Deakin Logo

Sarah's National Leadership Forum experience

  • Blog
  • 4 min read
  • Posted October 2022

Delegates of the 2022 National Leadership Forum in Canberra
Delegates of the 2022 National Leadership Forum in Canberra

As a key part of our Student Experience Framework, Deakin Residential Services is committed to providing leadership opportunities through our Residential Leader program and broader event and workshop offerings for residents.

As part of this commitment, we sent Residential Leader Sarah McCamish to the National Leadership Forum in Canberra, where she met emerging leaders from around Australia, and benefitted from an in-depth and diverse program. Sarah has written about her experience below.

What is the National Leadership Forum all about?

The forum is designed to gather young leaders from Australia and around the world to encourage discussion over what makes a leader.

We were split into ‘small groups’ of seven delegates and three facilitators each and participated in many team building activities. We also engaged with numerous keynote speakers, who presented surprisingly opposing ideals over what leadership is all about. We soon found out, however, that this was the point of the forum, to acknowledge how the experience of the individual alters their views of the world.

Through this the power of influence an individual holds was realised, as well as how important it is as a leader to recognise and consider these differences.

Another point that the forum was designed around is the idea of ‘servant leadership’, that leaders act through listening to and helping others, there is no glory in true leadership.

What were your preconceptions and what was the reality?

Going into the forum I was honestly expecting it to be filled with a bunch of pretentious people, filled with the belief that they were already leaders. This was an initial sentiment that I found was shared among many in my small group (the phrase of an expected 'wanky forum' was definitely used).

However, we all soon discovered just how wrong we were as we got to know those in our small groups and beyond. Everyone was just as clueless as I was at the beginning of the forum and came from similar situations (though everyone appeared quite shocked when I told them my trip to the forum was my first time on a plane).

With no air of superiority, everyone at the forum listened to the speakers, and importantly, listened to each other. In the end it completely exceeded my expectations, and I found the experience beneficial.

What were the sessions like and what were some highlights?

The sessions were all very different from each other though of course all focused on one thing – leadership. Being able to hear so many different perspectives on what leadership meant and entailed was really valuable and helped to form and validate our own ideas on what leadership is.

Sessions varied from keynote speakers at parliament house to a visit to the Australian War Memorial. While all the speakers and sessions were very influential, highlights for me were Dr. Anne Aly’s speech, a Minister from WA who has spoken at the United Nations Conference for Counterterrorism, and a speech from Leila Abdallah (and her daughter Liana), the woman from Sydney who in 2020 tragically lost three of her children in an accident involving a drunk driver.

What are some of your key takeaways from the forum?

Dr. Aly’s speech really struck a chord with me regarding her words of change and passion. If we want change in this world, Dr. Aly spoke, we must keep ‘that fire in our bellies’ that drives our passion. Be mad at the world, and as a Muslim premier, do not settle for being ‘the first’. This resonated with me as a queer woman, as to be honest I have been nominated for certain things in my work and academic life simply on the merit that I am ‘other’.

Leila Abdullah’s speech had me, and every other person in the room, in tears the entire time. The speech opened with a video of her late daughter Angelina speaking on the meaning of leadership when trying for school captain at her primary school, I really think everyone in the room realised that she was already a leader. Angelina spoke of kindness and consideration, qualities many world leaders would appear to lack.

Leila also spoke of the power of empathy and forgiveness in the face of the unforgivable, how she had to stand up as a leader for her family to ensure they didn’t all crumble. This speech was exceptionally moving, and I believe the words from Leila, Angelina and Liana will long stick with every person who had the privilege of being in that room.

Ultimately my overall takeaway, written in the notes app of my phone the afternoon of the conference’s end, was this: The importance of a single voice.

Ultimately my overall takeaway, written in the note’s app of my phone the afternoon of the conference’s end, was this: The importance of a single voice. Personally, the forum taught me to realise that I deserve my seat at the table, despite someone perhaps initially pulling the seat out for me due to my connection to the ‘other’. And relating to others, the forum instilled the importance of listening to others, and the power and influence a single story can have – as my small group member David said, 'The power lies in the ums and ahs.'

Why should future students consider it as a great opportunity.

The National Leadership Forum is a great opportunity to expand experience and be challenged by opposing ideas. As we understandably tend to surround ourselves with likeminded people, this opportunity for challenges and growth doesn’t come around too often.

And while the experience, as it was eloquently described by another delegate, was like ‘drinking from a fire hydrant’, I left with some really valuable skills that I can transfer across any discipline I end up in.


Thanks to Sarah for sharing her experience, and we at Deakin Res look forward to providing this opportunity to other Residential Leaders in the future!

Written by

Profile photo of author Sarah McCamish
Sarah McCamish

Sarah McCamish is a Residential Leader at Deakin's Waurn Ponds residences. Originally coming from Eden in Yuin country NSW, Sarah is studying a Bachelor of Arts with majors in International Relations and Politics.