Celebrating diversity and promoting social inclusion in our community

| August 21, 2017

Congo-born, Rashidi Sumaili  spent nine years in refugee camps before moving to Australia. Rashidi is a Shepparton-based community leader and the Project Manager for Future Voices Inc and the Shepparton Nelson Mandela Learning Centre Project. Rashidi is a member of the African Union’s Pan African-Australasian Diaspora Network (PAADN) and a recipient of a Universal Peace Federation (UPF) Award making him a member of the Global Network of Peace Building. Rashidi Sumaili talks to Victor Perton on Australian Leadership.

Victor Perton: Rashidi, what are your favourite stories of contemporary Australian Leadership?

Rashidi Sumaili: Australia is country of diversity by nature and creates opportunities for people to promote Australia’s multicultural heritage, celebrating diversity and promoting social inclusion in our community.

Those leaders that work at a grass roots level for the good of the whole community are the leaders I find inspirational.

Victor Perton: Rashidi, what do you see as the unique qualities and features of Australian Leadership?  

Rashidi Sumaili: Historically, Australia’s political leadership is defined by the majority of people through the voting system. It is constantly creating a coup d’etat framework in the western democracy system that it is easily digestible and morally legitimate, but in my view it does not please the majority of the Australian community.

My father Sumaili said to me that a successful leader can lead the country or an organisation through many elections or years but an unsuccessful leader is more quickly disposed of. The reality is that we have had five Prime Ministers in a ten year period because of uncertain political leadership.

I believe that democracy works well when there is a leadership team whose fundamental principles respect positive criticism. Working from this foundation helps team members to present solutions rather than problems. It encourages team and personal responsibility for outcomes and the quality of them.

I believe that the difference of ideas, policies, opinion, thought, backgrounds and ideologies should not cause the adversarial political behaviours that the Australian community has experienced in the past 10 years.

Success for one Australian is success for us all. Although many of our leaders come from different back grounds, we are one people and this unity should help us to succeed as a society and build a better place to live.

There is a word in South Africa ‘Ubuntu’ that defines the greatest of humanity; ‘it reminds us that we are all bound together in ways that can be invisible to our eyes’.

I hope that the features of Australia leadership should continue maintaining its western democratic principles and building stronger inter- country relations that will help our future generations to exchange and share knowledge and skills.  The World Economic Forum in partnership with Boston Consulting Group (2011) undertook a study focused on “the talent and skills gaps in different countries and how those countries can sustain economic growth by 2030”. The study showed that Australia needs strategies that will meet the future skill shortage challenges. The OECD also indicated that young people in Australia were more at risk of rising unemployment compared to other developed countries. In that regard, Australian leadership should not fear embracing diversity because it contributes to social cohesion by developing skills for participation in society and extending understanding of different ways of living. This includes skills in communication for living, working and investing in a national and global context. Failure to manage young people’s diversity will cause a continued problem of poor transition throughout school and life stages.

Victor Perton: Rashidi, what are the qualities that Australians seek from their leaders? 
Rashidi Sumaili: In regional areas such as the Hume region, communities have been struggling with a range of issues including bushfire, recycled water issues and drought. Currently 90% of the refugee community is unemployed. Their children risk early school leaving and long-term intergenerational unemployment. There is potential for young people to become disengaged and marginalised through loss of hope and disconnectedness. There are also reductions in the number of apprenticeships, retail trade positions, manufacturing positions and traineeships available in regions and this has also contributed to unemployment. It is evident that over the past decade, the area has seen a rapid decline in local infrastructure to support manufacturing.

Larger companies have looked overseas in an effort to obtain cheaper labour. The changing economic climate has made sustained success increasingly difficult for small business trying to break into the industry and facing an ever-diminishing range of opportunities.

Regional Australia has issues of depopulation, demographic decline, social economic participation challenges….  On the other hand, the growing population has been an issue in Australian cities and creates many challenges.

Australians need charismatic leaders who have a long term vision for the country. Not leaders driven by personal ambition or motivated by lobbies or donor’s interests. Australians need leaders who can find the necessary compromise to bridge our differences, defend our social justice, protect our borders, support young people to close the unemployment gap and fight for our region’s economic future. Understanding international and national trends and opportunities opens up innovative ideas and creative projects that can support our community, business, tourism, industry, and farming innovation, improved health services, better regional passenger rail, and infrastructure sharing with other regional areas in Australia.

The Shepparton Nelson Mandela Learning Centre Project developed by Future Voices is an example that should be supported by Australian leaders. This innovative concept seeks to enhance strategic engagement and develop future leaders in education, training, innovation, and social enterprise development. It will foster inter-country cultural and business exchanges for targeted youth, females, socially isolated people at risk, and those who are economically disadvantaged and/or educationally disadvantaged.

This article was first published in Australian Leadership on 26 July, 2017.