Celebrating Australian Innovation in Refugee Support

On the occasion of the departure of UNHCR Regional Representative Louise Aubin, on 30 November 2020 UNHCR Multi-Country Representation in Canberra held an event at the National Portrait Gallery to celebrate Australian innovation in refugee support.

Arash Bordbar, Cindy Carpenter, Lisa Button, Louise Aubin, Aminata Conteh-Biger, John Cameron, Violet Roumeliotis.   © UNHCR

Innovation is transforming the way refugees are engaged and supported around the world. International organisations, non-government organisations, community organisations as well as governments are drawing on innovative practices in navigating global challenges and opportunities. Fortunately for UNHCR, Australians – individuals and communities – have been at the forefront of innovating in refugee support for many years. 

Despite the challenging times for refugee protection, it’s integral to acknowledge that the support base is broadening in the spirit of solidarity and cooperation.

The purpose of the farewell event was to showcase the positive and the potential of the Australian response to protection at the community level. Attendees learnt about the leading practices in refugee engagement inspiring action globally.

Special guest John Cameron, Co-founder and CTO of Talent Beyond Boundaries explained how his foundation helps find labour pathways for refugees with skills that help both communities and refugees simultaneously.

Lisa Button, Executive Director of the Community Refugee Sponsorship Initiative, spoke about, "turning perceived powerlessness into effective action and durable solutions." Since 2017 Lisa has led a group of not for profit organisations in the establishment and operation of the Community Refugee Sponsorship Initiative which seeks to secure the adoption and successful implementation of an Australian community refugee sponsorship scheme, inspired by the Canadian example and other emerging schemes around the world.

Settlement Services International’s CEO Violet Roumeliotis spoke about how her Sydney-based organisation of 68 staff turned into an 800-plus workforce that supports more than 37,600 people nationally each year. Settlement Services International supports newcomers and other vulnerable individuals to achieve their full potential in Australian society.

One of the most moving speakers of the day way Aminata Conteh-Biger, an Australian author, inspirational speaker and performer who is the Founder and CEO of a non- profit organisation, the Aminata Maternal Foundation. Aminata was born in Sierra Leone, growing up in Freetown. Following her kidnap, imprisonment and subsequent release by rebel soldiers during the country's 11-year civil war, Aminata became one of the first Sierra Leonean refugees to be settled in Australia. Aminata is an Australia for UNHCR Special Representative. In 2014, Aminata founded the Aminata Maternal Foundation in order to improve the health and wellbeing of women and children in Sierra Leone.

If attendees weren’t already inspired enough, Arash Bordbar, a former refugee originally from Iran, and a global Human Rights and Refugee Rights advocate spoke about the need to start a conversation to create a sea of change through education and opportunities, “…education has changed my life, and Australia and it's people made that possible."

And lastly, Cindy Carpenter who is the Chair of the Bread and Butter Project spoke about Australia’s first social enterprise artisan bakery, investing 100% of profits to provide training and employment pathways for refugees and asylum seekers.

UNHCR Regional Representative Louise Aubin reflected on how the efforts of these individuals and their organisations embodied the goals of Global Compact on Refugees, adopted by UN Member States in 2018.  Growing and promoting the interests and capacities of civil society and the private sector in global responsibility-sharing for refugees was critical. The speakers had developed innovative practices that could be exported around the world to strengthen solidarity with refugees.

To learn more about refugee innovation in Australia you can begin by reading more on the websites listed below, as well as following our guest speakers on Twitter to keep up with the latest in Australian innovation in refugee support!

UNHCR would like to thank all of the guest speakers for their incredible and inspiring work, and for taking the time to partake in the event.


Useful Websites:

Twitter Handles:

@LisaButton2067 @TBBforTalent @ContehBiger @MaternalAminata @CeoRoumeliotis @ArashBordbar93