PEOPLE: Elevating Youth Mental Health with ‘OurHerd’

Michelle Duong is the Growth Marketing Manager for OurHerd, a storytelling app for young people, powered batyr, a for-purpose preventative mental health organisation. With the exponential rise in mental health illnesses due to the pandemic, this is a project that is needed for young people, more than ever. Here’s the story!

Can you tell our readers what a normal day looks like for Michelle Duong?

The day starts early for me, regardless of what day of the week it is or what I may have on. First is some kind of physical exercise; a walk, yoga or a class at the gym. I find that by setting the intention, showing up and doing it sets me up for the rest of the day. I don’t find the motivation everyday, but I notice the benefits most when I show up on the days I least want to.

Since the shift towards working from home, I’ve been consciously – with the guidance of my psychologist – looking at each day as if it was a sandwich, building it with certain ‘ingredients’ that mark the morning, noon and evening. Without the need to rush into the office, I enjoy the first couple hours in the day for myself; a coffee on the balcony, a walk with the dog, a podcast, a tidy around the apartment or sometimes just sitting and taking a moment to be with my thoughts. These seemingly unremarkable activities form the first part of my “day sandwich” and are arguably my most important and energising. In addition to building a strong morning foundation, I try to take a physical and mental break at lunch by moving away from my workspace and signify the end of work by closing out the sandwich with another walk. I credit these small rituals for helping me to adjust to the challenges of going into lockdown, but even as restrictions begin to lift, I strongly see the value in holding onto them and the mental clarity they bring.

How important is diversity to you and in the work that you do?

I recently joined an extraordinary for-purpose mental health organisation called batyr, which aims to smash the stigma surrounding mental health by promoting positive conversations and sharing lived experience stories. As an organisation created by young people for young people, we ensure that the youth voice is represented at all levels of decision-making, including establishing a National Youth Advisory group, which is made of young people who reflect diverse communities and help guide our strategic direction, and appointing 21-year old Bella Cini as a Board Director, creating a powerful channel between batyr’s board and the collective voices of young people in our community. 

As part of batyr’s commitment to diversity and inclusion, we design tailored workshops for communities including LGBTQIA+, Regional, International Students, NEET and Males and are proud to collaborate on projects like the Orygen University Mental Health Framework, International Student Welfare Program, MYAN (Mental Health and Multicultural Young People) Sector Forum and National Headspace evaluation. ​​

In my role, I’m responsible for the growth and marketing of our new digital storytelling app called OurHerd. The purpose of the platform is to support young people to create change by sharing stories. It’s a safe space, designed to support young people in finding their voices, whilst being a positive environment where people with different views, cultures, experiences and beliefs can feel welcomed, heard and valued. Excitingly, OurHerd is uniquely positioned to leverage digital technology to give young people the opportunity for their voices to be heard, be deeply understood and to inform the decisions that affect them by capturing valuable lived experience insights. The platform uses the power of digital to further bridge the gap between geography, culture and gender. The nature of this work can be challenging but it’s incredibly rewarding. Every single story shared gives you something to admire, learn from and reflect on.

Have you ever faced challenges in your professional career from others because of your identity and if so, how were you able to overcome that?

I count myself lucky to have worked for some great organisations who have generally aligned with my personal values and respected my multicultural identity. Whilst I haven’t been the victim of discrimination directly, I’m acutely aware of differing experiences amongst my peers. As a second generation Australian or “ABC” (Australian-born Chinese), the majority of my childhood and adolescent years were spent trying to navigate the intersection of two worlds; the expectation to embrace and celebrate my parents’ traditional Chinese culture at home, whilst fighting to find my place in mainstream Australian culture at school. There was always a noticeable disconnect in the treatment of the ABCs like me, who spoke English without an accent, dressed like the ‘white’ kids and whose lunch bag occasionally included an unfamiliar snack but, generally nothing enough to cause harm. I seemed to be able to just fly under the radar, whilst my newly-arrived Asian migrant friends weren’t afforded the same luxury. I wasn’t treated differently or badly per se… I just felt a bit invisible and to be honest, I was okay with that at the time. 

Whilst many of those moments took place well before I joined the workforce, the sense of uncertainty and discomfort permeates stubbornly through to this day. Although I don’t let them define my interactions, I can’t quite shake them off either. It’s something I’m still working on for myself and my confidence.


Lean on the people you know, and don’t underestimate the power of your relationships. It can feel overwhelming and scary to consider yourself the odd one out amongst so many others who seemingly have the benefit of the majority. It’s a lot easier to focus on the collective negatives; sometimes it can completely consume your thoughts and make you feel paralysed. In these moments, I would encourage you to sit down and simply make a list of all the people you’ve come across in your life – friends, relatives, neighbours, teachers, support workers, bosses or colleagues – the chances are you’ll realise that despite feeling alone in your challenge, you actually have a network of people you can tap into. 

They may not be the obvious person you think of to help you achieve your ambitions, but by asking for 10min of their time to share your goals with them, it gives you the opportunity to vocalise and own your intentions and who knows, they may even know someone who can support you in the next step forward or hear of an opportunity you wouldn’t have otherwise known about. Generally speaking, people get a kick out of helping others – even if it’s just giving someone their ear – I think there’s something called the ‘helper’s high’. Most people want to feel like their lives mean something and that they’re making a positive difference in the world, so whilst it might feel like too much to ask someone for their time, know that the other person will likely get something out of it too; good karma at the very least! And what’s the worst that could happen? They say “No, sorry I’m too busy right now”. No harm done. The benefits outweigh the downsides by a mile. So go on then, reconnect with your people. In fact, feel free to reach out to me. I’ve always got 10min to share. 

I have to say a little thank you to Maria Chilcott, whose daughter I used to babysit, who was on my ‘list of people’ and who was kind enough to give me 10 minutes (plus more) of her time to share this incredibly valuable piece of advice that’s now with you.

Want to follow and support MICHELLE?

Learn more about the amazing work that batyr does here and check out the OurHerd app – and my story on it – here. I’m always happy to connect with like-minded people – you can find me on LinkedIn here.

