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February 29, 2024

Leaders Institute of South Australia celebrates 25 years

The Governor’s Leadership Foundation Program has turned out notable alumni across the arts, education, health, business and government sectors. On its 25th birthday, alumni reflect upon the program's impact on South Australian changemakers.

  • Words: Helen Karakulak
  • Pictures: Michael Haines

In 2022, in the days leading up to her taking part in the Governor’s Leadership Foundation (GLF) program, Holley Skene’s marriage ended. 


The Governor’s Leadership Foundation


She tried to pull out of the program, but Leaders Institute CEO Cathie Brown strongly encouraged her not to. 

“I’ve thanked Cathie so many times and acknowledged her for taking that stance and not letting me withdraw, and also my fellow GLF participants who helped me rebuild myself after that,” Holley says. 

The Governor’s Leadership Foundation program is the flagship program of the Leaders Institute of South Australia, which spans 10 months and focuses on leadership knowledge and social impact. 

“It’s been such a transformational experience and I genuinely believe that had I not had the support of those friends, colleagues and connections through the GLF to hold me through that process, and then later challenge me when I needed to be challenged to take on this opportunity, that I’ve got now to be in this incredible job that I love,” Holley says.

Holley is now the CEO of Shine SA, which provides sexual health and relationship well-being services, and credits many of the skills and theoretical frameworks she uses in her role to her learnings from the program. 

“At times there are people who consider the work we do controversial or they may have moral objections to some of the work that we do, and definitely there have been learnings for me through the GLF that have been really valuable in learning how to navigate that in a politically sensitive and constructive way,” she says.

Cheers to 25 years!

To collate the influence the program has had on participants like Holley and the broader community, the Leaders Institute researched the program outcomes for the first time since 2013 as a “sense-check”.

Cathie says this research is important because “ultimately real-world, professional and personal impact is fundamental to what we advocate”. 

Their impact report found that 99 per cent of alumni said the GLF Program helped prepare them to solve problems, cope with demands, setbacks and unexpected events and positively impacted their relationships personally and professionally.

“With the quality of your life said to be determined by the quality of your relationships, to have 99 per cent say that the GLF made a positive impact on their relationships personally and professionally is incredible,” says Cathie.

Holley says while the program is a big commitment and you have to logistically prepare for the time and study it takes, it’s a worthwhile investment. This year, she’s supporting one of her executive managers at Shine to go through the program too. 

To increase their reach, the Leaders Institute is launching an Impact Fund this year. Donations to the fund will provide scholarships for disadvantaged people to undertake either the GLF or the emerging leader’s program. 

This includes people who are refugees, new migrants, have a disability, are Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and people working for not-for-profit community organisations who would not otherwise be able to participate in the program due to the cost. 

“We intend to draw at least one scholarship per program annually, hoping to build a corpus over time so that scholarships can always be awarded to our next community leaders to magnify their impact,” Cathie says.

When Holley went through the program, she did so on a scholarship awarded by the Office of the Commissioner for Public Sector Employment. 

“I didn’t have the money to undertake a programme like that, and I’m really glad that they’ve launched the Impact Fund to support those without financial resources from the organisation or from themselves to undertake a programme like this because I just can’t speak highly enough about the value of doing it,” she says.

“It’s so much more than a leadership program; it’s a human improvement program.”

SA Governor Frances Adamson AC with CEO Cathie Brown and Governor’s Leadership Foundation alumni. Photo supplied

The institutes patron, Governor of South Australia Frances Adamson AC, says the alumni undergo a transformative shift through the program.

“Having the GLF on one’s CV carries genuine substantive weight – a testament to the transformative experience it facilitates, equipping individuals to tackle emerging and novel challenges that our state faces now and into the future,” the Governor says.

Cathie says this mindset shift is clear as she has many “a-ha!” moments during the program, where she can see people letting go of something that has held them back from being the best leader and person they can be. 

Cathie recalls one woman battling imposter syndrome who would solve problems that weren’t hers and take on extra work to go above and beyond. 

“It became expected – she was just the fix-it bunny, with no reward or recognition. All to prove she was good enough,” Cathie says.

“This type of behaviour serves no one – not individuals, teams or organisations – as leaders we need to foster teams and ‘follow-ship’ not kill ourselves being ‘hero leaders’.

“During the program, she self-reflected, got feedback from other participants in vastly different jobs and applied leadership theories, and she became a different woman. She left that job and has gone on to work in far more self-fulfilling roles, having a real impact in this State.”

The 2024 GLF is currently underway, but people can register their interest for the 2025 intake on the Leaders Institute website, with applications open from June until October 1.

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