There is no doubt that women continue to encounter various obstacles in achieving leadership positions in sports, such as an unsupportive workplace, gender biases, and limited access to resources and training. They often face disparities in support, recognition, and opportunities compared to men.

Initiatives aimed at empowering women are crucial steps toward progress. Among these initiatives is Commonwealth Sport Women's Leadership Programme (CWLP) which focuses on mentoring aspiring female leaders.

With applications now open for this year’s intake to the programme, we delve deeper into the details and discover how the Commonwealth Sport Movement is empowering women through opportunities and sports. 

The Programme offers grants of £5,000 to provide financial assistance on the development pathways for women in sport. It also pairs each woman with an international mentor who helps them clarify leadership aspirations, recognize strengths, and broaden their understanding of promoting equality within the sports community.

At the last Commonwealth Games Federation General Assembly, attended by representatives from all 74 Commonwealth Games Associates (CGAs), Ellen Barwise had an impressive presentation prepared on the CWLP.

Stepping up to the podium, the Director of Development and CGA Relations, looked over at her audience, and then put her notes aside. 

“Look, I don't even need to justify this anymore. Just look around at who's on your left and your right,” said Barwise.

“You know there's not enough women in this room. So that is what we're going to focus on.”

Barwise is passionate about the programme and that passion is building a supportive community where women can share their experiences, gain valuable insights, and ultimately, thrive.

In 2018, at the Gold Coast Commonwealth Games, a Commonwealth Women’s Internship Programme was launched. This allowed CGAs to integrate a female coach into their respective teams to give valuable Games-time experience. They were also provided with mentorship support and professional development plus networking opportunities. The successes of this programme led to the development of the Women’s Leadership Grants offered in 2022,  2023, and now in 2024.

While in previous years the programme focused more on working with coaches and administrators, Barwise explains that for 2024, they want to identify and work with women who have the ambition to get into board positions.

“For the 2024 applications, we have asked the candidates to talk about their aspirations in terms of leadership potential in the future, and we are asking where are they hoping to get to in their careers,” explained Barwise.

With applicants being recruited from across the Commonwealth, Barwise is fully aware of the cultural challenges they face and that ideas of leadership will differ from one culture to the next.

“It just isn’t feasible to put everyone into the same leadership box, said Barwise.

“Because that leadership box in Canada, isn't the same box that works in Africa, or works in Europe. What we have done is create what we are calling the ‘leadership landscape’.

“This is a tool for the women to define what they want to work on based on their culture, on their own context, and on their current environment.

“They then work with their international mentor to put a personal development plan together. There are no two female leaders the same anywhere in the world. That's the reality of it. 

“We want everyone to take their own strengths and we want to help make them better and stronger, and really figure out what they need to develop.

“That's why we keep the number of participants quite small - we only work with 15 women every year. It is a very targeted, focused, personal development approach that helps amplify the work they are already undertaking in their country and communities.”

Leading the CWLP is Barbara Daniels and Sarah McQuade who ensure that they create a safe space for women to connect, network, share and explore their leadership development. 

Initially, the Programme was run in-house, but to ensure the right expertise and people were in place to deliver the incredible potential of the programme, CGF brought onboard external support.

Barbara Daniels and Sarah McQuade have extensive experience in running leadership courses designed especially for women. They create a safe space for women to connect, network, share and explore their leadership development. 

Having worked extensively with other organisations including International Federations, Universities and Governing Bodies of Sport, their methodology creates an opportunity to undertake a personal development plan that empowers the participants to grow as leaders in their sport and community.

“Sarah and Barbara do an amazing job,” said Barwise.

“There are so many generic programmes out there, but to date we've not seen a massive difference in the number of women in senior roles in the sports world. We want to target a personal approach and go on their journeys with them. Barbara and Sarah bring that personal touch. Their expertise and ability to talk to someone and see their strengths right away is just invaluable.”

That personal touch is key for Barbara Daniels too who, along with Sarah, brings the participants together every couple of months in an online community. They check how they're getting on, explore areas of interest, and focus on participants developing their own self-awareness and leadership skills within the context of their specific cultural environments.

“We get as many of them as we can on those calls,” explained Daniels.

“And the best part is where we sort of stand back and just let them share what they're doing and the challenges they're facing. What's helping them; who's helping them. We want them to realise that, although they're from different continents, and in different sports and in very different situations, there are lots of similarities.”

This journey of leadership self-discovery steers the participants to discover the voice that is most relevant to their own experiences, hopes, and dreams. A unique voice, that when combined with other unique voices, creates a powerful message that resonates across the leadership landscape. 