About the diversity champion:

Michelle Duong is the Growth Marketing Manager for OurHerd, a storytelling app for young people, powered batyr, a for-purpose preventative mental health organisation. Michelle has experience across a range of industries but is most passionate about using her expertise to rally for the causes she believes in. When she’s not developing strategies to grow the OurHerd community, she’s hanging out with her 40kg foster-fail-dog, Sprocket, looking for ways to live more sustainably – most notably caring for her worm farm and Googling ‘how to DIY (insert everything)’ – and cooking up a storm to share a good meal with her friends and family.

Image description: Michelle is looking at the camera in front of a field wearing a black shirt with zebra prints


PEOPLE: The charity on a mission to raise literacy rates

Can you tell our readers what a normal day looks like for Dr. Alfred Chidembo

My day starts with me preparing for work and dropping the kids off at school. I get into the office around 9am and knock off at 5pm. If there is no swimming practice for the kids, after dinner I play soccer and come back home around 8.30 pm. After the kids have gone off to bed, I relax with my wife for an hour or two before I start working on Aussie Books for Zim till 1 am or 2am.

How important is diversity to you and in the work that you do?

It is an integral part of my day job where I work with several people from diverse backgrounds and cultures.  Because I work in an environment that encourages teamwork, it is crucial to ensure that everyone feels valued and equally supported as part of the team. The same applies in the charity space. For example, in setting up our board, we have had to create a board matrix that ensures we have a diverse group of board members enabling us to tap into their different skills and experience.

Have you ever faced challenges in your professional career from others because of your identity and if so, how were you able to overcome that?

I have experienced challenges in almost every role I have undertaken and that has caused a lot of angst over the years. For example, I would contribute to a discussion in a meeting and everyone would brush off my ideas as if I hadn’t spoken. A few minutes later, someone else would simply reword the idea and get credit for it. I strongly believe that this is linked to my identity.

Most times I would talk to my African friends and family about it because they can relate. In most cases, almost all of them would have had a similar experience, so sometimes we end laughing about such things. Other times, I dig deep for strength by simply looking back at my journey, reminding myself of all the obstacles I have managed to overcome for me to be here.


Remember that you being here is not by accident. You are here because you chose to leave home, family and friends behind. That alone shows that you have a certain level of resilience within you that most people do not possess. The challenges you face can only strengthen you, so embrace them and use them as stepping stones to reach your goals. As you work towards your goals, give your all, immerse yourself in the journey and give it a good go and have fun.

Want to follow and support Dr. Alfred Chidembo ?

Current campaign: 

Social media links:



Instagram: @aussiebooksforzim   

About the diversity champion:

The youngest of seven children, Alfred was born in Bulawayo, Zimbabwe, and grew up in the remote rural village of Mudzi. At the age of six he started school, happily walking the 5 km barefoot with his brothers. Alfred was desperate to learn about the world, but his school had no books to read or write in, so Alfred learnt to write in the sand. When Alfred finally achieved his dream of obtaining a PhD (he is a sought-after specialist in electrochemistry and energy storage), he paused to contemplate on his journey from his village in Zimbabwe to the beautiful coastal city of Wollongong, and asked himself, “How can I give back to my community?” Within a few months, Alfred had set up Aussie Books for Zim, a charity on a mission to improve the education and prospects of children in Zimbabwe by raising literacy rates. Alfred and his team have now sent more than 100,000 books to Zimbabwe, set up nine libraries, and have plans to expand their program across Africa to reach many more children.

Image description: Alfred is wearing a dark navy suit and looking at the camera with a white shirt underneath

PEOPLE: The community lawyer championing diversity from the front

Can you tell our readers what a normal day looks like for Tu Le? 

I have ‘Me Time’ scheduled in my calendar every morning. My mornings include meditation, stretching, giving my dog Cleo lots of cuddles, reading, walking Cleo, and having a cup of coffee with my partner while we read from ‘The Daily Stoic’ – not always in the same order. Having a consistent routine, particularly in the morning, is important to me and helps me stay energised throughout the day. I try to work between 9-5 as much as possible, as I usually have after-hour meetings and events on during the week. With the easing of restrictions, I’m back to team sports, social gatherings, and face-to-face meetings. Wednesday and Sunday evenings are my basketball game nights. I have weekly scheduled meetings for a few of the organisations and projects I am currently working on. My Sunday mornings are dedicated to the Vietnamese Buddhist Youth Association where I teach dharma classes to young Buddhists. I catch up with my family and friends around these commitments.

How important is diversity to you and in the work that you do?

I work in the community legal sector assisting people from culturally and linguistically diverse communities who are disadvantaged by our legal system, so diversity and inclusion is critical to the work that I do. I am constantly striving to break down the barriers that make it difficult for people to access legal help. This means ensuring our services are targeted, culturally-appropriate and being approachable as well as accessible. A lot of people, particularly newly arrived migrants or refugees don’t even know community legal centres exist. Some people don’t seek help from a lawyer as they think it is too expensive, or they think they don’t need legal advice for their matter, but it’s important that people understand their rights and legal options. No one should be disadvantaged because they can’t afford a lawyer, don’t speak English or aren’t aware of their rights.

Have you ever faced challenges in your professional career from others because of your identity and if so, how were you able to overcome that?

I have faced my share of challenges in my professional career as a young woman of colour. Unfortunately, it is not an uncommon experience to be confronted by prejudice and discrimination, often because of people’s biases or assumptions about you because of who you are or where you live. I have always been opened to learning and making mistakes. You should never be afraid to ask for help – I asked a lot of questions when I first started my career, and still do! Over the years, I also gained the confidence to challenge the status quo. Just because things have always been done a certain way, doesn’t mean that should continue. People with different lived experiences contribute unique perspectives and ideas. It can be refreshing and spark the type of out-of-the-box thinking needed for creativity and innovation across any industry. I feel fortunate that throughout my career, I have been able to demonstrate my competence and capabilities with outcomes. Actions speak louder than words. Talk is cheap and not everyone is afforded the opportunity to be heard. It’s important to show your worth, and in my personal experience, sometimes this means working twice as hard just to be seen. Also, I only recently embraced my identity as a Vietnamese-Australian woman as an advantage rather than an impediment that stops me from smashing the proverbial ceilings foisted on me.


