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Advocating for all Australians as we Take on Covid-19 Together, Carmen Garcia, Commendation Recipient 2020 Inspiring South Australian Women's Award

Posted on April 02 2020

Photo of Carmen Garcia, Commendation Recipient of the 2020 Inspiring South Australian Women's Award

Carmen Garcia is known as South Australia’s “Diversity and Inclusion Warrior”, she is the CEO and Founder of national award-winning corporate social responsibility company, Community Corporate. She received a commendation award on Australia Day in 2020, for Inspiring Women and was recognised in 2018 by InDaily as one of the inaugural 40 Under 40 Business Leaders and Entrepreneurs and went on to win one of only four individual awards for State Contribution.

A highly respected social entrepreneur and thought leader in diversity and inclusion, refugee and migrant employment, regional migration strategy and social impact investment, Carmen is a heart-driven leader who we invited to share a guest blog in the midst of this Covid-19 crisis to provide insights to the key of keeping our community connected and cohesive.

Find out more about Carmen here

It is difficult for me to pin-point exactly when I embarked on this journey as an advocate for diversity and inclusion, but it’s fair to say that it stems from being raised by a determined and passionate single mother who migrated from the Philippines.

As one of the first Filipino families in South Australia, I remember our cultural festivals being held in our backyard in Blair Athol. It was our home, and also a storeroom for the collection of goods we distributed to the community who were down on their luck. 

Community has always been what I have known, helping others is what I was shown and living values of generosity framed in what my grandpa always told me ‘to whom much is given, much is expected’, is the only way I know to live.

So now, this is not just what I do, it’s simply who I am – an advocate for all.

At a time when we have never faced so much uncertainty during the COVID-19 crisis, I was unsure how exactly I could help. I asked myself, “what can I offer by way of advice or clarity, when like many of you, I too have been searching for information and guidance to map a path forward, when we are facing the unknown”?

I don’t pretend to have all the answers, not as a mother nor a small business owner, but what I do know is people, and have been proud to play my part in building communities and bridging the divide, such as that between corporates and communities. I have no doubt that the road to recovery for Australia requires us to draw on our most precious resources. I’m not talking about the minerals we dig out of the ground, but the people of Australia who walk above it. It’s us, our collective impact and an ambition to win and beat this pandemic that will see us through.

Through my work with Community Corporate, we have helped hundreds of refugees and migrants rebuild their lives after being affected by crisis. I have seen amazing stories of resilience, strength and persistence in the face of adversity that has enabled many to start a new chapter after losing everything familiar to them, like we all are facing now.

There is one refugee young man who comes into my mind, whose story still inspires me. He was a twenty-six-year-old I met after having only been in Australia for only eight months. Born in Eritrea, he and his siblings had to escape to a refugee camp in Sudan, after his father was at risk of persecution from the local government. Due to safety concerns, he and his younger three siblings had to seek refuge in Saudi Arabia. When life became dangerous there, he sought asylum in India where he secured a student visa.  Marginalised there too, for being Eritrean, he still managed to attend university and complete his Bachelor of Computer Application Degree.

He found himself the head of a household at the age of only 18, being separated from his parents and now responsible for putting a roof over his siblings heads, keeping them safe and searching for ways to make money for them to survive. Persistently he applied for job after job to work in his profession before it became inevitable, he needed to take any job to just make ends meet. He undertook picking and packing jobs, kitchen hand and even spent time working in a chicken factory feeding the livestock and packing eggs.

When I met him, his personality was infectious, confident, ambitious and he had somehow maintained a positive outlook on life. He had every reason not to, but he still had hope. Working with my team, we were able to support him through our ‘DiversityWorks!’ program into an internship with a large council in his chosen field of IT. He put in the hard work, but ultimately it was his positive attitude that translated into action and resulted in his success – in not only getting the paid job but retaining it.

We can take a lot away from his story, of how our mindset in times of crisis, devastation and loss plays a pivotal part in how we act and behave. For this young man it was genuinely his growth mindset, underpinned by courage to never give up, that helped him navigate a pathway back to his goals.

The difference between a growth mindset and fixed mindset is quite simply the way we view problems, either embracing them as opportunities, a catalyst for change or avoiding problems in fear of failure. Embracing problems as challenges is an ability to believe change is possible and is underpinned by a belief that problems are there to be solved, to make us uncomfortable and push ourselves to learn new things.

The way we look at COVID-19 now, will play an unintentional role in the way we respond and recover. The key is having the courage to ‘try’ to truly believe that even in failure we are only one step closer to success. As my Eritrean refugee did, with every one of the hundreds of job applications he submitted, he maintained the belief he was one step closer to getting ‘his’ dream job. He didn’t give up and he didn’t lay blame at anyone’s feet.

Our attitude in accepting the current COVID-19 crisis is but a chapter and not the full story or sum of our existence. Our attitude will be fundamentally influencing our behaviour and the way in which we either apply a fixed or growth mindset in moving forward.

In our area of work, helping unemployed people kick start their careers, a growth mindset has been a key driver for many of our success stories. I truly believe that at the core of human dignity is work, it gives us a sense of purpose and it is now something so many Australians have had taken away from them, not by choice, not by any fault of their own – it’s just happened without warning.

As the media reports unfold, we are seeing hundreds of thousands of Australians unemployed, lost, and facing what feels like an insurmountable challenge to start over. We can look to the plight of refugees, many of whom were able to overcome adversity and loss through crisis and have had to start again – many of whom you may know as business owners, teachers, doctors, parents at your child’s school – all of whom had the same feeling of having to start over as we are now.

So, now more than ever we need to find courage in ourselves, to dig deep in searching for those silver linings, in embracing the challenge of finding opportunity and avoiding the risks of falling victim to possible failure. As no one has failed, this situation is not a result of anything we have done, it is not a reflection on us – it is a consequence of a global pandemic inflicted on us all, and not by choice.

We need to have such courage also in each other, to believe Australia will again be great, as we have a history of building our great nation on the blood, sweat and tears of every Australian. I believe the key to unlocking such courage is kindness. The way we treat everyone today, will unleash the human potential in all of us, to show compassion, invest in each other and rebuild a stronger Australia for everyone.

 To learn more about the Inspiring South Australian Women's Award click here


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