Asylum Seeker Resource Centre

Eating Lunch

Photo by Leah Robertson, used courtesy Asylum Seeker Resource Centre

Based in an unassuming building on the edge of the CBD, it would be difficult to guess at the hive of activity that lies behind the doors of Melbourne’s Asylum Seeker Resource Centre (ASRC).  It’s an atmosphere of controlled chaos as 25 paid staff, and some 650 volunteers, deliver 25 programs to assist those who are waiting for their applications for asylum in Australia to be processed.

Asylum Seekers have no guaranteed access to work rights and live in the community with little or no income and without access to essential health, welfare or legal services.  They number amongst the most vulnerable in Melbourne’s community.  The overarching philosophy of the ASRC is “turn no asylum seeker in need away,” and as a result they are involved in assisting about 1000 people in various ways at any one time. 

The ASRC’s programs range from English classes, legal help and professional counseling services, to serving hot meals to asylum seekers every week day.  Extraordinarily, the vast majority of the ASRC’s funding is sourced directly from the community and philanthropy.

In 2010 management had recognised a need to consolidate and expand the ASRC’s income base, when an opportunity arose for Leadership Victoria to help with improving their individual giving program.  It was a project that had the potential to be highly beneficial for the future of the ASRC’s work, but for which the ASRC lacked the time and resources to address internally.

Experience Bank Leadership Program (EBLP) 2010 participants Cath Duane, David Nowell, Toni Clarke, Nial Finegan and Sylwia Pichel were happy to help.  For Sylwia Pichel, the challenges of asylum seekers in Australia was particularly troubling, as she too had experienced the difficulties of starting afresh in an unfamiliar place.

“(Choosing the ASRC project) was a very active choice on my part.  I came to Australia over 20 years ago, and while I did not have all the problems of refugees today, I can identify with the challenges people face,” she said.

Together the group worked on strategies to better support the financial sustainability of the ASRC, focusing specifically on regular giving.  They looked for examples of best practice world-wide, then tailored solutions to suit the ASRC’s unique work.  Key suggestions involved promoting workplace and pledge giving, and implementing retention and upgrading programs for individual donors.

ASRC Community Engagement Team Leader Jana Favero was the main point of contact for the 2010 EBLP group, and she spoke highly of them as individuals and of the project outcomes.

“They were empathetic, enthusiastic and passionate.  They were so dedicated, they really got the ASRC,” she said.

Some of the group’s suggestions had been taken up immediately, whilst others will be implemented in the next 6 to 12 months.

“The level and the quality of the work was great,” Jana said.

Sylwia described her involvement with the project as a “wonderful” and “humbling” experience.  She applied for the EBLP hoping to discover how she could contribute her skills to the broader community, and she was pleased with the group’s final report.

Sylwia said that while it was at times challenging to arrange meetings in a group of very busy people, she enjoyed collaborating with other leaders from a wide range of backgrounds.

“It reminded me that my view is not the only one.  Collaboration may take longer, but the benefits outweigh the time spent,” she said.