Don’t be afraid to embrace your identity as a hyphenated Australia. Australia is becoming an increasingly diverse society and what it means to be Australian is ever-evolving. Your cultural heritage is an asset to this country. In 2021 and beyond, we should be moving from mere tolerance to cultivating our cultural diversity as central to our national identity. Young people are pivotal to that shift.

Want to follow and support TU LE?

Instagram: @therealtule

About the diversity champion:

Tu is a lawyer, community worker, advocate, and organiser who grew up in South-West Sydney. She works in the community legal sector as a community development manager and solicitor assisting CALD communities, particularly male perpetrators and victim-survivors of domestic and family violence. She is also the co-founder of YCollab and a Youth Leader at the Vietnamese Buddhist Youth Association. Tu is a second-generation Australian-born woman with Vietnamese heritage, with her family coming to Australia as refugees after the Vietnam war. She lives to serve her local community and improve the lives of others; to make our society fairer and more equitable, especially for the most vulnerable members in her community. As a beneficiary of the public education system, Tu understands the life-changing significance of a good education and decent employment opportunities can have on individuals and their families.

Image description: Tu Le is looking at the camera while sitting on a bench, wearing a red jumper

PEOPLE: Artistic Engineer sharing the art of Storytelling, Public Speaking and Social skills

Arman Chowdhury is an artistic engineer storytelling his experiences with public speaking, social skills, EQ, creativity & level up mentality. Armani Chowdhury is a Twitter legend, sharing regular lessons and wisdom on leveling up and creating a firm lifestyle. Here is the story!

Can you tell our readers what a normal day looks like for Arman Chowdhury?

A normal day for me is broken down into a 4-step framework. The framework is: Consume, create, market, meditate. Let me share what each of these 4 means.

  • Consume is inputting information. This is when I spend time learning. I may read a book, consume some of my old content to see how I can improve, or watch a documentary.
  • Creating is when I output information. Since the ArmaniTalks company focuses on creating short stories, I aim to spend each day creating something. It can be a blog, tweet, YouTube video etc.
  • Marketing is when I put my content out in the public domain. Content is not beneficial if it is not published. So, I follow a strict publishing schedule on all my media channels.
  • Meditating is when I turn of all technology & stimulants to center my mind on a particular target. This allows me to stay sharp, focused, and creative without feeling overwhelmed.

These 4 are my daily tasks.

How important is diversity to you and in the work that you do?

Diversity & inclusion play a large role in the work that I do. Most of my readers & viewers are from around the world. This allows me to interact & engage with different members who are looking to improve their soft skills. 

Also, I often work with freelancers from over the world on tasks like graphic design, audio cleanup, and web development services. The talent of these services come from Morocco, Russia, India and other countries.

I believe diversity plays a big role in running a sustainable business. This also requires adaptive communication skills. The ability to talk to different groups of people is a skill & is important to learn because cultures communicate in different ways. 

Have you ever faced challenges in your professional career from others because of your identity and if so, how were you able to overcome that?

Great question. Yes, I have faced challenges because of my identity. In the ArmaniTalks business, I often public speak for events. It used to be difficult to speak at events because I was viewed to be too young by the other speakers. The public speaking field is a knowledge-based field. 

Therefore, someone who is older is given more priority to take the stage over a young person. Young adults can often face ageism depending on the industry they operate in. 

The way that I overcame this was by emceeing events instead. The emcee is the person who introduces the speakers, entertains the audience & keeps the event flowing at a gentle pace. 

Where the speakers give an in-depth talk, the emcee serves as the glue guy.

As I built more emceeing experience, I made connections with other speakers and event planners. These connections allowed me to host events myself & speak more often on stage. 


My advice for young people who are aiming to achieve their goals but feel afraid because they are a minority is to focus on what is within your grasp. When others see you progressing, it will be difficult to ignore you. 

Whatever that skillset may be: 

Speaking, coding, writing skills etc. 

By focusing on your craft & aiming to get better every day, you create a body of work. Having a portfolio allows you to have leverage no matter which field you are in. 

Also, showing that you can overcome challenges despite being a minority does wonders for your confidence! It instills a victor mindset and allows you to thrive under pressure.

Once you see the results for yourself, that’s when you’ll want to keep moving towards your goals. Good people try to improve 10% at a time, great people try to improve 1% at a time. The small 1% changes add up, build consistency & will create momentum for you in no time.

Want to follow and support ?

Great interview! To stay updated with my work, be sure to check out Within this website, you’ll see a collection of my books, blogs, podcasts, YouTube videos, social media, and much more! I routinely discuss topics on public speaking, storytelling, emotional resilience, creativity, social skills & mindset. You will learn how to articulate your ideas with clarity & confidence. Thank you very much!

About the diversity champion:

(he/him) My name is Arman Chowdhury, the founder of ArmaniTalks. I am a Toastmaster, Engineer & Storyteller. The purpose of this company is to help shy entrepreneurs & professionals build confidence thru communication skills. This brand provides short stories to help you become more articulate in expressing your ideas. During my journey, I have served as the External Vice President of Toastmasters, Communications Chair in BNI & became the Author of the Level Up Mentality. June 2018, ArmaniTalks Media was born. Since then, the brand has helped millions of people around the world level up their mindset & communication skills.

Image description: Arman is speaking at an event with a microphone whilst wearing a black suit

PEOPLE: Inspiring the Multicultural Youth Affairs Network in New South Wales

The Multicultural Youth Affairs Network in New South Wales would not be the same without Hannah Lai. Leading from the front, hear from her experiences in leading one of Australia’s most active multicultural youth organisations and the challenges that come with that. Here’s the story!

Can you tell our readers d what a normal day looks like for Hannah Lai? 

I really feel like I’ve got the best job. I help coordinate the Youth Ambassador Program at MYAN NSW with some fantastic folks. 

So, typical day (working from home)…

I like waking up early-ish so I have time to myself before I give time to other things. Often, I’ll stretch or do a workout. Get the blood flowing, you know!? 

Once I start work it is a mix of admin, event planning, individual support and connecting with other services. Relationship building is a huge part of work, which is awesome!

