The Pathways to Politics Program for Women based at the University of Melbourne’s School of Government is modelled on the Harvard Kennedy School program ‘From Harvard Square to the Oval Office.’ It is a non-partisan initiative funded by the Trawalla Foundation that will provide a select group of female University of Melbourne students and alumni with the skills and networks to reach elected office at local, state and national levels.

The Program was officially launched by the Hon Julie Bishop MP, the Hon Tanya Plibersek MP, Carol Schwartz AM, Chair of the Trawalla Foundation and Professor Glyn Davis AC, Vice-Chancellor of the University of Melbourne, in November 2015 at Parliament House, Canberra.

This Australian initiative is designed to redress the continued under-representation of women in Australian politics. In 2014 less than one-third of all parliamentarians and only one-fifth of all ministers were women. This is a problem of national and global significance. Compared with other countries, Australia's ranking for women in national government continues to decline. As noted in Representation of Women in Australian Parliaments 2014, the representation of women in Australia's parliaments hovers around the 'critical mass' of 30 per cent regarded by the United Nations as the minimum level necessary for women to influence decision-making in parliament.

The program features guest presenters from across the political spectrum including politicians (both sitting and retired), pollsters, public speaking professionals, campaign strategists, advisors, consultants and public policy experts as well as leading figures in Australian political and public life. Each session is structured around hands-on training and mentorship and includes conversation sessions with women elected to office in local, state and federal government. This executive program provides hard skills training but there will be an emphasis on aspiration and leadership.

The program was developed in consultation with Professor of Public Policy Iris Bohnet at the Harvard Kennedy School and Director of its Women and Public Policy Program (WAPPP) and Victoria Budson, Founding Executive Director of the WAPPP. We anticipate that graduates of the US and Australian programs will form part of an international network of women aspiring to elected office.


The Program was initiated by the Women’s Leadership Institute Australia (WLIA) and is made possible by a generous donation from the Trawalla Foundation to the University of Melbourne. Established by the Schwartz family, the Trawalla Foundation invests in social enterprises that demonstrate innovation and leadership in their area of social impact. The Pathways to Politics Program for Women is an ongoing partnership between the Women’s Leadership Institute Australia, the Trawalla Foundation and the Melbourne School of Government. 

Ms Carol Schwartz AM, Chair of the Trawalla Foundation, said that 'it was a privilege to contribute to the advancement of women in political life'.

"Currently women occupy fewer than 30% of Australian parliamentary positions, which is considerably lower than our international counterparts. So I am thrilled to be launching a non-partisan program designed to help bridge the gap"

Carol Schwartz AM, Chair, Trawalla Foundation

"Program participants will learn from members of parliament, campaign strategists, advisors, consultants and elected officials and we anticipate that graduates of the US and Australian programs will form part of an international network of women in office"

Professor Helen Sullivan, Previous Director, Melbourne School of Government, The University of Melbourne

"The University is very excited to launch a program designed to ensure women are encouraged and supported in their contribution to public debate and well represented in government roles"

Professor Glyn Davis, Vice Chancellor, The University of Melbourne

"Thanks to the generosity of Carol Schwartz and the Trawalla Foundation, the new Pathways to Politics Program for Women provides the University, through its Melbourne School of Government, a unique opportunity to make a significant difference in addressing the gender imbalance that exists across different levels of parliament in Australia. We look forward to implementing the program in 2016 and facilitating opportunities for University female graduates and alumni who have aspirations to elected office at local, state and federal levels"

Professor Mark Considine, Dean, Faculty of Arts, The University of Melbourne

"I am delighted that the impact of the From Harvard Square to the Oval Office program is expanding to reach Australian women through the new Pathways to Politics Program at The University of Melbourne. Gender gaps in politics exist in nearly every nation on earth, and equipping women students with the skills, knowledge, and networks to succeed in the political arena will bring more equal representation to all. I congratulate Carol Schwartz for her vision and determination that have made this initiative possible and I look forward to closely following the successes that are sure to result from this investment in the future of Australian women and public policy."

Victoria A. Budson, Executive Director Women and Public Policy Program Harvard Kennedy School

Next : Advisory committee