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How school expeditions can empower young women to become future leaders

Female Student on Expedition

Expeditions may once have been purely the domain of men – but no more. Though Marco Polo, Edmund Hillary and other male explorers gave expeditions masculine connotations back in their day, great strides have been made towards gender equality as women increasingly participate in this field.

And when it comes to school expeditions, an increasing number of young women are taking part. The majority (60%) of students who have signed up for a World Challenge trip in 2024 and 2025 are female.

World Challenge Product Manager Emilie Wareham travelled to Tanzania on an expedition when she was at school. She says: “My expedition gave me an opportunity to prove to others that I was capable of doing things they didn’t typically associate me with, like camping and hiking. I was known by friends and family as someone who liked my home comforts and I wanted to show everyone that I could step beyond that.”

School Expedition Trek

Leadership is at the core of expeditions

Whether you’re setting the pace on a trek, organising R&R activities, managing the group budget or simply deciding where to go for a team meal, captainship is key. Expeditions provide opportunities for students to step up as a leader – and gaining these skills and confidence in a foreign country will set them apart from the competition in future scenarios.

Leaders require confidence and resilience – traits that student Mindy Mulders developed on a trip to Borneo. “I gained a confidence that allows me to be resilient in situations that may make me uncomfortable,” she said. “I’m more confident of my skills as a leader, such as public speaking, managing a large group and stepping outside of my comfort zone.”

Reflecting on an expedition to Nepal, one female student said: “I gained the ability to think logically in stressful circumstances.” Another credited communication and another key leadership skill: “I learnt to cooperate with others who are leading with me”. 

Female Challenger Painting

‘I now travel independently and am better prepared for University’

Molly Ions saw a change in herself after returning from an expedition to Nepal. She said: “Before I went on the trip, I was really shy. I’d be nervous about talking to people I didn’t know – but it helped me get over that. I’m now travelling independently around Southeast Asia, and I’m not afraid to approach people for advice or directions – which has prevented us from getting stuck many times!”

Molly also developed an invaluable sense of independence on her expedition – which will stand her in good stead as she approaches University. “It was the first time I was solely responsible for my own passport and money, and it was good to get used to that. I feel more confident about managing my own finances when I move from home and go to University next year. As a result, Uni doesn’t worry me at all – I’m much more confident and feel better prepared.”

Putting female role models in the spotlight

Expeditions shine a light on inspirational women. From trip leaders and teachers to trekking guides, female students will encounter motivating and inspiring female figures. Reflecting on a gruelling trek up Mount Kinabalu, student Scarlett Caporn credits a sprightly mountain leader called Kitty for encouraging her up the mountain. She said: “Kitty was just amazing. She was in her fifties and would trot up the mountain like it was the easiest thing in the world. Her energy and passion were infectious.”

Liz Tuck, Product & Sustainability Team Manager at World Challenge, says that having women to look up to shows female participants what’s possible. “In some cases, it blows their expectations completely out of the water,” she says. “Seeing inspiring women breaks the bubble of home and can remove limiting pre-expectations of what women in society do.”

Women on a Community Project

Strong women making positive changes in their community

Inspirational women on expeditions go beyond simply leading or sharing their passion about the outdoors. What can be even more powerful is when lasting, positive changes are made in communities – and in many cases, these changes are spearheaded by women.

In Ecuador, World Challenge works with an initiative led by a woman with a love for nature and preserving it as best she can. Based in the Cloud Forest, she and her team work tirelessly to develop concepts related to sustainable living, from organic farming and sustainable tourism to educating locals on the importance of restoring degraded areas of forest.

Teams walk away not only with greater knowledge of how to live more sustainably but also inspired and educated on the importance of conservation and what they can do back home to minimise their environmental footprint.

Women working at a Project

Making a difference to future generations

Local women are also taking the lead at some of our initiatives in Nepal, including one that aims to improve the lives of impoverished women and those who have suffered from leprosy and the stigma associated with the disease. Not only does this initiative allow these women to make a living through handicrafts workshops, but it also allows them to be role models to younger girls. Projects like these show that despite coming from a difficult background, you can still be a skilled worker and make a sustainable living.

For Liz Tuck, the females running these community initiatives are powerhouse leaders, leaving a positive and lasting impact. “These women are putting something positive in place for their community and making a difference to future generations. That is truly inspiring for the young women we have on our trips. They are testament to the fact that you can make changes in your own community and leave your own positive impact.”

Written by Ellie Ross