Written by Leanne Tomkins
Alexandra Procter, 2019 Westpac Future Leader and PhD candidate at the University of Adelaide, is undertaking research on intergenerational contact with the welfare system in South Australia and examining subsequent health and child protection outcomes for young people.
Thanks to the re-opening of international borders this year, Alexandra has used her scholarship funding to attend international events on public health in Switzerland, the USA and Scotland. These enriching experiences have prompted her to reflect upon the potential positive impact of her work, and how her emergence as a future leader has been nurtured within the W100 Network.
Developing a Future Leader
“The Westpac Scholars program was the first time someone external to my life had made such a big investment in my personal development,” says Alexandra. “I remember feeling like someone's just invested in me and cares about me, and now I feel this great responsibility to go and do something.”
Alexandra is working to provide evidence to help improve policy around the health and development of vulnerable children. One day she hopes to provide evidence to change the way society views recipients of the welfare system (Centrelink) and challenge conceptions of 'worthiness’.
“Ultimately, the evidence should help provide a foundation for how we can reimagine our welfare system from one aimed at supporting adults to one that provides adequate resources to adults who hope to increase life chances for their children,” she says.
Alex is also closely involved with the W100 Network in South Australia.
“I love the W100 community,” she says. “It’s nice to bounce ideas off people that think differently and have different experiences – there’s a kind of informal mentoring that happens through these social interactions, so I try to give back in that capacity as well.”
Selection as a Westpac Scholar also presented Alexandra with opportunities to expand on her skill set, especially when it comes to public speaking and presenting.
“Back in 2019 we had a workshop around public speaking and presenting as part of the Leadership Residential and it completely changed how I thought about it and how I felt about putting my work forward,” she says.
“It’s taken me a long time to recognise that a lot of my growth and development stems from that point, and that the investment in my career by Westpac Scholars has come to fruition in different ways,” she says.
75th World Health Assembly
In May, Alexandra travelled to Geneva, Switzerland to attend the 75th World Health Assembly of the World Health Organization (WHO) as a Global Voices Scholar. Participating in the World Health Assembly gave Alexandra intense exposure to the political elements of public health policy and pushed her to reflect upon the potential of her work and the systemic limitations to enacting change.
“At a side event with US Aid, the presenter talked about the fact that we have good science but it is the systems that will fail humanity,” she says.
“We see it with COVID-19 around vaccines, equity and accessibility, and we'll see it again with other things in the future. It’s made me change the way that I think about the political nature of what I do.”
Rather than focusing on just being an academic that works on developing good evidence, Alexandra wants to produce policy-relevant evidence.
“I think that a key part in this is to understand that a lot of what we do or the way we approach these big life questions stems from culture,” she says. “Part of my work is to better understand how our welfare system supports children experiencing intergenerational disadvantage through contact with the welfare system. Put in real terms – what is the dollar investment our welfare system is making per child? Is it enough? And what can we realistically expect to gain from such an investment in these young people who are the future of our society?”
Shared growth and development
In June, Alexandra travelled to the US to present her impactful research work at the Society Perinatal Epidemiological Research conference in Chicago, USA and undertook short courses at the Harvard School of Public Health. She also presented two papers at the International Population Data Linkage Network conference in Edinburgh, Scotland.
“Presenting my papers was an awesome achievement,” says Alexandra, “but I also had the opportunity to meet some colleagues face to face for the first time and present my findings to them to gain more in-depth feedback – and if you’d told me that a couple of years ago, I wouldn't have imagined it as something that I'd be able to do.”
Alexandra credits the growth of her potential impact in public health to the support of the Westpac Scholars Trust.
“Sometimes these investments take time to show you how they’ve paid off,” she says. “You need opportunities to test yourself, and I think the international experiences have given me that chance.”
Published 13 November 2022