VISIONARY PROJECT BRINGS FRESH HOPE FOR YOUNG AFRICANS
CHASING THE DREAM OF PROFESSIONAL CAREERS IN AUSTRALIA
Some of Melbourne’s most successful African migrants will gather at Victoria University on October 17th to help a new generation of African-Australians gain a ‘leg up’ on Australia’s competitive career ladder.
A collaboration of two farsighted community organisations, Africa Media Australia (AMA) and African Professionals of Australia, the Dreamseed Project promises to give 10 African university students something that most of their forerunners could only have dreamed of: an empowered start to a professional career.
Over seven Saturdays, the students will be paired up with mentors from their chosen professions for a series of workshops, presentations and one-on-one sessions designed to build their self-confidence and deliver lifelong lessons from people who have travelled similar career paths.
“What sets this project apart is that it recognises that both the mentors and mentees have a lot to learn from each other,” says Zione Walker, a prominent human rights lawyer and mentoring advocate, whose Incubate Foundation has helped dozens of young Africans get a foot in the door of corporate Australia. “This philosophy of ‘power with’ rather than ‘power over’ will make sure that the mentors are telling and listening – and that everyone comes away with something meaningful.”
Dreamseed was born from AMA’s acclaimed Africa Media Awards program, which since 2012 has been celebrating African-Australians who have made notable contributions to their communities or become inspirational role models for younger Africans. “In the 2014 awards, which focused on professional excellence, we received dozens of nominations for African professionals who have achieved standout successes in their careers,” explains AMA founder, Clyde Salumu. “It was a natural progression for us to link these individuals to promising young students – to guide and inspire them as they embark on their own careers.”
It is hoped that Dreamseed will become an annual event and a model for mentoring young African-Australians, who face significant hurdles entering the white-collar workforce – from language barriers and lack of local work experience, to non-recognition of overseas qualifications, and, all too often, blatant discrimination.
Such is the appeal of the project that it has attracted broad-based support from Maribyrnong City Council, workshop space at Victoria University’s community engagement space, VU at MetroWest, guest speakers from Incubate, and the voluntary commitment of a large group of time-pressed individuals – from engineers and lawyers, to accountants, journalists, business advisors and bankers.
Garikai Jani, a client relationship manager at ADP Payroll, says he “needed no second asking” to become a mentor, because he knows just what a difference such support would have meant to him when he first arrived in Australia from Zimbabwe. “If I’d had some professional guidance, I’d have learned so much quicker just how everything works here, and how much opportunity there is in corporate Australia,” says Garikai.
The desire to mentor also runs deep in Kel Magano-Niebling, the South Africa-born director of a Melbourne childcare centre, whose marriage to an Australian gives her a unique insight into the daily juggling-act that is life in Australia for a new migrant. “It’s always difficult for African children going home to a different culture,” says Kel. “For me, a big part of this mentoring is about helping these kids realise that they can be successful at home, making their parents happy, and still go to work and be professionally appropriate and make the boss happy.
“Being an African in Australia requires hard work and a thick skin, but if you have a healthy approach and realistic expectations, it’s not hard to get ahead and be successful here.”
Vesna Sevo, a corporate banker at CBA, is the only non-African mentor at Dreamseed – but her experience as a Serbian refugee who fled the Balkan conflict in the 1990s gives her a special empathy for the plight of many Africans living in Australia.
“I’ve been very fortunate to immerse myself in African culture through close friends of African heritage, and I see so many similarities with Eastern European culture in the importance of family relationships and connections with the community,” says Vesna. “We have all been on this journey, and we have a lot of insight and knowledge that can help these young people get ahead and avoid making the same missteps we made when we first came to Australia.”
Kumbi Mukaro, a senior analyst at Pitcher Partners who designed the Dreamseed Project, says the quality and commitment of the organisations and mentors supporting the project gives her great hope in its potential to become a regular event.
“I very much see Dreamseed being adaptable to various levels of learners, be it high school students, university graduates, or young professionals,” says Kumbi. “I’ve already benefited from incredible friendships with many of our collaborators, even before the project has begun, which really confirms to me that we are onto a sure thing. Together with the overwhelming support we’re receiving from the community, from Maribyrnong council and so many not-for-profit organisations, I’m very excited to see this particular seed blossom!”
Kumbi Mukaro – Convenor, Dreamseed Project: 0405 077 494
Clyde Salumu – Director, Africa Media Australia: 0437 724 469
WHAT: The Dreamseed Project, at Victoria University, Footscray Campus
WHEN: October 17th to November 28th 2015, 10.30am – 3pm
WHO: Organised by Africa Media Australia and African Professionals of Australia (Victoria Branch)
HOW: Seven workshops covering: Principles and motivations; Setting of participants’ goals; Identifying and navigating stumbling-blocks; Getting to know your mentor; Mentor insights and lessons learned; Establishing a career plan with your expert; Refining participants’ goals and establishing targets.