When I finish work, I like to go for a walk with my partner to transition from work mode to home mode. I also love being outdoors – camping, hiking, surfing.

How important is diversity to you and in the work that you do?

I’m passionate about people feeling like they belong. It took me a long time to get comfortable with myself, but I’m here now and I want others to feel like they belong here too!

People should feel welcome when they come to Australia. They should feel welcome not because they’re ‘diverse’, ‘deserving’ or ‘resilient’… but because they’re human. 

Working with young people, whether they’ve been through a refugee or a migrant experience, is ultimately about walking with people as they grow their confidence in who they are. Walking with, not walking over. 

Have you ever faced challenges in your professional career from others because of your identity and if so, how were you able to overcome that?

When I was younger, I didn’t see my culture and my lived experience as an asset. Now I do. One of the challenges I faced was that I doubted myself. I thought I hadn’t lived in Australia long enough to apply for certain jobs.

Now I know, my lived experience is one of my biggest strengths. If an organisation chooses not to hire me because of what I AM, I don’t want to work there.


Find people you feel home with, people you feel safe with. People you don’t have to ‘explain’ your identity to. 

When you find those people, nurture those relationships. They are your support system.

And don’t forget about your physical health because your body is there for the long run! 

Oh, and that first year of full-time work is going to be HARD. You are not alone. It will get better. And yes, majority of society is working those super long hours. It’s weird, isn’t it?

Want to follow and support HANNAH ?

@myannsw is where I work

My LinkedIn is Hannah Lai 

About the diversity champion:

Hannah (she/her) is passionate about belonging, cultural identity and what it means to feel at home. She works with young people of migrant and refugee backgrounds at the Multicultural Youth Affairs Network (MYAN NSW). Prior to this she was a caseworker with unaccompanied minors, people seeking asylum and families exiting detention. When she’s not working, you might find her learning a random hobby, camping or playing a board game. 

Image description: Hannah is looking at the camera while wearing a blue scarf and light blue shirt

PEOPLE: PHD Candidate striving towards elevating inclusion for nonverbal communication and individuals with diverse cognition

Can you tell our readers what a normal day looks like for Ilianna Ginnis

For me, no two days are alike. I work and engage with diverse individuals with a range of needs and as a designer, I find that I need to be flexible and attentive in order to respond to diversities. The individuals I support and design with have intellectual disabilities and diverse cognitive capacities, therefore, design takes on a role beyond aesthetics and begins to become an advocate and a communication partner for individuals with communication and cognition diversities.

Communication is a very important part of my day. The people I mostly work with are non-verbal and minimally verbal communicators who utilise assistive communication and alternative augmentative communication (AAC). I communicate with so many different types of people, individuals who use picture exchange communication, gestures, facial expressions, objects which have unique and specific meaning to them and so much more. Growing up with a sibling who was non-verbal, it was evident architecture does not meet the needs of people who are neurodiverse and use alternative forms of communication. I wanted to change this, so I dedicate every day of my life as a designer and an advocate to ensure people who are non-verbal are heard and represented within the design. I am motivated every day by my younger sister Michelle and all the other non-verbal communicators. I want to see a world where communication access is met in the built environment. 

I am currently a PhD candidate at Monash University as well as an interior architectural designer within an architecture firm in Melbourne. 

I also assist my younger sister every day, as she is my ‘why’.

How important is diversity to you and in the work that you do?

I grew up very close to my younger sister Michelle who has an intellectual disability, and this enabled me to see the world from this unique and diverse lens. Growing up with a sibling like Michelle has been amazing, she has positively impacted my life. Through Michelle, I was able to learn diverse forms of communication and interaction. 

Being that I was one of Michelle’s main caregivers, I would see the challenges Michelle experienced in her environment. Michelle is additionally a non-verbal communicator, which makes her experiences in private and public spaces more challenging, as space does not accommodate diverse communication needs. Space did not accommodate to her needs. For instance, spaces were too bright, or sensory rooms were controlled by adults with no disability, therefore, limiting her engagement with space further. 

I adored looking after Michelle so much I studied to become a disability support worker. This introduced me to even more incredible people like Michelle, who too, was non-verbal and minimally verbal. These experiences further exposed me to the problematic sides of architecture. We experienced a variety of spaces together, including sensory rooms, quiet spaces, shopping centres, supermarkets and even parks. They all had challenges that restricted Michelle and the other non-verbal communicators. 

I didn’t like the way architecture was excluded, so I decided I wanted to make a difference. Spaces designed for non-verbal communication, are designed in their absence excluding them from design, therefore, design outcomes don’t respond to their needs and desires. I studied Interior Architecture at Monash University and completed my honours in developing spaces for no-verbal and minimally verbal communicators. When studying, I saw nothing was developed within architecture practices for the inclusion of non-verbal individuals or even individuals with diverse cognition. 

This has led me here, to begin a PhD within the Design Health Collab at Monash University, creating systems for designers to learn from non-verbal and minimally verbal individuals and consider them in the development of design  

Have you ever faced challenges in your professional career from others because of your identity and if so, how were you able to overcome that?

Not so many challenges with my identity, more so that architecture still does not meet diverse cognition and communication. 

Michelle is my why and the reason I dedicated myself to this work. Growing up close, I was able to see the challenges she still experiences in space. Michelle is my why and the reason I want to make space more accessible to her communication needs. 

I was surprised, as I have grown up around non-verbal communication and my reality consisted of Michelle and children like her. So, for me, Michelle and all the other people were my audiences. However, in architecture systems are designed in a way that excludes diverse forms of communication and priorities spoken language. So, by the time I graduated, there has been no change within architecture in moving towards diverse communication inclusion.

By designing a home for people who are non-verbal, this was my attempt to reveal the potentials and possibilities design has. The home was designed purely by non-verbal individuals, as the designer, I was simply the facilitator, responding to their diverse needs and desires to make the home accommodate their needs. 

Michelle has faced challenges, particularly within spaces. Some of these include spaces being poorly lit, too loud, and over sensory stimulated, claustrophobic, poor circulation, and layout as well as voids to reflect the lower level. In addition to this, public spaces do not cater for diverse communication needs. For example, not all parks have the inclusion of diverse communication and shopping centres do not cater for the needs of communication disabilities. 

