The annual Peel Community Development Group (PCDG) Connecting Communities conference was held at Bendigo Bank Stadium on Thursday 24 September 2015. A diverse range of speakers reflected the theme of building secure and resilient communities through equality, diversity and inclusion.
Paddi Creevy Chairperson of PCDG kicked off the day with a welcome which outlined the theme running through the programme and encouraged participants to connect with each other in a meaningful way throughout the day.
After a welcome to country by Senior Elder, Harry Nannup the speakers commenced with Professor David Gilchrist from Curtin University presenting ‘Understanding our Regional Impact’.
Professor Gilchrist outlined the need for data which accurately reflects the impact of the not for profit sector not only on the Australian community but also on the economy. Research undertaken by the Curtin University Not for Profit Initiative shows that this sector is an important one to our economy generating $100 billion income in 2012-13, with 919,000 employees in the organisations defined as ‘charities’ which does not include all not for profits. In comparison the agricultural industry generated $75 billion income with approximately 500,000 employees during the same period.
With changes in Government funding mechanisms and a focus on creating efficiency and outcomes reporting Professor Gilchrist urged the sector to think about change to ensure its longevity as an economic leader.
Two young Peel residents were next to speak, with Georgia Sharman and Declan Conlan presenting their perspective on ‘How to keep our bright young people here’. Georgia and Declan are part of the Peel Young Creative Collective running out of Make Place in central Mandurah designed to enable young creatives to connect with each other and collectively pursue work goals.
In answer to the question “what do young people want” they suggested that young people want more than just infrastructure, they want the opportunity to create, innovate, celebrate and engage in a positive manner with their community. More experienced members of the community can assist young people by providing the tools and connections to enable them to generate their own solutions. We all have a role to play in empowering young people to know what opportunities are available, opening the door to our organisations and enabling them to engage in solving perceived ‘youth issues’ rather than simply consulting. Georgia ended the presentation with some wise words “Young people know what to do, we just need to believe in them”.
After a refreshing morning tea Professor Margaret Alston from Monash University spoke about her experiences as a social worker and researcher with a focus on ‘Creating Sustainable and Safe Physical Environments’. Professor Alston presented an international perspective outlining findings from her United Nations research project on gender and climate change which has taken her to India, Africa, Asia and Bangladesh. Through this research she has found that community giving occurs most when a crisis strikes, there is a remarkable bank of good will in communities when the place they are live is disaffected. Unlikely leaders emerge in times of crisis and it is essential to offer a space where people who want to respond can and those who want to generate solutions can.
Providing a metropolitan perspective Dr Karin MacAthur from the South West Metropolitan Partnership Forum (the Forum) presented ‘Connecting Communities for Collective Impact’. Karin provided an overview of the Forum and its formation which includes a core group of stakeholders and foundation organisations who are committed to working collaboratively to undertake priority projects designed to address social disadvantage in the local government areas of Cockburn, Fremantle and Melville. Karin overviewed the work being undertaken in the ‘hotspot’ community of Davis Park in which crime, assault, drug dealing and vandalism have become the norm. A key lesson learnt from the project included that ”you need to work at the pace of the community you are working with” and that improvements can be made through a collective approach between service agencies and engagement of community champions.
After lunch the audience was brought to life by Tom Joyner and Jasirah Bin Hitam from ICEA Foundation. The ICEA Foundation is a youth driven reconciliation organisation run by volunteers who aim to connect with and educate youth about Aboriginal history, people and communities. Jasirah bought many in the room to tears with her inspirational story and the courage she showed in undertaking a social experiment blindfolded on Cottesloe beach, arms outstretched with a sign saying “I trust you do you trust me? Lets Hug”. The video of the experiment on YouTube has had over 8 million views worldwide and has been successful in starting the conversation about reconciliation and trust. Tom outlined a number of programs run by ICEA enabling young people to discover the truth themselves about Aboriginal people through establishing connections and providing knowledge through first and second hand experiences. At the conclusion of their presentation Paddi Creevey thanked the pair for “opening our hearts and minds to the journey of reconciliation”.
Professor Sue Fyfe and Marzel Norton bought the attendees back to local issues through provision of an overview of two projects currently being facilitated by the PCDG, the Affordable Housing Project and Peel Says No to Domestic Violence. Both projects are characterised by a high level of support and collaboration by the community service sector in Peel.
Francis Lynch provided some insight into how to maximise community collaboration in addressing social disadvantage issues. He suggested the need to generate a sense of ownership of the community around issues. This can occur though the development of local plans creating local actions through sharing of information, goals and outcomes rather than just seeking to consult with community members. This reiterated the views of the morning that if provided the tools and through being truly engaged in the process people have the capacity to generate their own solutions. Francis ended his presentation with a key message that “being a community member is worth more than being a householder”.
The final speaker of the day was another amazing young Australian Yassmin Abdel-Magied. Yassmin provided her story of how as a 16 year old she formed Youth Without Borders to empower young people as leaders of change and build capacity to work together through collaborative community based initiatives. Yassmin reiterated the speakers of the day in saying “being at the table is more powerful than being consulted” and suggested that enabling a diversity of voices and experiences to participate in solution generation can yield better results.
Yassmin also spoke on the topic of equality through her experiences as a female engineer working on an oil rig where gender differences are amplified and technical ability can be doubted. She raised the pertinent issue of unconscious biases which can affect our decision making. Yassmin urged the group to call out bias in themselves and others, check their language and assumptions and challenge ourselves. In closing Yassmin left the audience with the thought “never underestimate the impact a single individual can make”.
This left some time for the speakers to participate in an insightful panel session. At the conclusion of the day I personally left feeling uplifted and hopeful for a future where the bright and enthusiastic minds of our young people can be truly engaged to generate creative solutions.
Thank you to our sponsors Alcoa, Bendigo Bank, Curtin University and Peel Development Commission.