Developing African community leaders

In Victoria, a group of African-born people has just completed a course that aims to enhance their leadership skills.

Many migrants hope to be able to lead their families, and others of their community, to a better life.

But developing the skills needed to be a leader in Australia's various migrant and refugee communities can be challenging.

(Transcript from World News Australia Radio)

Despite all the differing issues faced by a Horn of Africa refugee, a Zimbabwean skilled migrant and, say, a French-speaking West African student, they also share many.

And in Victoria, the state government has begun trying to help by developing a base of leaders in the various African communities.

Almost 60 people recently completed a leadership program with funding from the state government.

Zimbabwean-born Monash University professor Felix Mavondo says the intent was to develop community leaders who can help African migrants and refugees break through the glass ceiling, or invisible barrier, many find in Australian life.

"First and foremost, the real importance was to try to empower, through training, leaders who could lead their local communities in local activities, particularly migrant groups. But it goes beyond that. We also thought, broadly, it will just allow some people to learn the Australian culture, the way things are done within the Australian context, how to manage certain work-related issues, so that, if you are reaching a glass ceiling in your job, you might be able to understand -- particularly with the mentoring part of the program -- how you could break through that, what do you need to do."

The African leadership program was run by the non-profit organisation, Leadership Victoria.

It paired often-retired volunteers with people wanting to learn from their experience.

It involved training, mentoring, seminars, and contact-building.

Japhet Ncube, a newspaper printer by trade who migrated to Australia via New Zealand, says the program shows the African communities have common interests.

"I come from southern Africa. Someone who comes from western Africa, me and him are quite different in so many ways, in terms of culture, in terms of religious beliefs and all those things. If we start appreciating each other as a people of Africa, it helps us to deal with the issues that come out from the African community that need to be addressed. And we can address them together, not pointing fingers (and saying), 'No, this is an issue for West Africans.' If anything is affecting an African, I believe it's affecting me as well, so we have to depend on our partnership to work together as an African community."

Participants in the leadership program included migrants and refugees from Liberia, Nigeria, Botswana, South Africa, Uganda, Kenya, South Sudan, Somalia, Eritrea and Ethiopia.

There were people who work as counsellors, accountants, pastors, and financial analysts.

Summayyah Sadiq-Ojibara from Nigeria, is the founder of a nonprofit organisation aimed at human development.

Ms Sadiq-Ojibara says she came away from the program feeling that African Australians badly need a platform, a place, to really share their stories.

"There's a strong need for the African community to have the space to tell the stories that are, mostly, theirs. I think it is very important to get that happening, and, in that way, some of those experiences are validated, even though it's a different cultural environment. So, for someone who's coming as a refugee in this country, I think it's important to actually understand where they're coming from. And I'm not just talking about, you know, those things like, 'Oh, this person is from Sudan. They've been in the war and that ... ' We know. It's that real human experience of where they're coming from -- they had a life, they had a family, this had happened to them, they're here, this is happening to them."

Summayyah Sadiq-Ojibara says having that platform, that place, to share their stories and validate themselves would provide a balance to people trying to fit into their new lives in Australia.

"Say, like, there's a workplace where I'm working, and I happen to be maybe one in 20 people in the department. Whether I like it or not, it's what those 20 people want (that matters). What I have an idea about, or what I'm bringing in terms of my experiences or my thoughts or my knowledge doesn't matter. So whether it's in the work environment, or in the school environment, or maybe a community platform, just to have (it, for) that sense of being part of the community, which is not just a one-sided thing."

Source SBS

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