These challenges are ongoing for people with intellectual disabilities who are non-verbal and minimally verbal. 

My research aims to create a design process that takes into consideration the unique communication needs of non-verbal individuals. By doing so, designers will include non-verbal individuals and learn from these encounters to include them in the decision making of spaces. The desired result would be for spaces to being to produce outcomes that are empathetic to diverse needs as well as allow communication access for people who are non -verbal. 


My message would be to be yourself and embrace your diversity as they make you powerful. By empowering each other in creating inclusion, we can create a place with diversity that is recognised.

Just because someone can’t speak, doesn’t mean they have nothing to say. I am working for a future where people like Michelle will be heard and where design responds to their needs and desires, as well as their human rights.

Want to follow and support ?

Instagram: @Ginnis_Design 


About the diversity champion:

Ilianna Ginnis is an Interior Architectural Designer and a current PhD Candidate at Monash University. Ilianna is also a caregiver for persons with disabilities. Ilianna prides herself on designing with consciousness, creating interventions that extend the ordinary intentions of architecture, multi-disciplinary and sensory design for people with neurodevelopmental disabilities. Ilianna maintains a focus on communication, especially behavioral and non-verbal/ minimally verbal, to create design processes which are inclusive to neurodiversity and communication access. She aims to achieve empathy by exploring interior architecture with a fundamental focus on intellectual and neurodevelopmental disability. Her PhD speculates how design processes consider persons with severe and profound intellectual disability and non-verbal communication, allowing designers to integrate users into complex processes as narrators of their own experience.

Image description: Ilianna is looking at the camera wearing a white shirt

VIEWS: CEO of CBM Australia on disability inclusion in the pandemic recovery

One of the wonderful things about my role as CEO at CBM Australia is that every day is different! I focus on raising awareness of the needs and rights of people with disabilities in the poorest communities, who are amongst the most marginalised in our world. Engaging CBM supporters, the wider community, parliamentarians, government, and business in the fight to end the cycle of poverty and disability means sharing the powerful stories of real people and the positive change that is possible when we work together.

I also love providing leadership that unlocks potential and seek to enable our staff and volunteers who are so committed to our mission.

Diversity and inclusion is at the heart of our work at CBM Australia. People with disabilities are often invisible and as a result, routinely excluded from health, education, livelihood opportunities and the chance to fully participate in their communities.  Poverty and disability go hand in hand, creating a cycle of inequality, isolation and exclusion that leads to the most extreme forms of poverty.

CBM’s disability advocacy approach amplifies the voices of those we seek to serve. It brings the voices of people with disabilities to strengthen the systems that support them. This means that people with disabilities and their organisations inform our work about their own needs and the best ways to enable access to education, health or jobs.  CBM builds the skills of people with disabilities to bring their perspectives when advocating for change. Inclusion in community organisations and government is strengthened by changing attitudes, advising on inclusive practises and policies and ensuring that disability champions are supported.

My experience as a young, female journalist in the 1980s was one of proving I was able to do the job as well as male colleagues. While there were many times in the initial months in my first job I thought about resigning, I stayed focused on telling the story of others and learning my craft which enabled me to grasp a great opportunity 18 months later. That early experience laid the foundation for the feminist leadership approach I bring.

Across the globe, around 93 million to 150 million children live with a disability. These children are less likely to go to school, and are more likely to face stigma and discrimination, but it does not have to be that way.  Working toward full social inclusion means we are all enriched and benefit  benefit from the immense skills, value and potential that these young people hold. 

My message to any youth with disabilities or facing any form of discrimination is to treasure the enormous capacity you have, and to not ever let anyone underestimate you. I’ve seen young people who have defied the most incredible odds in remote parts of places like Ethiopia and the Philippines to be recognised as role models in their communities.    

Want to follow and support jane edge ?

If you would like to contribute to our efforts to build a more inclusive world or find out more about what we do – please visit 

Together, we can build a society where all are included.

About the diversity champion:

Image description:

PEOPLE: Liverpool Councillor leading grassroots change in South-West Sydney

Charishma Kaliyanda is a councillor at Liverpool City Council and Community Engagement Officer at Headspace, a non-profit organisation for youth mental health established by the Australian Government. We speak to her about what these roles mean to her and the change she has seen in South-West Sydney. Here’s the story!

Can you tell our readers what a normal day looks like for Charishma Kaliyanda? 

Oh, God. I think I’d start off by saying there’s no such thing as a normal day, so for counsellors, some may be retired and so their counsel work is kind of like their sole focus or they sort of almost can treat it as a bit of a full-time job for other counsellors. They may have a main job or a main occupation, or they may run their own business or something like that. So council’s commitments will definitely then kind of sort of identify what they do for in terms of their usual day. So for me personally, Monday to Thursday, I work in my kind of my main role or my day job, if you can call it that. And so on Fridays is the day that I usually have allocated to kind of work on council projects and other types of things. And on those days, I can have, you know, a number of different meetings, whether it’s with residents or different members of council staff or other partners or stakeholders around different issues. So to give you a snapshot of what that might look like. I might start off the morning with plopping down to a local café or, you know, a local business to have a chat with a resident about with, you know, with the business person about an issue that they’re facing, which could be related to development. It could be related to neighbours, it could be related to their plans for expanding their business and potential sources of council support for that.

I could, you know, from there, I could stop by and speak to a resident about an issue that they’re having in terms of, you know, whether it’s infrastructure that they want to see in their neighbourhood issues with a particular park asking for, you know, a pavement infrastructure, those sorts of things to be implemented in their neighbourhood. One of the most interesting meetings I’ve had in the last few weeks is to pop out and speak to a resident around having sort of informal bike tracks in a neighbourhood so that, you know, the young people in that neighborhood could, you know, actually have something to do during lockdown? Obviously, more regional and broader facilities were closed for the better part of two to three months, and so lots of local kids had to set up infrastructure in their local neighbourhoods. But that created a conflict because council has a duty of care to make sure that any anything that’s set up, whether it’s formal or not, is safe minimises risk to the community and therefore it responds to complaints and things like that. So, you know, just basically where that had a chat to them got a sense of what was going on from their perspective and was then able to come back and facilitate a meeting with council staff in both environment and community and culture to get a process around where to from this set up.

