Rolling Out the Welcome Mat
1 June 2015 at 11:13 am
One driven Not for Profit leader is dreaming of an Australia characterised by its welcome, compassion and generosity. Brad Chilcott, the man on a mission to encourage Australians to embrace cultural diversity, is this week’s Changemaker.
In 2011, Chillcott founded a movement called Welcome to Australia with the goal of cultivating a culture of welcome in Australia in an era where immigration and asylum seeker policies dominate political discussion.
Welcome to Australia is now a national organisation with two Welcome Centres, branches in nine cities and a large network of volunteers, partners and more than 80 high-profile ambassadors.
In 2012, then-Prime Minister Julia Gillard appointed Brad as a People of Australia Ambassador and he was a state finalist in the Australian of the Year (Local Hero) Awards as well as being recognised with a Governor’s Multicultural Award in the Individual category.
Chilcott has also worked as an Adviser to Immigration Minister Tony Burke and SA Premier Jay Weatherill.
With his organisation on the cusp of hiring its first ever full time employee, Chilcott told Pro Bono Australia News about his hopes for the future and what inspires his compassion.
What are you currently working on in your organisation?
We’re fundraising to hire our first ever full-time employee, who will be our new CEO. With two physical Welcome Centres (Adelaide, SA and Newcastle, NSW) delivering a wide array of services to asylum seekers and refugees, 9 volunteer branches in cities around Australia, and our annual celebration of equality and diversity “Walk Together” happening in 20 cities and regional centres… it’s time!
What is the most rewarding part of your work?
I love seeing people’s hearts change towards asylum seekers, refugees and other migrants through the power of authentic relationship. Watching the change that takes place when a person hears another’s story, understands that they share common dreams for their families and future and recognises their own humanity in their eyes… that’s priceless.
What has been the most challenging part of your work? And how do you overcome that?
We’re an organisation with huge reach, doing important campaigning and practical support work across Australia and we have a high media profile, but we operate on less than 1 full-time equivalent staff (0.8 FTE currently). Theoretically, I’m employed half a day a week to manage Welcome to Australia, practically it doesn’t work out that way. This means that we’re always striving both for survival and to manage our many volunteers effectively to keep them engaged and motivated – and without burning them out. It’s a real challenge personally and organisationally. We try to overcome it by celebrating our wins, building powerful collaborative relationships with other organisations that help us achieve more than we ever could alone and only committing to the things we believe we have capacity to achieve with excellence.
What do you like best about working in your current organisation?
I love meeting people all around our nation who live as visible, tangible examples of the vision we have for our nation; who embody fairness, compassion and welcome in their every day lives. It reminds me that the hope we have for the future is not unrealistic or unachievable. It’s also a massive privilege to be a part of the lives of the heroic people who’ve risked everything to join the Australian community. I’m constantly amazed at their faith, resilience and overwhelmed by their generosity of spirit.
Favourite saying …
Between “love your neighbour as yourself” and “love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you” there’s no one left not to love.
Through your work, what is your ultimate dream?
My ultimate dream is that many thousands of refugees and other migrants are arriving safely in Australia every year to be welcomed into a fair, diverse and inclusive society where they have the opportunity to live free from vilification, fear and prejudice.
I dream of an Australia characterised by its welcome, compassion and generosity, full of healthy communities where all people – of all backgrounds, ethnicities and cultures – are able to belong and contribute. I’m working towards a day where prejudice is unpopular and cruelty hurts at the polls; where leadership isn’t measured in hardness of heart.
What (or who) inspires you?
My son Harrison was born with significant physical disabilities and yet launches himself into every day with a passion for life, a love for people and a determination not to miss out on anything. We were told he wouldn’t be born alive; that he wouldn’t make it through the first day; that we should take him home to share his final days of life with him. He’s now 8, still faces huge challenges, but brings joy and hope to everyone in his life.
Where do you feel your passion for good came from?
I describe myself as a disciple of Jesus. To me, that means that I’m all about the “outsiders” becoming “insiders”; that I believe a world is possible where injustice, inequality, greed and violence are defeated and that I’m dedicated to living out that hope in every area of my life. I’m committed to learning how to be more inclusive, more accepting and more compassionate every day – and to doing what I can to make our society reflect those values too.