Social cohesion was under the spotlight last week as experts came to Red Cross' National Practitioners' Forum to discuss how Australia can benefit helping its diverse communities work closer together.
Friday March 11, 2016
The Red Cross Migration Support National Practitioners' Forum 2016 explored social cohesion and how we can build a stronger society
To build a successful and culturally diverse nation, everyone needs to be able to fully participate in society. That was the debate at Red Cross' National Practitioners' Forum 2016 held last week in Melbourne, where academics, policy makers, volunteers, migrants and experts from across the community sector shared ideas and new approaches to improving the interactions between communities, culture, language and religion in modern Australia.
The day was opened by Australian Red Cross' newly appointed CEO, Judy Slatyer, who spoke of her delight at being back in her home country after several years away and Red Cross' commitment to a building a more welcoming and accepting society.
"We're committed to progressing social cohesion in Australia," she said. "Our goal is to give people practical ideas and tools to take back to their workplaces and communities, to improve social cohesion. We want to move beyond tolerance and towards acceptance and belonging." But what is social cohesion and how does it make a difference to the Australian way of life?
Speaking on the first panel of the day, was Anthea Hancocks, CEO of the Scanlon Foundation-a research organisation that aspires to see Australia advance as a welcoming and cohesive nation."In the simplest terms, social cohesion is about people cooperating together to create the community they all want to see and contribute to," says Anthea.
"The benefits of a diverse community that works together are extensive. It builds resilience that allows people and communities to work better together, especially important at times of stress such as natural disasters. The future prosperity of Australia will depend on our ability to maintain, foster and support social cohesion."
Mohammed Al-Khafis, CEO of not-for-profit organisation Welcome to Australia, spoke about Australia's strengths: "Australia is a country built by migrants and that's part of our proud history. We should celebrate that. There's so much potential in having all members of our community working together. This is our advantage and we need to use it. Australia is in a unique position-we have so much to learn from one another.
"We're one of the most successful countries in the world and to continue that success we need to make sure we integrate and work together for the better for everyone. There's something we can all do, from individuals to community groups to organisations." But social cohesion isn't just about people-it's also about place.
Rob Ball, Senior Project Officer at Banyule City Council, has been working to transform Melbourne's Bell Street Mall into a thriving community that brings local people together. He spoke about the importance of giving people a place where they can build those vital community links.
"People, place and community are all connected and it's important that we take all things into consideration when tyring to build an inclusive and cohesive society. There's a lot of misunderstanding in our community and this can lead to people isolating themselves from their neighbours and having entrenched opinions about other people.
"Place gives a great opportunity to bring people together, from all walks of life, of all ages, from all cultures. It creates a space for engagement opportunities where people can meet, interact and build a stronger, more socially cohesive community."
Event organiser, Vicki Mau, National Manager of Australian Red Cross' Migration Support Programs, said: "Australia is one of the most diverse nations in the world. We pride ourselves on being accepting of one another's differences and must make sure that everyone feels they can participate in the economic, political and cultural life of Australia.
"Red Cross works with people who've been impacted by migration to ensure that they have access to the support they need. In modern Australia, this support increasingly includes providing access and avenues for people to engage with their communities.
The aim of this Forum is to give participants an opportunity to examine their own practice and learn from others to take workable, relevant ideas that can increase social cohesion back their workplace."
For more information about how Red Cross works with migrants and their communities, visit redcross.org.au/migrationsupport