How important is diversity to you and in the work that you do?

I think it’s very, very much at the heart of what I see a counselor’s role as because, you know, for most councils, you have between nine and 15 representatives of sometimes hundreds of thousands of residents. And whilst as a, you know, as a group, as a council, you may not necessarily be able to meet each and every single constituents specific perspective, or you may not necessarily be able to kind of, you know, have the same lived experience as them. Diversity and inclusion means that as many different types of perspectives and lived experiences and ways of thinking and being are incorporated into the decisions that are made ultimately by that council. So the role that council that you know, a group of councillors has on setting the vision and the direction of a city for up to 10 to 20 years into the future is huge, right? When you look at some of the challenges that some of our residents in Liverpool are facing now. Those decisions were made 10 years ago. They weren’t made in the last couple of years. They were made 10 years ago and they were made by the people who were sitting around that table at that particular time. So in terms of the people who are sitting around that table, if they are a diverse group of people and I mean in terms of cultural experiences, age experiences with ability or disability, I mean, in terms of gender and sexuality, we need to be able to get as close to a cross-section of our broader community as possible so that we can account for those decisions and the impact that those decisions have on our community. Because if you don’t understand the impact that the policy and the decisions that you make have on our community, that’s when you have people falling through the gaps.

Have you ever faced challenges in your professional career from others because of your identity and if so, how were you able to overcome that?

I would say for me personally, one of the more challenging things is sort of balancing being one of the people we’ve speaking for people and it’s always going to be a dynamic balance because it no situation is going to be exactly the same. So you can’t use the same formula again and again. So you’re going to have to wait way things up as it comes. And so I personally, my value is very much around sort of equity and equality, and I I don’t see myself as part of a hierarchy with residents or with other people or those sorts of things. And so, you know, when that when you then have situations where people sort of like, oh, you know, counsellor or this or that I personally feel a bit uncomfortable with standing on ceremony a little bit. However, there are times where the elected role that you have calls on you to make decisions and actually kind of represent your community and that sort of thing. And so when it comes to being taken seriously in some of those forums I’ve had to it’s been an evolution in terms of finding my voice, finding how I’m able to relate to the other people that I’m part of that decision making collective with because we do come from different ideological perspectives. We do come from different political backgrounds and that can sometimes cause preconceptions or tension between people. So if I can, if I can do one thing differently about my term, something I would probably have done in sort of the first couple of months is actively seek out my counsellor colleagues and kind of establish a bit of a a bit of a conversation with them around how they work, what motivates them and just get a foundation of a relationship.

I think for a lot of people, that can be a very daunting thing, and that was very much a daunting thing for me. So I felt quite judged in some respects by some of those people, whether it was on the basis of my age or my background or my gender, or, you know, or like my political affiliations. I felt that I felt that they perceived me in a particular way because of those sorts of things. However, in kind of reflecting, I think it was a bit of perception on both of that ends. So to sort of, you know, come at that that relationship with a slightly different approach would be something I would have done differently. That’s it. It’s not just about my council colleagues. Sometimes I can be in conferences, I can be in other meetings and things like that where I where people think that I’m a staff member rather than a rather than a councillor, which is kind of interesting because it’s usually the dude in the suit that gets mistaken for the person who holds authority or the person that kind of is the is the decision-maker in that in that context. And so going back to that initial response I had, it’s very much that tension between, you know, you do you are the response, you are the responsible decision-maker. So you need to own that and you need to kind of put yourself forward in that way. But also like, you know, standing on ceremony and kind of like having that hierarchy, that traditional hierarchy is not something that comes naturally to me.


I would say, although it seems really challenging to reach out because the worst, the worst thing that someone can say to you is No. I’m sorry, not the way I think they. I’m sorry, I don’t know if I would call it the worst thing, but like the the the only the only bad outcome or the only kind of negative outcome that can come from you asking the question if someone says no right, but for every know you get, you might get five other yeses. So just in the process of reaching out, making some of those connections and just, you know, starting a conversation with someone, you might go down a path that you totally didn’t didn’t imagine. And I feel like this is true, not just of young people who might be interested in politics or representation, but it’s true of young people who are interested in a whole broad range of different fields. I work with a lot of young people in my day job. And so in health, and so something that I commonly speak with them about is Gen Z are amazing at calling out people for poor behavior. And yet, you know, the scariest thing for them is making an appointment with a GP. Right. Like, it’s this it’s this really kind of fascinating, I find it so fascinating, fascinating dichotomy of being so like bad ass and empowered in one sense. And yet on the other sense like something previous generations sort of take for granted and like, Oh, this is super easy is a real challenge for Gen Z. So I feel like although it can, it can feel uncomfortable. Sometimes the most rewarding thing that you can do, actually.

Let me let me go back a step in terms of like summarizing all of this precursor. So in terms of the advice, sometimes the most rewarding thing that you can do is pushing through discomfort. So if maybe it’s better to frame it that way. Okay. Because like and just in terms of like like fleshing that out a little bit is very much around, like acknowledging that yet sometimes all the time reaching out to people can be like, really uncomfortable. It can be something that doesn’t feel natural to you. And that’s fine to acknowledge all of that, but then weigh it up against something that you’re genuinely interested or passionate in. This is why whenever like, whether it’s on LinkedIn or emails or whatnot, I genuinely try and prioritize responding to young people or champion causes that young people championing causes that young people come to me with. Because I love when young people in our community have thoughts, have ideas, and have things that they really want to say different and then act on it. And I want to support that as much as possible. So just like me, there are so many other people who have a very similar mindset and, you know, not everyone. That’s not to say everyone that you reach out to is going to be like that, but the chances of someone actually kind of going, Oh, hey, like what you’re saying is, you know, is really like a valid perspective, and I want to learn more. The chances of reaching out to someone like that is much higher than reaching out to someone who’s going to be like, Hey, look, sorry, I have different priorities.

Want to follow and support Charishma Kaliyanda ?

