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New president for ACOSS

15 March 2023 at 3:22 pm
Danielle Kutchel
The appointment of the first queer person of colour to the presidency role is an “historic” moment.

Danielle Kutchel | 15 March 2023 at 3:22 pm


New president for ACOSS
15 March 2023 at 3:22 pm

The appointment of the first queer person of colour to the presidency role is an “historic” moment.

The Australian Council of Social Service (ACOSS) has announced Hang Vo as its new president.

Vo has previously worked as vice-president of the organisation, and holds a number of other roles across the sector including CEO of Sacred Heart Mission and director positions with the Victorian Pride Centre and Respect Victoria.

Vo, who arrived in Australia as part of the Vietnamese refugee “boat people” and is a member of the LGBTIQ+ community, is the first queer person of colour to be president of ACOSS.

She said she is “honoured” to take on the presidency, and hopes to use the role to facilitate advocacy action.

“We’ve got the big ticket items in terms of social policy and… our position on raise the rate in terms of addressing income inequality as an underlying cause and driver of poverty. We’re currently looking at the living standards for low income people, in particular affordable housing. My role is to support the organisation, the CEO and the team from a governance perspective to continue to drive that,” she told Pro Bono News.

Vo is also aware of her visibility as the first queer person of colour to take on the role, and what that represents to other diverse and intersectional people in the sector.

“Another dimension to what I would hope to bring to ACOSS is the importance of lived experience and giving voice to people with lived experience and using my own story as a way to highlight how important that is,” she said.

“For me, representation in leadership really does shift hearts and minds. And I think that even for our sector, we’re not there. I think we have to be more purposeful, more systematic, more structured in ensuring that we have people in leadership roles that truly do represent the people that we’re here to serve. 

“It’s really about ensuring that the perspective, the lens that people like myself bring to leadership actually helps to drive change.”

Vo’s personal experiences as “a seven-year-old Vietnamese refugee”, and someone who has experienced structural inequities, racism, discrimination and homophobia, have all shaped her empathy, compassion and her determination to make change.

“It’s not just [that] I’m a fighter and I want to fight for a better system… it’s also a deep empathy [for] the impact when the system doesn’t work,” she said.

“I do feel very fortunate to have found purpose and a place where I feel deeply aligned in terms of my values and my beliefs, [and where] I’ve had opportunities to build my capabilities.

“I’ve had amazing mentors, great opportunities in terms of education and just great role models. This is a long journey with so many amazing people behind me.”

Asked what advice she would give to those coming from a similar background, Vo said she would tell them to “really embrace who you are”.

“I haven’t just come into this space where I’m comfortable to share my story and to be able to talk about my lived experience. It has taken a lot of time, a lot of setbacks, a lot of real challenges,” she said. 

“But once I was able to understand that embracing who I am is actually my strength, and that’s what’s going to enable me to drive change or to be effective, that’s when I felt that sense of purpose. 

“For young people who are of refugee asylum seeker background, a person of colour, LGBTQ, it’s really embracing the deep sense of who you are and seeing the strength in that and what you have to offer the world rather than diminishing that because you’re part of a minority group.”

Vo’s passion and commitment for the work she does feeds into the “flow” of how she works.

“I think very mindfully about how I manage my energy and putting my energy where I feel joy, where I feel purpose, where I can have impact — and of course [in] what makes me happy. So for me, it’s not that binary view of work-life [balance] and there’s a demarcation, but rather how do we find our flow? And I’m so fortunate that I have found my flow in the work that I do because it’s who I am outside of work,” she said.

“Historic yet overdue”

CEO of ACOSS Dr Cassandra Goldie called Vo’s appointment “historic yet overdue” and said it reflects the diversity of experience present within Australian society.

“Hang brings to the presidency an incredible depth of leadership and management experience – both lived and professional – and the staff and I couldn’t be more pleased to be working with Hang,” Goldie said.

“When some of the people with the absolute least in Australia – including those experiencing homelessness, refugees and people seeking asylum – are still unable to gain access to social security and services, and with a critical Voice referendum in sight, Hang’s timely appointment will bring extensive insight, leadership and experience to ACOSS and the broader social services sector.”

Danielle Kutchel  |  @ProBonoNews

Danielle is a journalist specialising in disability and CALD issues, and social justice reporting. Reach her on or on Twitter @D_Kutchel.

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