Their Stories

Leadership: Giving back

28 August 2017

Waverley Stanley is a graduate of the Australian Rural Leadership Program and grateful for all the opportunities he has received over the years. He is giving back as co-founder of Yalari, which provides secondary education scholarships at leading Australian boarding schools for Indigenous children from regional, rural and remote communities.

If there was ever a leader who appreciated the value of a scholarship–and any life-changing opportunity for that matter, it’s Waverley.

The pioneer of Yalari, an organisation providing scholarships for Indigenous students to attend some of Australia’s best schools as boarders, attributes much of his success in life to the opportunities provided by scholarships.

The educator and leader is an alumnus of Course 12 of the Australian Rural Leadership Program, and a Churchill Fellowship recipient. But it was a scholarship Waverley received as a boy that has paved the way for the life that followed.

“My work now revolves around finishing what was started, through that investment in me,” Waverley says.

Growing up in the town of Murgon, 300 kilometres north-west of Brisbane, Waverley attended the local state school. It was his Grade 7 teacher, Rosemary Bishop, who recognised Waverley’s potential, and organised a scholarship for him to attend Toowoomba Grammar School. From 1980-1984, Waverley seized every opportunity this education afforded him, and graduated with an unshakeable determination to ‘pay it forward’.

“You can be given all these opportunities, but in my view there are conditions. You have to be grateful for it, you have to use it and you also have to pay it forward.”

In 2005, following a career in education and the public service, Waverley and his family found themselves in the position to realise a long-held dream. They created a business centred on this concept of giving something back.

“My experience going to a private school on a scholarship meant I’d always had a burning ambition to set up something to give other Indigenous children a similar opportunity, it was just a matter of when.”

“We were naive to think that we could do it, but leadership for me is about action and the classic Nike slogan, “just do it” is apt,” Waverley says. “If you’ve got dreams and goals you’ve just got to have the courage to chase them.”

From humble beginnings in 2005 when three children benefitted from Yalari scholarships, 12 years later Waverley’s endeavour supports 172 Indigenous children in 27 schools around Australia. Yalari alumni are 275 strong with graduates now number 169, and many of these alumni are studying at university and using the opportunities they have been given.

As the Australian Rural Leadership Foundation prepares to mark 25 years of leadership development in 2017, Waverley reflects that 25 years will also be a significant marker for Yalari.

“A generation is 25 years, and we as a company have been operating for 12, so we’re really focused on supporting this generation so that they can pay it forward for many more. We’re working on securing scholarships around Australia in perpetuity, so that there will be scholarships at boarding schools for multiple generations to come,” Waverley says. “That’s the bigger picture.”

It was at the same hectic time as working to establish Yalari that Waverley decided to sign up for the Australian Rural Leadership Program (ARLP).

“My expectations of the ARLP were about challenging myself to do something on a different level. It was about an opportunity for growth, which is what I got. I think the ARLP works so well because of its length (15 months). I think that’s what makes it so significant,” he says.

“Through the ARLP, I really learned the importance of knowing when to speak and when to listen, when to lead and when to follow.” Waverley says. “You know, we were born with two ears and one mouth and we should use them accordingly,” he laughs.

While he’s never painted himself as a leader, Waverley acknowledges that to make a difference it’s essential to be willing to step up and ‘do’.

“I think it is courage that makes you take those steps. It’s about having the belief in yourself. Another thing is having the resilience to identify lessons along the way,” he says.

That courage and resilience was tested in 2012 when Yalari headquarters on the Gold Coast burned down.

“The quote that kept me going then is one that I’ve used for a long time. Martin Luther King said: ‘The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands in moments of challenge and controversy’.

“It was a symbolic thing, having to rebuild Yalari. Now we’re in a position where we have 30 staff around Australia, and we’ve worked with over 400 children in total. I stay focused on educating young children and also supporting young adults. That’s all I want, just to make this country the best it can be, and to contribute in some shape or form to making it better.”

Currently, Waverley is also working directly with Australian Rural Leadership Foundation programs.

“I’m very grateful to the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry who provided my scholarship on Course 12. I am involved with the National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Leaders Program as one of the facilitators because I want to give back to the Foundation and what was invested in me. This is another way I can pay it forward,” he says.

Back at Yalari, a group of the life-long friends Waverley made at Toowoomba Grammar School in the eighties have banded together to provide a scholarship for one Yalari student’s six years of education.

“You can have a high level of expectation and experience a high level of personal development through a program like the ARLP or through a great education,” Waverley says, “but you’ve also got to do something with it.”


Waverley Stanley and Kayla Harrison (Year 9 Yalari Scholar at St Catherine’s School Melbourne)