“We want to build an ethos of support,” added Daniels.

“And a bit of cheerleading too - it can be very isolating when you're plugging away at something and to have other people on your side who are experiencing something similar is massive.

“Going forward, what we want to do is create an alumni group so that they can continue to communicate with each other and network.

“The programme goes way beyond the 12 months that they are on it for; it helps them establish ideas that can then be self-funding, self-sufficient, and can have a ripple effect. 

“We want to create a supportive community where women can share their experiences, gain valuable insights, and ultimately, thrive.”

Kenya’s Joyce Juma and Malaysia’s Leong Mun Yee have benefited greatly from the CWLP as participants in 2023, and are already making a meaningful impact in the sports sector.

As a karate athlete who has faced numerous challenges in her sport, Juma was motivated to participate in the Programme because of the alarming rise in femicide cases within sports in Kenya. She saw it as an opportunity to equip herself with the skills and knowledge needed to make a meaningful impact and drive the necessary change in the sports sector.

"My expectations going into the programme were to sharpen my public speaking and leadership skills, and I'm pleased to say that the programme exceeded those expectations," says Juma. 

The mentorship program has been a cornerstone of success, with careful consideration given to pairing participants for maximum benefit. Through the CGF’s collaboration with the Association of Commonwealth University’s network, individuals interested in being mentors to the CWLP have been recruited worldwide. 

Dr. Medina Srem-Sai has played a pivotal role in guiding Juma. 

As a Doctor of Philosophy in Physical Education from the University of Cape Coast in Ghana, Dr. Srem-Sai's expertise in stress, health, physical activity, anxiety, psychological skills, high performance, and gender issues has been invaluable to Juma's growth. 

Under Dr. Srem-Sai's mentorship, Juma has gained the confidence to express herself without fear in front of others, while also significantly enhancing her organizational skills.

With the help of her international mentor, Dr. Medina, she has gained the ability to express herself confidently in front of others without fear, and her organisational skills have significantly improved.

Mun Yee, an ex-athlete transitioning to a coaching role in the male-dominated sport of diving in Malaysia, was motivated to participate in the Programme to step out of her comfort zone and learn new skills. She also has plans to start a diving academy and saw the programme as a valuable opportunity to improve her leadership skills and guide her in managing the academy.

"It has helped me set up my diving academy and I've been able to run a diving clinic for kids aged six to 15 to increase participation in my country," says Mun Yee. 

Both Juma and Mun Yee faced challenges during the programme, but they were able to overcome them with the support of their international mentors.

Juma experienced significant anxiety and felt overwhelmed at times, while Mun Yee faced the challenge of being the only female coach in a male-dominated field.

"Thankfully from the leadership programme which brings participants and mentors from across the Commonwealth, we guide and support each other by sharing and showing that things can be done by not only men but also women," says Mun Yee. 

Looking ahead, both are determined to leverage their experiences from the Programme to further support and empower women in their respective countries. 

Juma plans to apply the effective communication techniques she learned to collaborate more efficiently with her team and interested parties.

The CWLP specifically addressed the gender-related issues and barriers that women encounter in leadership roles within sports. For Mun Yee, the Programme was instrumental in tackling these challenges.

Diving is not a popular sport in her country, leading to a lack of female junior divers and low overall participation. Additionally, there are not many female coaches, and the availability of diving facilities is limited. Recognizing these barriers, Mun Yee's goal for the diving academy she has established is  to increase the participation of divers, especially female divers, as well as coaches in the country.

Fortunately, Mun Yee received support from the Youth and Sports Minister, YBM Hannah Yeoh, for a junior diving development programme. This support, along with the collaboration with the National Sports Council and the Diving Association, allowed Mun Yee to secure the necessary resources, such as access to a dry gym and pool facilities, to implement her plans and address the gender imbalance in the sport. 

The CWLP played a crucial role in empowering Mun Yee and providing her with the tools and connections to overcome the challenges faced by women in sports leadership roles in Malaysia.

"Do not give up when things don't work out as planned. When there is effort, things can be possible," advises Mun Yee to other women considering applying for this year’s Programme.

Juma agrees: “I would encourage other women considering participating in the  programme to seize the opportunity, it has taught me effective communication techniques, and learning about resilience and self-care has been crucial.”


To apply to join the Commonwealth  Sport Women’s Leadership Programme in 2024 read through the Information details below and then complete the attached application form and submit it to CGF Development team using the email address: The applications will be passed onto your respective CGA who will support the selection process.