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leadership program

My experience on a Leadership Immersion Program.

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Written by Sam Cook. Business Chicks Leadership Immersion Program Animator, Mexico, 2015.  

It was a bright, sunny day.  I was standing in the lush gardens at the Australian Embassy in Mexico City. I was a long way from home, and WAY out of my comfort zone.

Here I was, speaking in front of a crowd of dignitaries, representatives from the UN, Women’s Rights organisations, and The Hunger Project employees. Along with my fellow ‘trippers’, who I’d met only days before.

They were all listening attentively to my story. It was one of the proudest moments of my life so far.

How did I get there, and what did I have to share?

When I first found out about The Hunger Project, what struck me most about their work was that, although they facilitate change, it is the people living in hunger themselves that are the ones building on their leadership skills to firstly create their vision, then do the work needed to make their vision become a reality.

I could relate to this.  As someone who had recently been faced with some big life challenges, I was ready to set myself a lofty goal and unlock my full potential.   

Soon after, I found myself in the beautiful mountain village of Genova, more than ten hours travel from Mexico City, on a Leadership Immersion Program. What I found there were many examples of how when people are empowered, they can make significant changes in both their lives and the lives of others.

As part of our time in the village, we were privileged to attend a community meeting. Here, representatives from four different villages shared their visions for their communities.

When each village planned out their vision, they had key projects that they wanted to work on. All of the examples involved local people learning new skills, that they’d then pass along to others. This gave them a sense of purpose and pride in what they could accomplish, a strong sense of community, and skills that would continue being useful in their communities. It also helped the local people understand how they could all work together as a team and turn their vision into reality.  

The Hunger Project had worked hard to give the women of these villages a voice. We were told of the challenges of changing belief systems, with the result that many of the men had come to realise that if everyone (including women and youth) were on board, that their vision could be reached sooner.

Standing in front of the crowd at the Embassy, I shared the lesson that when an individual’s leadership is developed, their confidence has a chance to shine through and they become empowered. When people join together with others they can have a huge impact.

I saw this in myself and many others during my time in Mexico, and these are lessons I’ve kept with me since.

Have any questions about our Leadership Immersion Programs? Get in touch with us!

An Interview with Olivia Ruello, CEO of Business Chicks

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Olivia RuelloCEO of Business Chicks, Australia’s largest and most influential community for women, is a passionate and long-time supporter of The Hunger Project’s work 

At Business Chicks, they know that every woman has the capacity to do amazing things. Whether you run your own business or work in an office, they provide connection and support for women to propel themselves forward.  

Business Chicks have been one of our amazing partners since 2011. Together, we created The Business Chicks Leadership Immersion Program, an overseas trip where Business Chicks members travel with us to experience the incredible leadership and resilience of our village partners in our program countries.  

Their first ever Leadership Immersion Program in 2012 took them to Bangladesh. They were immersed in the culture and learnt leadership lessons from our village partners who are combating hunger in Bangladesh. Over the years, Business Chicks and The Hunger Project have built an amazing partnership, raising over $2 million, which has impacted the lives of women in Australia and in the communities we work in.  

Olivia Ruello shares why our partnership is such an important part of what the team at Business Chicks does every day.  

Interview with Olivia Ruello

What does the Business Chicks’ partnership with The Hunger Project mean to you? 

It’s one of the most important things we do at Business Chicks. For me personally, it is the work I feel most proud of. When you step foot in countries in which The Hunger Project work and witness first-hand the impact this work has on families, communities and more broadly in society, it’s impossible to not be inspired to do more. The Hunger Project Australia are a true partner in every sense of the word. The relationship is built on trust, shared values and a vision to see women really stepping into their power and playing a bigger game in the world.

Why is it important to the Business Chicks community to be involved in social causes? 

I think it’s important that we all play a small part as global citizens in impacting change and driving more equity in the world. It would be a missed opportunity to not mobilise the community to give back, whether that be on a very small scale or a much larger one. We all have something that we can contribute, whether it be time, money, expertise. We find in our community an abundance of generosity and many members wanting to give back and have a voice in important issues.

Why do you think that empowering women is key to creating change? 

Empower a woman and you create generational change. Women invest in their families and communities and are amazing at inspiring others to do the same. We work collectively to drive initiatives. Women are strong and resilient and fierce in the face of adversity.

