A Heart for Humanity
25 May 2015 at 10:22 am
A trailblazing asylum seeker advocate holds the principles of empathy and humanity close to his heart and hopes to encourage others to do the same. Founder and CEO of the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre, Kon Karapanagiotidis, is this week’s Changemaker.
For his work in the Not for Profit sector, Karapanagiotidis was recognised as an Australian of the Year (Victoria) finalist in 2007, was invited to participate in the 2020 Summit in 2008 and was voted one of Australia’s 20 Unsung Heroes as part of the launch of the new Portrait Gallery in Canberra in 2008.
Most recently, he was awarded a Churchill Fellowship in 2010 and an Order of Australia Medal (OAM) in 2011.
Karapanagiotidis told Pro Bono Australia News about his long history in the sector and how he was driven to work in Not for Profits after witnessing the exploitation and racism faced by his parents as new migrants.
What are you currently working on in your organisation?
We are working on a three year plan to meet the unprecedented need of 30,000 asylum seekers in our community who critically need access to legal assistance, employment and education support as well as practical support, including food and material aid. We are using the tools of innovation, entrepreneurship, advocacy and technology to meet this challenge.
What drew you to the Not for Profit sector?
My own childhood experiences of racism and exclusion, and my parents’ struggles as new migrants. They faced great exploitation and racism and made significant sacrifices to enable me to have the choices I do now.
How long have you been working in the Not for Profit sector?
I started at the age of 18 volunteering in the NFP sector so it’s been 24 years and counting.
What was your first job in the Not for Profit sector?
Volunteering in a homeless drop-in centre at Hanover Welfare Services, providing practical and emotional support to homeless men.
What is the most rewarding part of your work?
Being part of a movement of humanity and justice that saves the lives of refugees against incredible odds.
What has been the most challenging part of your work? And how do you overcome that?
Seeing first-hand the needless human suffering of thousands of refugees due to the human-made cruelty of our two major political parties who both lack a moral compass on the issue of protecting refugees
In terms of your work sitting on a Not for Profit board, what would you say is the key to an effective NFP board?
NFP boards need to be strategic, not operational, with a diversified skill base. They need to be visionary, adaptive and willing to take well-thought-out risks to achieve an organisation’s mission, as well as be committed to the values and culture of the organisation.
What do you like best about working in your current organisation?
The ability to bring the best of me to my work; to be visionary and fearless due to our independence as an organisation.
I consider my greatest achievement to be…
Founding an organisation that has saved the lives of thousands of refugees and helped provide a space for tens of thousands of Australians to bring their compassion, goodwill and generosity to make our country a more just and fairer place.
Favourite saying …
Closed mouths do not get fed.
I’m always being asked …
To speak somewhere, which is great as it’s a chance to keep a positive dialogue on asylum seekers happening in the community.
What are you reading/watching/listening to at the moment? Why?
Reading The Guardian, Watching Selma, Listening to Coltrane – each inspires a different part of my heart, mind and spirit to keep dreaming.
Through your work, what is your ultimate dream?
To be able to close the doors of the ASRC as we are no longer needed because my country welcomes refugees and treats them like human beings.
My greatest challenge is…
Keeping our movement strong, hopeful and not beaten down by the cruelty and indifference of the Australian Government.
School taught me…
Life is not a popularity contest. It’s ok to not fit in. Prove people wrong. Stay strong.
What does a typical day for you involve?
Public speaking, media interviews, management of directors, morning briefing of volunteers, responding to a broad range of community requests, legal advocacy, donor relationship management, potential funder tours, profile raising of the ASRC, strategic planning, social media, fundraising – we currently have our major Winter Appeal happening at the moment – and, of course, four large coffees.
What (or who) inspires you?
The extraordinary asylum seekers I have the honour of working with every day. My mum and sister for their boundless belief in and love for me.
Where do you feel your passion for good came from?
My parents’ sacrifices and struggles for me instilled a deep passion. They taught me values and the importance of standing for something more than just myself.