Leadership Victoria Mentors support African Australian community

15 June 2010 By Leadership

This article profiles Keren Dattner, an Alumni of Leadership Victoria’s ExperienceBank program. Keren is currently a mentor through the African ThinkTank Leadership Development Program run in a unique partnership between Leadership Victoria, Victoria Police, Monash University, the Federal Department of Immigration and Citizenship.

A few years ago, Keren Dattner took a phone call that set her life on a different path. A young Sudanese boy, who had been a child soldier and a refugee in a Kenyan camp, was having housing difficulties in Melbourne. A mutual friend asked Keren to put him up for a few days while he found a place to live. He ended up staying with her for 6 months.

After trying to get him into the English course he needed in order to secure an apprenticeship, and finding he had fallen short of the requirements for free English classes through the Federal Government, (English is available through the Department of Immigration and Citizenship but there are limitations), Keren found trying to work through the system endlessly frustrating and decided to do all she could to help the boy.

2 - African Australian Community

“I couldn’t figure out why on earth we let him come here when there’s next to no support” she said, “apart from being a refugee he was also just an 18 year-old boy.”

Watching people become empowered through leadership is the main motivation for Keren to be involved in mentor programs through Leadership Victoria.

“It’s really rewarding to see someone move from a position of feeling they have no power to where they can influence the situation,” she said.

Keren has been involved in numerous projects through Leadership Victoria, most recently he has been a mentor to Nigerian immigrant Dr Razaq Balogun through the African ThinkTank Leadership Development Program.

Razaq and Keren are working toward helping children and teenagers in his community access greater opportunities.

In the Leader newspaper last month Mr Balogun said “by involving the youth, by making them come talk to each other and network within their community, I want them to be able to say that I am a Nigerian and also an Australian and am able to be proud of our culture.”

The way Keren approaches mentoring is a fascinating process. Keren and Razaq are looking at passionate speeches in history, lateral thinking and leadership qualities as well as the finer points of the project itself.

“You need to access the passion in you so they go ‘wow! I can’t miss out on that, of course I want to know about the history of Nigeria.’ People get the message when you put passion in there,” Keren said.

One of the main obstacles Keren and Razaq have encountered is the isolation of some members of the Nigerian community in Australia. Resettlement of immigrants in rural Victoria is common so bringing the Nigerian community together is often difficult.

“He (Razaq) is trying to build a community where people are totally removed from each other. That’s the depth of the problem for him. It’s not as easy as just about become a leader, it’s a different set of issues that he’s confronting,” Keren said.

To overcome the issue the duo are looking at organisational models where the isolation of its members has been successfully overcome, like The Country Womens Association.

Keren’s view on leadership reveals much about her approach to the mentoring process.

“Everybody is a leader. I firmly believe that. They organise their mortgage, get their kids to school, do their budget, get their family going on a holiday. These are all leadership skills, but people see them as isolated within their personal life,” she said, “those skills can be transferred into something broader, it’s just about demystifying things”.

Keren is learning much from working with Razaq and hopes the mentorship will be an ongoing process, through which they both benefit.

“I love the idea that we form a close enough relationship that next year he might want to have a bit of a yarn and that would be fantastic. If a mentorship works then surely it should work until you outgrow each other. There will come a time where I have nothing to offer Razaq but then he might have something to offer me.”

Keren sees the mentorship as a two-way street and one that will, hopefully, continue into the future, it’s a process that she enjoys immensely.

“When leadership skills are demystified you open up possibilities for people and they go ‘why didn’t I think of it like that before?’ because nobody ever told them, nobody ever exposed them to the concept that everybody is a leader.”

Keren is also finds the mentoring process personally rewarding.

“I’m definitely paying a lot of attention. I’m listening to him and really trying to hear the words behind the words. As he says more, I understand more.”

The next project for Keren is working with a group in King Lake in establishing a saw mill that will operate a bit like a men’s shed, it will bring men in the community together.

“A place for men to go to have a yarn with one another, hang around the shed and sharpen a few chisels,” Keren said.

Keren said having a connection to the place you live is vital to leadership.

“Go and meet people and be inquisitive about what’s happening with them, really be interested and let them talk. Don’t pass judgment. Just be patient, listen to their story. There is so much that other people can do and I can’t do it by myself.”

Other articles about Keren and the African Community Developement Projects: