Case Study: Scholars Leading Through Story – Australia Awards

Partner: Scope Global 

What makes this project special 

Australia Awards scholars are some of the brightest minds and emerging leaders from around the world and this group of 40 from across the region, including India, Nepal, Bhutan, Mongolia, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and Pakistan, took up the challenge to become story leaders.

Over the course of two workshops, they learned important skills in finding and shaping stories. But perhaps what makes this project so special is that story listening created space for connection. To have and to hold a space for these participants, many of whom had moved to Australia to study just prior to the pandemic, to know they are not alone, and to give them the skills to listen, connect and empathise over the challenges of adjusting to a new culture during lockdown far away from their families and communities, is what the power of story leadership is all about. 

A bird’s eye view

  • WHAT: Two virtual storytelling and story leadership workshops
  • WHY: To help participants persuade, inspire and engage others in the world-changing work they are doing
  • WHEN: Late 2021
  • WHO: 40 scholars from Scope Global’s Australia Awards South East Asia/Mongolia current cohort and alumni
  • THE RESULTS: Increased confidence in their storytelling skills and understanding of how story can support their work; greater connection and empathy

​​“Stories we tell represent the experience, events and endeavours we undertook in the past and what we wish for in the future. The ‘Leading Through Story’ workshops made me realise I can impact change with my stories, and I will continue to do so,” – Jyoti Jiban Khisha, a scholar from Bangladesh currently studying at the University of Adelaide

The background – for those who want to dive a little deeper

The Australia Awards are prestigious international scholarships offering the next generation of global leaders an opportunity to undertake study, research and professional development in Australia. Participants, many of whom are business founders and civil service leaders, represent a diverse and talented cohort studying post-graduate qualifications in Australia in Education, Innovation and Entrepreneurship, Environmental Sustainability, Public Health, Public Policy, and beyond.

After a successful digital storytelling workshop for the Australia Awards in Colombo in 2020 – this time we were invited to deliver two virtual workshops on how story can be used to lead through these challenging times. 

The challenge

Scope Global, as the organisers of the Australia Awards, offer ongoing personal and professional development opportunities for current scholars and alumni. 

Storytelling was quickly identified as a central area of skill development desired by participants, to help them better persuade, inspire and engage communities in the important work they are doing. The ability to find, shape and share their story would also enable these scholars, entrepreneurs and civil society leaders to more effectively communicate their experience of the program and help them chart a path for change after the program concludes. 

The solution

There’s no better tool for leading in communities, organisations and initiatives than story because it allows you to listen, engage and understand a plurality of stakeholder’s views and perspectives. We wanted to create an environment where participants also learned practical tools and techniques for creating and sharing short stories across various platforms and mediums, including virtual presenting, digital storytelling and written stories. 

The process

First workshop: 

  • Delivered by two experienced facilitators through Spatial – a new way to experience virtual events – with on-hand tech support
  • The session was live-scribed by Devon so participants had the chance to watch common themes emerge
  • Scholars practised articulating their own story and got the chance to hear from others

Second workshop: 

  • Delivered by three of our facilitators via Zoom
  • Scholars worked on completing a Story Canvas before joining practical and hands-on breakout rooms on an area that most appealed to them such as virtual presenting, smartphone storytelling or written storytelling 

“I appreciated the innovative platform, which makes me feel like in-person training.  Both workshops provided useful and practical tips for writing stories.” – Participant

What emerged – the key outcomes

Across the two session, we witnessed participants:

  • Feeling more confident articulating their Australia Awards journey 
  • Improving their tech and story skills across different mediums 
  • Understand how they can use the power of story across their projects, from stakeholder engagement, through to evaluation and communication 
  • Deeper connection and empathy across the cohort
  • Experience the power of listening to and hearing each other’s stories 

“I am very thankful to the Australia Awards for organising such an impressive professional development training on storytelling. This session was an enriching experience for me. I have found many of the techniques and tips from the session directly relatable and applicable in my workplace for persuading and inspiring positive change.” Kencho Lhamo, scholar from Bhutan currently studying at Edith Cowan University

Three things we learned

  • There has been a shift in what it means to be a ‘leader’ 

Being able to weave together and tell a cohesive and galvanising story is a critical skill in today’s world. However, it is the added ability to hold space for story that is the mark of a true story leader. This group experienced a profound shift from seeing ‘leadership’ as being about inspiring, persuading and influencing to seeing it as much about listening, engaging and being of service to community. In this way, creating spaces for story listening sets the good leaders apart from the great. 

  • The last few years have taken their toll on us all

To hear from participants how difficult lockdowns were, particularly for those who had just moved to Australia; each having to adjust to a new culture, a new language and trying to connect with new people reminded us how much this period in history will make a mark on us all. The power of creating the space to debrief, share stories and empathise over that experience cannot be held lightly. 

  • Virtual working ain’t going anywhere

We might be feeling like walking Zoombies but virtual and online work ain’t going anywhere anytime soon, so we might as well be exploring the possibilities of how to make it feel better! Trialling new platforms like Spatial, as well as more creative ways of facilitating in Zoom can help to address ‘Zoom fatigue’ and make us feel lighter and more embodied while connecting virtually. That said, as facilitators we constantly need to make sure that we continue to make platforms accessible for people working with varying internet speeds and tech experience. Always a challenge! 

Could this work for your organisation or sector?

We love the challenge of finding a story, even in the unlikeliest of places. So, get in touch to see what’s possible with a series of storytelling workshops for your organisation or sector. 

NEXT: Taking the First Bite Out of the Donut 




business storytelling, international development, leadership development, leadership skills, leading through story, story leadership, storytelling, storytelling for leaders