Can you tell us about one inspirational leader you’ve met on a Business Chicks Leadership Immersion Program, what you learnt from her and how you have applied this back in your life?

I remember the first time I went to India with The Hunger Project. We were in a small village called Lahora, in Rajasthan. I met the village leader — her name was Badam Devi. She was an illiterate agricultural worker from a marginalised community who lowered her veil when she spoke. Against chronic corruption within the bureaucracy, as well as centuries-old patriarchy and gender inequality, Badam Devi had a vision for her community. She had built a succession plan for her tenure through the sponsorship of younger women in her village, she was courageous and determined, and she had followship like nothing I had ever witnessed. She took risks and fought hard for the rights of women and girls in her community.

I witnessed the rawest form of leadership I had ever encountered. In meeting Badam Devi I knew that anything was possible for me in my life. I knew I could do better, that I could be better, and that I had an opportunity to unlock my own leadership in a real and tangible way. It changed me and transformed my mindset from one of limitation to one of expansive abundance. I became more confident to try things and determined to keep going when things sometimes get tough. She has been a constant source of inspiration in my life.

Tell us about one outstanding moment for you where something magical happened for the Business Chicks members.

Gosh there are so many, this year was the first time I’ve gone on a Business Chicks Leadership Immersion Program. I think the most powerful moments come in the quiet conversations, on the train or around a dinner table, where there is a real breakthrough in self worth, or possibility, or something that has been holding that woman back. There were dozens of these moments in India this year.

Looking back over the years, what has the partnership created that makes your heart sing?

Hundreds of meaningful connections, lifelong friendships, an abundance of possibility and lives transformed both in Australia for our members and overseas in the countries in which the more than $2m that we have raised has gone. We’ve seen our members quit jobs that were making them unhappy, start businesses, leave marriages, commit to becoming global investors of The Hunger Project, support other causes, stand up for their rights, and support others to do the same. It’s a privilege for Business Chicks to play a small part in that.


Join Business Chicks on their next Leadership Immersion Program in Ghana here

K – Knowledge is power 

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“I found this program incredibly grounding, transportive and enlightening – I learnt as much from the group as I did from the village partners and for that I’m truly grateful.” 

Georgie Owen, Paralegal, Pinsent Masons 

Work, exercise, family, friends, eat and sleep. It’s easy for us to fall into a pattern where nothing changes and we don’t challenge ourselves. 

Georgie was in the study/work/espresso-martinis-on-the-weekend slump when she saw a post about The Hunger Project’s leadership immersion program during an Instagram scroll. Knowing that she wanted to contribute to something greater than herself, she applied to join the program within 48 hours.  

“Before being exposed to The Hunger Project, I’d always put ending hunger in the ‘too hard’ basket. When I signed up, I still doubted how a 23-year-old Melbournian who could hardly pass her uni subjects could contribute to ending hunger.” 

By the end of the week of personal development work and time spent learning from our village partners who are ending hunger in their communities, her mindset completely shifted 

“I have redefined my idea of leadership. The program taught me that, irrespective of my young age and junior work roles, I can still be a leader.” 

The unique combination of seeing how The Hunger Project enables communities to become self-reliant and the leadership workshops led by experienced facilitators means that the environment is perfectly conducive to growth and expansion. 

Our focus on empowering people through knowledge to create tangible, sustainable change is something that is carried the whole way through our leadership immersion programs.  

“I think I became a better listener which is really important. When I was feeling uncomfortable, I learnt to sit with it and trust the situation. I gained clarity about what I personally needed to work on that I would never get at home because I don’t make space for it.” 

On an immersion program like this, you’re grounded and connected to the people around you. It’s the perfect time to peel back the layers and break down preconceived ideas of the best way to tackle problems. 

“There are enough funds, resources and able people in this world to end hunger and you are capable of more than you think.”    

Applications open now for Unlock, The Hunger Project’s next leadership immersion program to Malawi in November 2019 (limited spots still available). Find out more or apply now at 



C – Courageous conversations 

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“Being in the villages and seeing how people live at a variety of stages of development allowed me to see, feel, smell and listen to the conditions that THP’s village partners live in.” 

Amanda White, Director of institutional content at Conexus Financial 

Courageous conversations can lead to spectacular and even completely unforeseen outcomes. Sometimes it takes a friend or colleague pointing something out in conversation before you can identify and challenge an unconscious belief you hold about yourself or others. It may take courage on their part to bring it up and equally it may take courage for you to be open and vulnerable to exploring the belief – and even possibly be willing to give it up or shift it! 

