Having the right mentors and role models at a young age, can significantly impact one’s resilience and access to support services, and even improve their chances of getting a tertiary education or a job.
Social policy and community engagement specialist, Annukina Warda, has worked with enough public sector and youth organisations to have seen first-hand the positive impact that strong role models and community leaders can have on an individual.
In this interview, she shares her views on the state of role models for young people today, how we can improve, and tangible advice for those wanting to support and empower young people.
- Are there enough role models for young people who need guidance and support?
No. When you’re young and trying to establish yourself in life, you need that, and there aren’t enough.
There are not enough intersectional feminists publicly speaking, let alone holding the hands of young professionals. Young women of colour need to see themselves culturally represented in their mentors.
- How has your own upbringing impacted your view of role models?
I had a loving family. But the reality is, growing up in the area and community that I did, I was only a breath away from a very different life. For other kids around me, I saw violence, poverty, and high levels of incarceration.
I found a way to break away from that without a mentor. But this is where I think mentoring and having the right role models is so important and can play a meaningful role in positively shaping our communities.
Corporate mentors need to truly understand their mentees in this holistic way. For young professionals in this situation, having a mentor isn’t just for professional growth – it’s so much more than that because their lives and upbringings are deeply interwoven in their communities.
- What is your advice to companies or business leaders who offer mentorship to people from low socioeconomic backgrounds?
I see some large companies are giving their staff community engagement opportunities whereby, for example, they get one day per year to participate in their community, such as contributing to a community garden or a community clean-up.
What I would love to see, is corporates encouraging their mentors to physically visit the communities of their mentees. When you’re meeting your mentee in the city in a formal setting, they’re most likely a corporately dressed, more rehearsed, and less genuine version of themselves – you’re not getting the full picture.
If I’d had a mentor growing up and they had to visit me in my community, it would have taken them an hour from the CBD to get to the closest station, then they’d probably have felt uncomfortable because my train station often had drug addicts closeby, and we’d need to have met at a takeaway shop because there weren’t any nice cafes in my area.
This may have been challenging for the mentor, but they would have got to know me on my turf. This is what professional mentors need to be investing in if they want to actually get to know their mentees and make a difference.
- What’s your advice to organisations, governments and business leaders wanting to contribute to bridging the socioeconomic divides in our communities?
The number one rule is to ask, “Are Aboriginal people centred in this?” And by centred, I don’t mean factored in. I mean centred and central to the overall purpose and delivery. Yes, that’s going to be uncomfortable for some and it may involve investing in external consultants or re-thinking the overall approach. But if we’re not centring Aboriginal stories, you’re wasting your time and you’re contributing to further violence against Aboriginal people.
Secondly, ask, “Have I considered what this approach looks and feels like for as wide a range of intersectional attributes as possible?” This could involve people with disabilities, autistic women, or an elderly refugee who doesn’t speak English. This is basically about the user experience and user design, which are terms broadly discussed in social policy, but not at an intersectional level.
Thirdly, follow the three principles that I initiated when I started Elemental Training. That’s asking, “Have I considered care for self, care for earth, and care for each other.” Care for self is not embedded in our workplaces practices these days – it can’t be just about getting a facial at the end of the week, it needs to be embedded in our day-to-day or we’re failing ourselves. Similarly, care for earth and each other cannot be treated with one-off actions.
About the expert
Annukina Warda is an educator, community development practitioner and social policy analyst whom has worked supporting communities in Australia and abroad.
Her passion project, Elemental Training and Consulting, offers a range of supports to the public and not-for-profit sectors in order to thrive.
Elemental resources are practical tools for young leaders and professionals to practice cultures of care, increase their connection to the earth and participate in communities in radically creative ways.
Annukina Warda is an Assyrian woman born and raised on Darug country. She holds an Arts degree majoring in Gender and Politics and a Graduate Diploma in Education.
More info at www.elementaltraining.com.au
Image description: Close-up headshot of Annukina looking to the side in front of a blue fence. She has long black hair tied in a ponytail and wears large hoop earrings.