Their Stories

Q&A with Barbara Nattabi

6 March 2018

Barbara Nattabi, graduate of TRAIL: emerging leaders program 2017, answers a few questions in celebration of International Women’s Day (Thursday 8 March 2018)

Tell us about you and how you got to where you are today?

I am a Senior Lecturer at the University of Western Australia. I based at the Western Australia Centre of Rural Health in Geraldton. where I teach postgraduate students and conduct research.

I am a single mother and I originally come from Uganda and have a background in medicine and public health. I have a degree in Medicine from Uganda and a Master’s in Public Health from the University of London. Prior to coming here I worked in one of the most dangerous parts of Uganda where I worked in a missionary hospital treating AIDS patients. I migrated to Australia ten years ago when I came to do my PhD in International Health at Curtin University.

For the last seven years I have lived and worked in rural Australia and I absolutely love it here and the opportunities that I have had. My son and I are now Australian citizens and we have tried our best to be well integrated into the local community, getting involved in various activities. When I can, I dance at the local community Harmony events and my son is in the Geraldton Air Force Cadets Squadron.

Where I am today and the successes I have achieved are a result of hard work, determination, sacrifice and perseverance. But my success is also a result of a lot of people’s support including that of my parents, friends, family, acquaintances, and teachers.

I was born to two very academically ambitious parents who obtained their PhDs in the early 80s and for whom education was very important. I went to some of the best schools in Uganda, where I had some very supportive and visionary teachers for whom girl education was very important. In my work life, both in Uganda and Australia, I have also had some very supportive colleagues, but also in my personal life I have had a lot of female friends who have supported me in my journey to where I am today.

So where I am today is truly akin to ‘it takes a village to raise a child’; it has taken a community of people to make me what I am today.

Is there a particular woman you find inspiring and why?

The woman who I find inspiring is my late grandmother, Ndagire. Though she was not a leader in the sense that we know it today, she was a visionary long before many African women thought that education was important.

Born in 1918, my grandmother stood up for her daughters and insisted that they got an education and a good education at that and this was at a time when Uganda was still a strongly patriarchal society. As a result my mother and her sisters were able to obtain an excellent education and my mother went on to be one of the first female veterinarians in East Africa and one of the first female Professors at Makerere University in Uganda.

Today all my grandmother’s grandchildren have had an education with qualifications in engineering, medicine, education and accountancy, playing various roles in Uganda, Australia and America. She inspires me because it makes me know that one person with a vision can make a great impact in our society and this can translated to any aspect of our lives.

What advice do you give to other female leaders?

The advice I would give to other female leaders, particularly younger women, is to be visionary and believe in themselves. To have a vision for oneself, family, community and society at large and to put it into action one day and one person at a time. The world and our communities are at a stage where we need visionary and courageous leadership, but also people who are kind and empathetic with a deep understanding of our communities and their needs. I would advise them to find good mentors with similar values and get the support to put their leadership dreams into action.


Barbara is part of our inspiring alumni and undertook TRAIL: emerging leaders program.