Is Ring Mayar a born leader?
Ring says no, but some say he has leadership in his genes. After all, in primary school he was Head Boy… At a school of 1000 students!
And as a refugee in Egypt, he was always captain of his basketball teams.
“I never knew I was doing bigger things as a leader. As a kid, I was just somebody who would step up for others.”
When Ring came to Yarraville in Melbourne’s west as a teenager he was “not intending” to lead. But he realises now that leadership is part of his life.
“It’s been in everything I’ve done. It’s me.”
Little surprise that when strife dogged his community in 2018, Ring became chairperson of the South Sudanese Community Association in Victoria (SSCAV) Inc, returning from a job in Canberra. It is a challenging role leading a migrant community comprised of many ethnicities and conflicting opinions and enduring negative publicity.
“I thought I should stand up for my community. My own successes are nothing if my community is not growing and become successful. It was a wonderful opportunity to go to Victoria to help young people and educate our community about their privileges, obligations and their rights.”
It wasn’t only young people Ring wanted to educate. He took on the 2019 Leadership Victoria Alumni Scholarship for the Folio Leadership Program. The Scholarship was offered by the LV Foundation in partnership with 2017 Folio Program Alumni, targeting an aspiring leader seeking to impact their community.
That’s Ring’s mission.
“As the South Sudanese community grows, it grows with issues. There are young people with a lack of motivation to go to school and some contemplate suicide, there’s social injustice… It can be a win-win for mainstream society and my community if I can help.”
Ring has a vision of “intercultural fusion”. He wants his community to respect Australian laws and social norms and embrace its values while retaining its unique culture. He won office pushing an “inclusive, diverse” platform in which women and the young had equal representation.
Ring needed new ideas to serve his vision of a transparent South Sudanese community.
“It is important for me to learn leadership skills, because this is a complex, beautiful, vibrant young community. Young people want to be somebody and need encouragement to engage.
“The Folio Program transformed the way I look at leadership and the way it is run in my community. It changed me. In my community, leadership is often quite rigid. Young people don’t play a role, women don’t play a role. I learnt that influencing people is more powerful than setting up rigid rules and saying, ‘take it or leave it’.”
Ring’s biggest takeaway from Folio was learning how to influence interactions positively.
“Now I have a softer mind and heart; it’s not just ultimatums. So, the person I’m talking to have their story heard. I learned that everyone’s stories matter. Listening to them is vital.”
He now listens more closely to people who are dissatisfied with his leadership and learns more from their point of view.
Ring has even modified the tone he uses when speaking, saying “speaking with authority” can put people off.
“I’m learning that just being calm and how you articulate your words can be effective. It’s not just your words, it’s how you say them and the body language you use when you’re saying them. You can turn a negative into a positive.
“I understand now the benefits of discourse and how it shapes individuals.”
Ring now realises that leadership is dynamic, not static, and is always changing.
“I’m seeing it, feeling it and living it.”
Folio took him out of his comfort zone, giving him the confidence to open himself up to the world.
“It makes you willing to take the risks, risks you can manage because you have the leadership skills to mitigate the risks.”
This changed style of communication means he “sits back” and takes time to consult. These skills are immediately applicable to his community.
“There is so much potential in my community, there are many well-educated young people looking to join the beautiful mainstream of Australian society, looking for opportunities in employment, in businesses, socially, culturally. I’m saying to them: integrate. And a lot of young people are listening. People over the age of 18 are emerging from the shadows…wanting to be part of the Australia’s bigger success story”
The other big benefit of the Folio course for Ring has been collaborating and networking with high-level leaders.
“I’m so thankful to Leadership Victoria for that: I never used to have that network. People have got a huge interest in hearing the stories of my community.”
Even better was “building trust” with leaders who deal directly with his community, such as Victoria Police and the Department of Justice.
Some of these contacts did more than talk. After beloved South Sudanese community icon Mama Abiol (Abiol Atem Manyang) died in May 2019, Ring found allies to provide accommodation for Mama’s five children.
Leaders must connect to create such outcomes and Ring says it is crucial that more of his community engages with powerbrokers.
“It’s about talking to people who make decisions. Nobody’s going to do it for us. We need to tell them our stories and show them what our contribution can be. If we don’t engage and get heard, we’ll be looked at badly.”
It’s as much about informing politicians and policy-makers as gaining power oneself
Ring’s future is not aimed at a specific position, but it is focused.
“I want to be a driver of change. I want to be part of a bigger Victorian story. I want to continue contributing and changing my community and the perception of mainstream Australia about my community.”
Ring was well-chosen for the Folio scholarship. Consider the title of his upcoming book.
Transforming South Sudanese Community in Victoria: Social Disruptions and Humble Lessons Learned in a Deeply Polarised Community.
That’s written by someone who “stepped up”.
The Leadership Victoria Foundation in partnership with CALD2LEAD (Folio 2017 Alumni), are seeking your support to provide aspiring leaders from underrepresented communities scholarships to take part in Leadership Victoria’s programs, developing leadership capability across Victoria’s richly diverse communities. Click here to donate.