Alumni award winner Kim-Marie Spence

Leadership lessons from pop music

09 April 2017

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What does it take to be a leader? Is it about having an accomplished career - perhaps running a government department? Maybe it’s being a social entrepreneur, building events from the ground up and bringing diverse communities together? Maybe it’s about academic accomplishment, studying something you love – say the rhythm of reggae, the bright lights of Bollywood, maybe the showbiz of K-pop – or winning a Rhodes Scholarship?

If it’s about even half of those things, then Crawford PhD scholar Kim-Marie Spence is already on the way to leadership greatness, and was recognised as such at last week’s ANU Alumni Awards.

Kim-Marie, who hails from Jamaica, won the ANU Student Philanthropist of the Year award, largely for her work with the ANU Postgraduate and Research Students’ Association (PARSA) where she is current Vice-President. Her time with PARSA has included building the association’s annual Multicultural Festival into one of the biggest events on campus, as well as working with the University to introduce an induction system for new Higher Degree Research (HDR) students, so that people can more quickly find their feet and their way around the university.

“It is amazing to be recognised for the work you do,” she says.

“ANU has given me so much – an opportunity to explore my area of interest, cultural policy and the creative industries; and an opportunity to liaise with some of the best expertise around.

“This award says a lot about ANU. It is about creating great researchers and leaders.”

Kim-Marie’s PhD studies have taken her to some unusual places – from the glitz and glamour of Bollywood where she was digging into India’s film dispute with Pakistan, to the sparkle and showbiz of ‘K-pop’.

If all of that sounds unexpected, consider Kim-Marie’s career experiences before she came to Crawford School. In addition to being a former Jamaica Rhodes Scholar and Australia Awards Scholar, she is also a former Film Commissioner and Head of Creative Industries in her home nation’s trade and investment agency.

Those roles gave her leadership skills which she has been willing to share as a student.

“Here at ANU, I am proud to have been able to make positive changes to the international and overall postgraduate experience, including through the PARSA Multicultural Festival, the Global Cafes, and the ANU HDR inductions.

“But the achievement was only possible with help from the postgraduate community itself – the body of students who decided to elect me to PARSA, who mentored me, who serve on various committees on campus and volunteer, including many Crawford students. Many thanks to you all.”

She says her ANU experience has been altogether richer and more engaged than she ever expected when she left Jamaica behind.

“I thought I would be sitting at a wooden table overlooking Lake Burley Griffin, sipping cappuccinos and typing away on my laptop. That’s how I thought my time at ANU would be.

“I came to Australia to go into exile,” she jokes. “After running a government department – the Film Commission in Jamaica – I could see nothing better than moving halfway across the world to a quiet city to study.”

Instead, what she found was an opportunity to engage in the campus community, as well as a community keen to offer her the chances to show off her skills as a leader. “Leadership is really service to your community, and I have been honoured to serve my community,” she says.

“As Lily Tomlin once said, “I always wondered why somebody doesn’t do something….then I realised I was somebody.”

“Leadership is not just for university life, but for life itself. We live in times where standing on the sidelines is the dangerous option.”

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