I’m probably most active on Instagram and Twitter, so I have to like I have my kind of combined Instagram, which is basically like bits and pieces of different parts of my life and things like that. And then I have my council, Instagram, which is very much around like what I do on council and the things related to local community stuff. 

–         Instagram – @ckaliyanda + @cllrkaliyanda

–         Twitter – @ckaliyanda

About the diversity champion:

(she/her) As a registered occupational therapist and elected representative, I am passionate about working with individuals and communities to fulfil their potential and engage in the activities they want. I have over 10 years of experience working with young people, particularly in the university sector. Currently, I work closely with the Youth Reference Group to further the aims of headspace – the youth mental health initiative. I build relationships with various internal and external stakeholders to facilitate access to help for young people experiencing distress in south-west Sydney. As an elected councillor, my focus is on balancing the growth of Liverpool’s population with appropriate social, economic, cultural and physical infrastructure. I want to ensure that residents have an effective advocate to improve their quality of life into the future.

Image description: Charishma is smiling at the camera with a coffee in hand, wearing a pink blazer


Local indigenous business-woman, Julie Okely, of Dilkara, is set to face 30 of Australia’s top CEOs and business leaders, at the 2021 Global Sister Pitch.

Not-for-profit organisation, Global Sisters, will host the third national Sister Pitch. The online event will see local businesswoman, Julie Okely, a proud Kamilaroi woman, face a panel of high profile CEOs, founders, and senior executives to pitch her Indigenous range of hair products, Dilkara Essence of Australia. Here’s the story!

Can you tell our readers what a normal day looks like for Julie Okley? 

I love my “normal” days because they offer so many opportunities to my businesses along with connections with family and friends. A usual day starts at 8.00am (which to some seems a little late but I am a self-confessed night owl) with a black coffee and time with my two Pomeranian puppies. It then leads into getting ready for the day ahead. I am usually in my office at 9.00 checking emails and compiling the to-do list for the day. By 9.30 I am starting to see my Dilkara Hair clients, as I have a salon built into my house. 

I have had this business for over 20 years now, and many of my clients are long time customers and I have seen many new babies grow to graduate high school, even University. I am lucky enough to have my office in close proximity to the salon, so I am able to work in the office whilst my clients are having colours and we chat and enjoy the quiet time!

It is not unusual for me to work in the salon for at least a 10-12 hour day. I tend to prepare meals during the processing times and I am an amazing multitasker that can also do the odd household chore or prepping the many online orders that need to be shipped out via our courier company for the next day, whilst I am making a cappuccino at the same time!

At the end of the day, I have usually had online meetings with my web design team, graphic designers and our social media guru Dish, who works remotely for Dilkara. It isn’t unusual for me to place several orders with manufacturers to maintain a consistent level of Dilkara hair, skin and hygiene products – that are made here in Australia. My pet hate is when the stock sells out and I need to have a slight delay for new orders coming in.

I often have phone conversations with my business team in Melbourne to see where Dilkara can be seen next, and focus on the growth of the business.

At other times, I can be found in conversations about my new book being made into a TV Series, with my co-author Simone Hamilton or our TV Production company based in Sydney.

An important part of my day is organising all of my paperwork and financials for my bookkeeper. This helps me see the financial health of my business and assists me in understanding where things need to be changed or added.

I usually end the day with a nice relax and a mental breakdown of the day, and where it went well.I love what I do, but I do find it easy to switch off when I need to, and even though I tend to have a lot of energy, I give every day it’s all (unless it’s my day off and I love Netflix time!)

How important is diversity to you and in the work that you do?

I have been in the Hairdressing industry for over 30 years of my life and I think when we talk of hairdressing, diversity and inclusion immediately comes to mind.

I find this topic comes with a sense of normality in this industry, as we love anything that its outside the norm, and we want, and need diversity and inclusion in our industry.

Creativity conjures up thoughts of diversity and feelings of expression. We showcase our ability to show our true personalities through fashion, design and colour! Just look at the kaleidoscope of colours available to utilise on any colour chart. Last week I did two amazing expressive colours that brought out the wonderful personalities of my clients using orange, black, purple and pink.

Have you ever faced challenges in your professional career from others because of your identity and if so, how were you able to overcome that?

A challenge that I faced in my professional career because of my identity…? That is a tough question. I think identity hasn’t really been an issue for me because I identify as a proud Aboriginal woman and I own that. It is part of who I am, so to me, it’s not a debateable topic. But on my personality…? Sure, I can sometimes come across as open and driven, sometimes to the point of being too blunt at times. I don’t apologise for that, as I honestly feel where I am coming from is a place of concern and compassion, I just don’t offer it with fluffy fairy floss.

Maybe that is the strength I derive from my heritage. There has been so many challenges for the Indigenous peoples in this country, I believe it’s a story that needs to be told and we need to remind Australians we are all in it together and we all deserve a voice. 

I don’t think it is wrong to believe in yourself and aim to do the best you can, by your own standards.


Feel special. You are unique because where you have been placed in this world. One voice has a powerful impact and I think if your voice is one for positivity, you should stand tall and focus on the positive things you bring to your community. 

Everyone is an individual and no one person is more important than another, but how you share that message can come from a place of good. Create a movement of positive change, don’t sit with conformity and hope you see amazing things comes from a lack of involvement. No one ever won watching the game.

Be kind, be true and be focused. Write up your goals and your dreams for the future and aim for them, no matter how long it takes to get there. Life is a journey and it is never a straight line with instant success. Our knowledge stems from all of the things we learn not to do – just like many entrepreneurs in our history. Find your favourite one and use their story to inspire you to achieve your dream for your own life. As they say, find someone that does it well and follow their footprint, you too will leave yours.

Oh, and never base your success story on the pigment of your skin colour. Remember a cup of tea is still a cup of tea, with or without milk.

Want to follow and support ?

Instagram: Dilkara_Australia

Facebook: Dilkara Australia

About the diversity champion:

(she/her) Julie Okely is the award-winning founder and creator of Dilkara products. She has won the 2016 NAIDOC Business Woman of the Year, Supply Nation Indigenous Businesswoman of 2017 and Winner of The best new business 2016 Canberra Women in Business Awards. In 2015, Her Canberra named her as one of the 15 Women to Watch in 2015

Image description:

PEOPLE: Finding your ‘WHY’ to achieve your goals

Yemi Penn is a fearless businesswoman and thought leader on creating your own memo, meaning ‘she’ gets to write the script of her life and she encourages others to do the same.

