News & Insights

Pacific Women Leading in Engineering

Written by Tallulah Waterson

Nanise Kabakoro’s journey through the Australia Awards Women’s Leadership Initiative boosted her confidence and provided her with life-changing opportunities, helping her to realise her leadership potential.

The Australia Awards Women’s Leadership Initiative (WLI) is a 5-year Australian Government program program which has been implemented by Cardno since 2017 to support Australia Awards Scholarship recipients studying at Australian tertiary institutions to develop their leadership skills.

WLI has helped support 126 participants so far, with 28 participating in work placements. The goal of the program is for alumni to use their leadership skills to contribute to sustainable development outcomes for the Pacific region.

Nanise Kabakoro at the Aiwo Port Redevelopment Project

This is accomplished by identifying emerging women leaders from the Pacific and providing them with skills training, networking and mentoring from influential women in Australia.

Nanise Kabakoro was awarded a place as an Australia Awards Scholar and completed a Master of Civil & Structural Engineering at the University of Adelaide. She is one of the first Fijian women to complete a Masters of Civil Engineering. As part of WLI, Nanise completed an internship in Cardno International Development's Infrastructure team. This provided her with the opportunity to work with a team of highly skilled technical professionals from multi-disciplinary backgrounds, gain experience in a range of engineering projects and learn about career opportunities in the international development sector.

As a result of this internship, Cardno selected Nanise for a project role on the Aiwo Port Redevelopment Project, a US$90 million infrastructure investment being funded through a grant by the Asian Development Bank, DFAT and Green Climate Fund. She is now employed as an Assistant Port Construction Engineer/Works Superintendent in Nauru. Being selected for this exciting opportunity also makes Nanise the first female Site Superintendent on the program. The new international port will be an essential infrastructure hub for Nauru as the nation relies on 95 per cent of its essential imports such as food, medical supplies and fuel to be delivered by sea. Cardno is very excited to be able to support Nanise in the development of her career. It is a great opportunity for Nanise to combine her passions for leadership, engineering and international development in the Pacific.

We were fortunate enough to be able to virtually interview Nanise about her experience with WLI and the Nauru Port project.

Would you be able to tell me a bit about what your experience with the Women’s Leadership Initiative was like?

Challenging. Rewarding. Life changing. Being one of the women selected to be in Cohort 4 of the WLI program in 2020 was a real honour and blessing. Although the major face to face events planned in January, July and September were not possible due to bushfire scares and COVID travel restrictions, the WLI team still made it work.

Australia’s Ambassador for Women and Girls, Julie-Ann Guivarra (L) presenting a WLI completion certificate to Nanise Kabakoro.

Fortnightly Zoom meetings were held to teach and discuss leadership related topics and every other week was used for self-reflection and social networking with the ladies within our cohort. Prior to joining the program, I knew that I wanted to be a leader, but I wasn’t sure how I would do that. The WLI program helped me not only realise my potential but also helped me understand the type of leader I can be.

As women, we are often under-represented in the academic and professional fields of engineering and leadership roles within the Pacific. To be on an Australia Awards Scholarship and to be in the WLI program is a step in the direction to minimise the gap to overcome this tradition of gender disparity.

Best part, the program helped me increase my networking connections to not only women within my professional field in Australia but also with other women from around the Pacific. I believe it reinforces the approach of the WLI program, connecting women in the pacific.

What do you feel you gained from being part of the program, and how did that help you to work towards your career goals?

Confidence. Building on my soft skills. Networking opportunities. Also, the opportunity to do a work placement with a leading engineering firm in Australia boosted my confidence. It reinforces my beliefs that women of Pacific decent can compete and thrive within engineering or any other industry, it only takes self-belief and determination. Under the WLI program I receive support, have access to applied learning environment and access to female role models.

On the internship I was able to apply the leadership training lessons I have learnt through the WLI program. The benefit of my completed placement/future will build my confidence and leadership skill which I’ll use to contribute to sustainable development for Fiji and in the Pacific. The placement also strengthens visibility of Pacific women in the engineering industry in Australia.

My long-term career goal is to offer engineering consultancy services mainly for communal development within Fiji or the Pacific region. The work placement with Cardno helped reinforce this goal. Communal development is of national interest within the Pacific region. Observing the business and work ethics of Cardno reaffirmed my passion to be able to influence development projects and consider the environmental impacts but also be climate resilient.

For further information contact:

Joanne Choe
Head of Program Quality & Gender
Email: Joanne.Choe@cardno.com