“When I started the Fellowship, I had big plans of setting up new support systems. But through mentors, connections and the constructive interrogation of my fellow Fellows, I realised these structures already existed. They just needed to work better.”

Kamilaroi/Gomeroi woman Michelle Steele was part of the first cohort of Atlantic Fellows for Social Equity (AFSE). The project she worked on when she joined AFSE focused on supporting women leaving the prison system.

Michelle describes how, in addition to changing the way she approached her project, the Fellowship boosted her social change capability.

Atlantic Fellow for Social Equity, Michelle Steele. Photo: James Henry.

“It allowed me to make connections I would not have made, and it gave me 14 more sponsors for my project.”

More recently, Michelle’s social change leadership helped deliver a rapid increase in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander COVID-19 vaccination rates across the country.

“It’s about doing the best for our people, our families, our communities and for our continuing cultures. We’ve read how colonisation and introduced diseases affected our communities. We still feel their impact on our culture.”

The AFSE Fellowship – based at the University of Melbourne – focuses on Indigenous-led social change and represents the largest investment ever made into Indigenous leadership. The community of Fellows is set to grow, as applications open for 2023.

During the foundation year, Fellows complete a post-graduate qualification in Social Change Leadership. An undergraduate degree is not needed to apply, and the course is fully funded with program participation also supported through a stipend.

Upon completion, Fellows join a global community of changemakers from seven hubs around the world that all aim to advance fairer, healthier and more inclusive societies.

Another Fellow, Wiradjuri/Māori man Dean Heta, worked to develop a program called Gagamin Dharramalin (Wiradjuri for young brothers or young spirit) when he joined AFSE in 2021.

Atlantic Fellow for Social Equity, Dean Heta. Photo: James Henry.

The program introduces traditional land management as a way to engage and build the confidence of young Aboriginal men in his community.

“For me, it’s about getting in and doing something positive with my own community.”

Dean says the Fellowship provides people with an opportunity to network with others and reminds them that they are not alone in their social change journey.

“It’s giving opportunity to like-minded people in making positive impacts across First Nation countries.”

Professor Elizabeth McKinley, Executive Director of AFSE, encourages Aboriginal, Torres Strait Islander, Māori and Pacific Islander people in Australia and Aotearoa to apply for the lifechanging Fellowship.

“We hope to build a cohort of Indigenous-led social change leaders that have the spirit of collective action and impact to create a better place for us all,” Professor McKinley said.

“We welcome you to join us on our journey and wish you well with your application.”

Applications can be made via the Apply page on the AFSE website and close on Friday 19 August 2022.

This article is supported by Atlantic Fellows for Social Equity.