These kinds of courageous conversations are encouraged and fostered through our leadership immersion programs, starting well before you set foot in one of The Hunger Project’s communities. 

Let’s take conversations about money. When you join the program, you agree to raise funds for The Hunger Project’s work. The leadership act will have you shift gears and take actions that stretch you out of your comfort zone. It will also require you to ask people for money or help to reach your goal – something that for many of us is uncomfortable or awkward. What we’ve seen however is that many people are pleasantly surprised at people’s generosity when they are simply asked! 

Let’s take conversations with strangers. When you join us in Malawi, India, Uganda or Senegal, you meet and speak with people living in hunger who are partnering with The Hunger Project to transform their futures. Being in this unfamiliar situation with new people who may not speak your language can seem overwhelming. We encourage people to bring a beginner’s mind and leave behind preconceptions and judgements – which ultimately allows us to be curious and learn from one another. 

Let’s take conversations with yourself. When you’re in ‘the village classroom’ with us, you have the opportunity to step out of your comfort zone and shed new light on your mindset about your life, career, family, finances and more. It takes courage to be honest with yourself and what you want, and this program creates an environment in which you can safely do that.  

If you’re up for inviting more courageous conversations in your life, join us on Unlock – to unlock possibility, potential and purpose for yourself and our village partners. 

Applications open now for Unlock, The Hunger Project’s next leadership immersion program to Malawi in November 2019 (limited spots still available). Find out more or apply now at 



O – Opportunity to redefine your purpose 

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“The Hunger Project offers an opportunity of a lifetime to learn from inspiring individuals from all facets of life with one thing in common – change your mindset and you can achieve anything! A key lesson which has given me purpose both professionally and personally.”

Iman Harrak, General Manager, Randstad 

A common thing we hear from people interested in participating in our leadership immersion programs is that they’re looking to clarify their purpose or build more purpose into their lives. Our programs create powerful environment for learning and discovery – including from some seemingly unexpected sources.  

Iman travelled with us to Uganda and was profoundly moved by what she witnessed about Joseph and having a clear purpose and vision. 

“Joseph greeted us as we had come off a 4 hour bus ride to arrive in his village of Kenshunga. He welcomed us with the warmest smile I had ever seen and a great big hug, that even though it was so hot, I was very comfortable with. 

While he showed us his basic traditional home and introduced us to his family, I was overwhelmed by the colours in his garden, warmth in the pride of the work he had put into his home and the level of achievement he had reached to be self-reliant. 

As I spoke to Joseph and learnt more about his life, I found out that he had various different employment backgrounds and taken any job he could to support his family. He had been working the fields for years on end until he joined the military for 8 years and 9 months, where he was awarded a medal from the President of Uganda for his services. He then became a Preacher while also digging in the fields, but with 11 kids these pursuits were not making him enough money. 

After hearing about the work that The Hunger Project does and learning that he could make a big difference in his own backyard, he invested his time to take on a microfinance course through THP, where he invested the money he borrowed into agriculture and crops. He now provides nutritious fruit and vegetables for his family to keep them alive, has put all his children through school, and has also created a business where he rents out patches from his small land to people in his community so they can do the same for their families. 

Joseph demonstrated that no matter what the circumstances he was facing, he didn’t lose sight of his vision to provide for his family by boundaries. An entrepreneur and a true leader who taught me the importance of being persistent, resilient, open to new opportunities and having a clear vision which never gets blurred. 

Joseph and his family are now self-reliant and key influencers in the community who lead by example to create a better world for those around them.” 

You can hear more about Iman’s experience on this podcast: 

Applications open now for Unlock, The Hunger Project’s next leadership immersion program to Malawi in November 2019 (limited spots still available). Find out more or apply now at 

*The original article was posted to Iman’s Linkedin here: 


L – Leadership in action 

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“The program reaffirmed what I think a true leader is. It has shown me the strength and power of leadership no matter where you’re from, where you are, or where you’re going. 

Lauren Johnson, Medical student 

Leadership can be defined in so many ways. For some, it’s about a title – CEO, CFO, Founder, Director; for others, it’s about the respect you command or the power you have over people. 

At The Hunger Project, we believe there is a leader inside of everyone, and everyone is capable of the most profound transformations – regardless of age, gender or where you’re born or live.  

