isolation made it harder for my rural classmates to access school subject preferences, work experience and female mentors – I didn’t think this was fair, so I was driven to do something about it.”

“Never in a million years would I have thought I’d leave a full time job in communications to pursue my dream of creating employment opportunities for people with a disability,” says Nip.

“My proudest moment was when Gayana won a commendation award at the Chief Minister’s Inclusion Awards,” Nipuni tells me. “She is why I’m doing this – for her to experience incredible parts of life, despite her disability.”

What advice would these inspirational young women give to others considering a community initiative?

“If you’re passionate about a cause and want to make a positive impact, dream big, take action and work hard,” Hannah says encouragingly. “Don’t let your fears become your limits – success is just around the corner.”

Nip’s advice is similar. “It’s mildly cliched, but find something you’re passionate about and to run with it. I think there’s something electrifying about finding something you truly believe in and immersing yourself in it.”

And if they were able to give themselves a tup for success, looking back at where they started?

Enjoy the amazing opportunities,” Nip emphasises. “Being able to take stock of what I’m doing and enjoying the fruits of my labour would be the biggest advice I’d give myself.”

Hannah believes that maintaining perspective is essential. “Keep reminding yourself about ‘why’ you’re embarking on this adventure. If you stay true to your passion, your vision and your instincts, you’ll achieve things you didn’t think were possible.”

Congratulations to Hannah and Nipuni for reaching the semi finals of the ‘Women of the Future’ competition. It’s inspiring that these two passionate, conscientious and empathetic women are representing young rural girls and people living with a disability on a national scale.

“I think in the world today, there’s always a shortage of ‘good’ in our community,” says Nip. “There’ll never be enough – so there’s always a gap for young people to make their mark.”

Cast your vote!

To vote for Hannah in the People’s Choice Award category, click here

To vote for Nip in the People’s Choice Award category, click here.


Josephine Walsh

Jose Walsh is a digital communications specialist who also runs her own blog, mapleandmabel.com. She has a passion for museums and the arts, a deep love of travel and more shoes than sense. Having worked in museums for the past seven years, she loves finding new ways to connect people with their cultural institutions. She loves meeting new people, hunting for a decent espresso, and planning her next adventure. More about the Author