Inspiring change

The alumna empowering young women in regional areas to reach for the stars.

Hannah Wandel

Hannah Wandel is a change maker.

Transforming the lives of young rural women, Hannah is testimony to the fact that if you want to see change, you have to get out there and create it.

And the 2019 ACT’s Young Australian of the Year and University of Adelaide 2019 James McWha Rising Star Award winner is certainly getting out there, clocking up 32,000 km last year on an epic road trip visiting 81 bush communities across the country to empower 3500 teenage girls.

Hannah was only 24 when she founded the not-for-profit organisation Country to Canberra, which runs programs that provide education, leadership and mentorship opportunities to young women in regional and remote Australia.

Aspiring to being a journalist since childhood, Hannah studied a double degree in Law (Honours) and Media before starting her dream job at Southern Cross Austereo. It was here her idea for Country to Canberra was conceived.

Working in the Adelaide newsroom, Hannah became dismayed by the barrage of sexist stories about then Prime Minister Julia Gillard.

“Whether it was about her hair, clothes or partner, the terminology surrounding the Prime Minister was quite sexist,” she said.

“I started looking further into gender inequality in our parliament and board rooms, as well as into issues like domestic violence and the gender pay gap and I became really passionate about creating this change.”

Although Hannah had experienced gender issues throughout high school and saw firsthand the struggles faced by young women from the country, it wasn’t until this point that Hannah really felt she could act.

After some soul searching, Hannah quit her job, moved to Canberra and started a career in the public service. 

“I didn’t feel empowered to do something until I was faced with [gender inequality] day in and day out. I experienced it as a teenager but didn’t have the confidence to go out and talk about it. I had to dig deep and say enough is enough and generate that change.”

Hannah Wandel
Gender inequality is still having a massive and detrimental impact across the country in leadership, when it comes to women’s safety and in so many aspects and realms of life.Hannah Wandel

While working her way up in the public service sector (she is currently Acting Director of the Drought Taskforce at the Department of Infrastructure, Regional Development and Cities), Hannah steadily built Country to Canberra into an organisation that has helped 4000 girls nationally.

“The more remote you go in Australia, the tougher it can be for kids to access career and education opportunities.

“Gender inequality is still having a massive and detrimental impact across the country in leadership, when it comes to women’s safety and in so many aspects and realms of life,” she said.

Despite facing initial challenges, Hannah was adamant she would take Country to Canberra’s message of self-confidence, respectful relationships, goal setting and leadership far and wide.

“I was really determined to do it, even though I got knocked back time after time from sponsors and people who were going to get involved.

“Now, five years later, we have four incredible programs, we’ve been able to meet people like Prime Minister Scott Morrison, Julie Bishop and Tanya Plibersek, and empower and reach thousands of young women. This is something I’m really proud of,” she said.

Working towards cultural change at a grass-roots level is undoubtedly paying off for Hannah, who is seeing some inspirational results.

Hannah-winner-DAA-2019

“One moment that keeps me going was in Katherine High School. It was a really tough workshop as the girls weren’t sure what we would be doing and we were pushing them outside their comfort zone. 

“By the end of the workshop, the girls said it was one of the best things they’d ever done. A group of them actually broke down in tears because no one had ever spoken to them about self belief and how much their futures matter.

“This was at the end of a trip where we were tired, we’d been on the road for months. To have the group of girls in tears saying how much it impacted their lives was brilliant.

“That’s such a beautiful impact we were able to have,” said Hannah.

While she is happy juggling her many roles at present, Hannah is leaving the door open for a move into politics one day down the track.

As for Country to Canberra, ultimately she would love to see the reigns handed over to a youth leader who has come through the program.

To learn more about Country to Canberra, please visit www.countrytocanberra.com.au

You can also make a difference to rural students: alumni.adelaide.edu.au/asappeal

Story by Renee Capps
Photos by Meaghan Coles

Tagged in lumen, lumen Winter 2019