The most outstanding examples of courageous and effective leadership producing transformational outcomes today are happening in the remote, rural villages where The Hunger Project works across Africa, India and Bangladesh. 

We have developed our unique leadership immersion programs to give Australians access and insights into what’s possible once leadership has been kindled in people – and to enable you to discover how you can apply these lessons in your own life and leadership.  

Lauren Johnson participated in our leadership immersion program to Senegal in West Africa in 2018. Witnessing The Hunger Project’s work developing leaders in rural communities, she says,

“The focus on mindset to achieve sustainable outcomes is extraordinary. It allowed me an opportunity to acknowledge the powerful moments in life, something I rarely do. I discovered that I am worthy, I am enough, I can achieve everything and anything I want. The possibilities are endless if you are courageous! I deserve to do what I’m passionate about, and passion equals success. You only get one life, so do what you love. The experience was transformative; while I was initially skeptical about what I would take away from the program, what I found was a profound group of people who have inspired me to think about the endless possibilities to come.” 

Applications open now for Unlock, The Hunger Project’s next leadership immersion program going to Malawi in November 2019 (limited spots still available). Find out more or apply now at 


N – New possibilities 

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“The program is both humbling and inspiring. You get to see firsthand how the money raised is used, and what a tremendous difference your effort can make in rural communities. It will change the way you see the world. An opportunity like this does not come around often – if ever – so you’d be crazy not to take it.” 

Joe Leech, founder, 

For dietician Joe Leech, participating in THP’s leadership immersion program in Uganda and visiting communities living in hunger was the catalyst for a new idea and approach to thinking about his work with food. This is the power of participating in a new or challenging experience in an entirely unfamiliar environment — development and growth are inevitable.  

For Joe, seeing firsthand the devastating hunger and poverty in east Africa made him think of a solution to balance out the over-consumption problem we face in the West. He created a documentary to explore people’s relationship to food and nutrition in Uganda. 

“Just watching this will change the way you think and look at food — where it comes from, how much variety we have, how cheap it is, how wasteful we are.” 

Our leadership immersion programs have been the catalyst for personal growth and development for many people over the past eight years. They offer a new lens for tackling the challenges in our lives.  

Witnessing what our village partners have already achieved and continue to achieve to solve their own hunger opens us up to new possibilities for our futures. Whether that’s feeding your family every day, starting the business you’ve always dreamed of or doing something you’ve always been too scared to take action on, it unlocks the hidden leader in all of us. 

Applications open now for Unlock, The Hunger Project’s next leadership immersion program going to Malawi in November 2019 (limited spots still available). Find out more or apply now at 

*This blog post includes extracts from 



U- Unlimited Potential

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“It was an experience that grew me in so many ways, a safe place to discover my full potential.” 

Prue Aja, Professional photographer | 

When Prue began working as a photographer, she knew it was important to work with people whose values aligned with her own.  

“I knew the bigger picture was to eventually contribute towards a future of equality for all, starting with women. I always believed that if there were more women in power, making the big decisions in our world, it would be a different – if not better – place.” 

The Hunger Project focuses on women-centred strategies to end world hunger in rural, remote communities. This is what drew Prue to our leadership immersion programs in countries like Uganda, India and Malawi. Studies show that when a woman is empowered, her whole community benefits. By focusing on women we are creating a huge ripple effect that lifts up entire communities. 

Prue was in a position of power and strength in her business and daily life to make a difference to others when she learnt about THP’s leadership immersion program from some trusted women in her circles. She knew she could have a positive impact and work towards something bigger than herself and her personal goals. She dived head first into the lifechanging experience. 

“I didn’t yet have clarity around what the program was about, but the first step was showing up, putting my hand up and jumping in wholeheartedly with an open mind, eager to learn.” 

In October 2018, she travelled with 11 others to Uganda to embark on the week-long leadership immersion program. They learnt first-hand from community leaders who partner with The Hunger Project anenable their communities to end their own hunger. They were also led by program facilitator, author, speaker and executive coach Kemi Nekvapil through exercises to help them develop a plan for their own potential and future back in Australia. 

“I have gained a new sense of self and humanity.”  

Applications open now for Unlock, The Hunger Project’s next leadership immersion program to Malawi in November 2019 (limited spots still available). Find out more or apply now at 

*This blog post includes extracts from Prue’s original post on her website: