Australia_Dr Meredith Doig OAM (1)
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"Educating girls has a generational impact"

Why Australian donor Dr Meredith Doig OAM was so passionate about mentoring a Syrian refugee student via the Connecting Worlds app.

Through her work with Federation University in regional Victoria, Dr Meredith Doig has long known the life-changing effect of higher education for women.

“Most of the students at Federation were the first in their family to go to university,” she says. “Studies show that the children of university-educated parents are more likely to gain a degree themselves, with all the benefits that brings. It’s a virtuous cycle.”

So when Meredith, a professional company director and governance consultant, was approached to support a refugee student via the Connecting Worlds Mentoring program, she jumped at the chance.

“It wasn’t just the opportunity to donate that appealed to me, but also the ability to connect with a refugee student through the Connecting Worlds app,” she says. “It felt like a wonderful balance of the personal and altruistic.”

Pioneered in Germany and introduced to Australia for the first time last year, Connecting Worlds Mentoring provides a unique way for donors to use their knowledge and experience to support refugee students overseas.

These students have all been awarded scholarships through UNHCR’s DAFI program, which has so far supported over 21,500 refugees in 53 countries to complete their undergraduate degrees. The scholarships cover tuition, study materials, food, transport and accommodation – everything students need to participate fully in university life and succeed in their chosen subjects.

For the pilot Connecting Worlds Mentoring scheme, 11 Australian donors including Meredith supported the program by donating $4,780 each. This is enough to support a female DAFI scholar for one year. In addition, they each connected with a student via the Connecting Worlds app who they were encouraged to mentor for three months.

Meredith was matched with Mariam, a Syrian refugee living in Jordan with her mother and younger brother. Mariam was in her second year of a law degree and, according to Meredith, “very bright”.

“You’re both sort of feeling your way at the start and there are suggested questions in the app to get you going,” says Meredith.

“Mariam wanted to know what she could do to improve her CV, as she aimed to pursue a career in international human rights law. In coaching, the usual thing is to ask open-ended questions and avoid giving concrete advice, but sometimes you have to give people something to start with. So, for example, I suggested she get involved in extra-curricular activities wherever possible and look for ways to demonstrate her contribution. Employers are always looking for initiative.”

Australia_Dr Meredith Doig OAM 3
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Dr Meredith Doig OAM, Australia for UNHCR donor

During the three months they communicated via the app, Mariam and Meredith swapped messages two or three times a week, which Meredith felt was sufficient: “We both had busy lives and you don’t want it to feel like a burden.”

A glitch in the app prevented Meredith from saying farewell to her young correspondent, which was the only hiccup in what was otherwise a fulfilling experience.

“I wanted to have been able to tell her at the end how incredibly talented and capable she is,” Meredith adds.

Australia for UNHCR’s Planned Giving Manager, Aylin Salt, says each refugee student taking part in the mentoring program is matched with a donor who shares similar qualifications or areas of interest. “If you’re a scientist, you’ll be matched with someone in STEM,” she says. “If women mentors would like to support female students with their donations, they can do that.”

Meredith’s career spans teaching, corporate and governance roles; she is particularly interested in organisational effectiveness. “I think if you’ve had experience in coaching or you’re confident in your coaching skills, that helps, but it’s also about setting aside the time for the exchange,” she says.

When asked if she’d sign up again for the Connecting Worlds Mentoring program, Meredith gave an emphatic yes. 

“I’m really interested in generational improvement but it’s also great to have that personal relationship with a young woman receiving support from UNHCR to succeed.”

If you’d like to find out more about how you can make a life-changing difference to a refugee student, please contact Aylin Salt [email protected] 

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