Empowering the future
9 August 2021 at 4:58 pm
As the director of Asylum Seeker Resource Centre’s (ASRC) Innovation Hub, Abiola Ajetomobi is playing a leading role in creating thriving and empowered refugee and asylum seeker communities in Australia. She’s this week’s Changemaker.
Ajetomobi arrived in Australia as an asylum seeker in 2008, after she was forced to flee her home country of Nigeria.
With a background in humanitarian work, business, accounting, financial services and social entrepreneurship, since 2008 she has worked tirelessly to hone her skills to deliver community programs that empower refugees and asylum seekers within local and state government as well as in not-for-profit organisations.
As the director of ASRC’s Innovation Hub, she is bringing together ASRC members, volunteers and staff to create innovative solutions across areas including employment, youth, women, education, mentoring and social and community development, that support the empowerment and independence of people seeking asylum.
In this week’s Changemaker, she discusses the importance of staying grounded, how the past has informed her work today, and being grateful for the small things.
How did you get into the job you’re in now?
I came to Australia in 2008, and sought the services of ASRC when I was seeking asylum, so I’ve always had a deep connection to the organisation.
I spent quite a few years after I first arrived finding my feet in Victoria, working different jobs, getting educated, refining and positioning myself and my skills. I was at a friend’s place who I had met when I was seeking asylum, and we were reflecting on our journeys in this country. They suggested that I follow the CEO of ASRC, Kon Karapanagiotidis on LinkedIn to keep up to date with what was happening at the organisation. The very day I added him, he posted the role of director of the Innovation Hub. Looking through the job description, it was like someone had put my background, skills and qualifications into PDF form. It was unbelievable. I just thought, I’ll give it a go, I’ll give it a chance. When I got the role, I couldn’t believe it, I was so excited.
And what does your day look like as the director of the Innovation Hub?
My roles and responsibilities are broken down in different areas. One is overseeing and leading the successful delivery, evaluation, and design of innovative programs that support empowerment and independence of people seeking asylum. Another aspect of my role is to support the organisational direction and strategic obligations as one of the executive leaders of the organisation. I also manage strategic relationships and engagement, as well as support the organisation’s cause to break down systemic barriers to limitations that impacts on people’s ability to thrive.
How have your past experiences informed the way you do your job now?
I think my past experiences have helped keep me grounded. Above all, it’s given me a unique perspective, because as well as being an employee of ASRC, I’m a part of the asylum seeker and refugee community and understand the issues and how to go about fixing them. So apart from my qualifications, experience, attitude and capabilities, my lived experience has really helped me have a deeper understanding of the impact of the programs that we’re delivering, the role of voices and inclusion of the community that we’re supporting, and most importantly, the intergenerational outcomes that are achieved as a result of what we do today. We always need to be looking at the long term impact of the decisions we make as an organisation and the programs we deliver, and how that can be transferred to the next generation.
How do you manage the challenges that come up in your job?
One of the ways I manage a challenge is about finding my own inner strength. I think that’s been the greatest asset for me.
It’s also about being able to reconcile with my ‘why’, making sure that I’m clear on what I’m doing, my role, the way I’ve positioned myself, the platforms I hold, the advocacy, and the campaigns that I support. I’m very conscious of the impact on people’s lives and the decisions that we make, and I think that’s one of the things that’s been keeping me going.
The ability to influence and be influenced in the refugee, NFP and social innovation space has also been something that has kept me going. Learning and sharing from colleagues, from leaders who shape social change initiatives and things like that really keeps me going. I also draw strength from my journey and my experiences and understanding that opportunities are one of the things that unlocked my path in Australia. I strive to create that opportunity for others as well, because I know people coming to this country would embrace it, I know they have the tenacity, and I know they don’t want to be dependent on government services. I know that everyone wants to be seen as a whole, as an individual, just like I am, so I use my experiences as a tool to make decisions. That doesn’t mean I’m not objective in my decision making, but I‘m also making sure that I’m always checking in regularly with the community most affected by the decisions. Their analysis of the situation and solutions always take precedence over my opinions and intentions.
And with 60 per cent of the country in lockdown right now, what’s something that’s been keeping you sane?
I’m a mother of four girls, so that really keeps us centred. My husband made a joke that our house is like a village, it’s so energetic and we’re all so connected with each other. I think having that around me has really been good for my spiritual mental state. It’s also about understanding that I’m still in a place of privilege. So it’s been really important for me to be grateful, look out for those people who are vulnerable, to check on my friends, check on my neighbours and make sure that we support each other.