Story of Carmeneza dos Santos Monteiro!

‘My most important motivation is to liberate myself continuously through education’.

To mark International Women’s Day 2023 we caught up with Australia Awards alumni and Timor-Leste Australia Award Association President, Carmeneza dos Santos, to find out about her life’s journey, motivations, and challenges and why International Women’s Day is important to celebrate.

Carmeneza dos Santos Monteiro is one of 150 women who have completed an Australia Awards scholarship since the program was introduced in Timor-Leste in 2000. Born in Tutuala she grew up in Ira -Ara, Lospalos, in the far east of the country, under Indonesian occupation, when it was difficult for children to access education.

From an early age she was inquisitive by nature and dreamt of going to university. She wanted people to hear her ideas but also valued any opportunity to learn from others, both in and outside school. In this way Carmeneza acknowledges her life has been shaped by many different people including her mother and father, classmates, colleagues, friends, fellow alumni, and managers, as well as her teachers and university professors.

Driven by an urge to use her voice and develop her country, Carmeneza describes her most important motivation as ‘liberating myself continuously through education’. And, in 2007, she was able to do just that when she was awarded an Australian Development scholarship to study for a Bachelor of International Relations from the Australia National University (ANU), in Canberra.

Whilst studying at ANU, Carmeneza developed her research and critical thinking skills, which she credits this as providing her with a strong framework to gain more knowledge in her areas of interest and to make informed decisions. She also acknowledges that her time at university provided her with a great network of support to tap into. One she still uses today.

In her current work leading the social protection program with DFAT’s Partnership for Human Development she faced initial challenges getting to grips with social protection policy. She overcame this by making use of the skills she gained at ANU to deepen her understanding of social protection issues, reading widely, and testing out ideas via the networks she’d built in both Australia and Timor-Leste.

Since graduating in 2011 Carmeneza has had an impressive career. Not only has she held a number of high-profile roles and been awarded three fellowships, including an Asia Foundation Fellowship, a Health Fellowship, and an Atlantic Institute Fellowship, but she is also recognised as a policy expert.

Her roles as a public administration liaison officer for the Office of Prime Minister of Timor-Leste and Director for Policy & Institutional Strengthening with The Asia Foundation, Timor-Leste, enhanced her confidence to lead and influence policy discussion, building cases for important policy and resource commitments, whilst strengthening her networks and professional trust with stakeholders.

As a Civil Service Commissioner, member of Timor-Leste Policy Leaders Group, and President of the Timor-Leste Australia Alumni Association (TL3A) Carmeneza endeavours to strike a balance between bold and practical approaches, whilst understanding the importance of being able to communicate clearly, concisely, and persuasively.

As President of the TL3A she is currently working with the other board members to make sure Australia Award Scholarships are both well-known and accessed by people in rural areas so they can benefit from the scholarship program.

Additionally, she aims to bring the TL3A closer to the community by creating space for alumni to give back to communities through practical activities, supported by small grants, and by influencing development policies.

As a seasoned networker Carmeneza also recognises that the TL3A is a great platform for alumni to come together and continue learning from each other and to help stay connected with people in Australia.

To the four of women who have been awarded scholarships this year Carmeneza advises them to,

Have faith in yourself, keep learning and remember education doesn’t only happen at Uni, it’s also through networking activities and over coffee – know that you have and will continue to make Timor proud no matter what you do, so look after yourself and enjoy the journey.’

And finally, we asked Carmeneza for her reflections on why International Women’s Day is important to recognise. She told us,

‘International Women’s Day is important because it is a day to celebrate progress, both individually and as a society, in providing access and opportunities for women and girls. This year the focus is on facilitating the advance of technology as a continuing opportunity to support and improve life for all, particularly women and girls.’