We speak to Yemi about what her day-to-day looks like and how she found her ‘why’ in achieving all her accolades and the many hats she continues to wear.

Here’s the story!

Can you tell our readers what a normal day looks like for Yemi Penn? 

Ha! This feels like a trick question but pre-covid and covid days vary a lot. In the spirit of manifestation, this is what my day should look like.

My alarm goes off at 4.45am, I make my 5.30am F45 class, there is an 80% chance I beast mode in that class and then I’m set up for the day. I would then head home, meditate, although I get distracted with the gram so this needs further work. I then share the contents of my day with my partner to see if we have any gaps we could fill. I get my daughter (and son) ready for school.

My day is filled with variety, the mornings are about high impact deliverables as this is where my brain is on fire. So I am either building presentations, keynotes, programs or a campaign around my next documentary. By around 1pm, I need a nap….true story, I have a nap or at least get horizontal to trick the mind and body that I’m giving it rest. I have a mini second wind around 3pm which is where I make phone calls or focus on applications and/or emails.

I do eat somewhere in between but I rarely cook. I then go for a walk before dark and figure out what my daughter will eat as she is a fussy eater, and I don’t cook so it’s ‘hit and miss’

I will watch some crap tv if I’m a little wired or I get into house renovation/building programs with my partner as we plan the build of a mini retreat for our family and extended community.

During COVID? Remove all the freedoms and no F45…..ouch

How important is diversity and inclusion to you and in the work that you do?

So important, I no longer subscribe to lip service or shallow allyship. We can no longer survive, let alone thrive in a ‘sameness’ environment. D&I is a buzz word but it is necessary, the planet is sustained by a biodiverse community. Humanity needs to wake up and understand the importance of a diverse and inclusive world. I appreciate I tick a few diversity boxes and so when I work with clients, it is important I let them know why it matters that they invited me to the table but best believe I also build my own tables because according to research and data it will take decades for equality to be a thing and that is purely on a male/female gender basis, so this doesn’t take into account culture, neuro-ability, physical ability, non-gender. The work needed is deep.

Have you ever faced challenges in your professional career from others because of your identity and if so, how were you able to overcome that?

I can’t say anyone has said something specifically to me based on the labels society give but the ‘jokes’ and ‘offensive’ (unconscious bias) comments cuts deep. I didn’t have the vocabulary or confidence back then to correct people, especially in a compassionate yet clear boundaries way. This is a skill we need to work on especially with kids who are still figuring out their identity as a human being, let alone the labels they were given.


Firstly, get clear on your goal. Noting a goal is a dream with a deadline so I invite you to dream big and often. Then put together an action plan and either find a mentor you share this with or an accountability partner, so you stay on track. It is important you think and write down ‘why’ you want to achieve these goals. This ‘why’ ideally will be so strong and rooted in your identity that you won’t ever let that dream go or worse, let your world given identity make you shrink. I personally find that when I am the ‘minority’ in a room, I imagine this superhero cape on my back and make sure I represent all marginalised groups in society even if I represent purely with my presence #blackgirlmagic

Want to follow and support yEMI?

I would love your support by following and engaging with me on my Instagram page, link below

Yemi Penn (@yemi.penn) • Instagram photos and videos

But what would really really help me and my ‘why’ is contributing towards my next documentary. $5 goes a long way as I take that as your energy and vibration to want to make the project succeed. You can learn more about the project and donate via the this link. Do We Choose the Experience Our Trauma Teaches Us? | Documentary Australia Foundation

About the diversity champion:

(she/her) Yemi Penn is a serial entrepreneur with a common thread of transformation, whether it be transforming Sydney’s rail network as an engineer, transforming physical health in her F45 gym or shifting the perspective of our minds as she supports people in creating a life that they not only want and deserve. More recently Yemi has added documentary producer to her repertoire as she shifts her core life’s purpose to raising the vibration of acknowledging and healing our individual and therefore collective trauma.

Image description: Yemi is looking at the camera wearing a yellow top

PEOPLE: Trailblazer named as a Finalist for the 2021 Women Weekly’s Women of the Future

Mannie Kaur Verma was recently named as one of six finalists for Women Weekly’s Women of the Future for 2021. That achievement speaks volumes in introducing her as our next diversity champion.

As a lawyer, public speaker and advocate, we speak to Mannie about her journey through law and advocacy and what diversity means to her. Here’s the story!

Can you tell our readers what a normal day looks like for Mannie Kaur Verma? 

Well, I would start by saying that no two days are ever the same for me. What does remain consistent is that I am woken up each day by a kiss from my three-old-son. No one in my household needs to turn an alarm on, because without fail, every day my toddler is awake by 6am and his first job of the day is to wake everyone with a kiss on the cheek. The tantrums and the fight for the TV remote, with his six-year-old sister, start soon thereafter, by which time we are all truly awake. 

My husband and I are both lawyers at Vision & Regal Group and we generally begin our workday at around 8.30am. We have the luxury and privilege of grandparents looking after our kids while we are busy with work (whether in the office or from home). A typical day at work generally entails lots of zoom meetings, lots of back-and-forth email correspondences, drafting and implementing workplace policies and constant legal research. There are regular court hearings and mediations, all via web conferencing in the current COVID-19 landscape. 

After work, on most days, I have at least one volunteer commitment that runs for about an hour, whether that’s an EMILY’s List meeting or Amnesty Australia or One Girl Org. I currently volunteer for 9 different non-profit organisations. Once that is taken care of (or sometimes during the meeting) I would feed the kids dinner (my mother-in-law usually cooks) and spend some time checking my daughter’s homework. Sometimes we cheat on weeknights and have a movie night watching an Avengers movie or something from the Harry Potter instalment. I usually dedicate time on weekends to catch up on my studies and research with Deakin University. 

How important is diversity and inclusion to you and in the work that you do?

I would call myself an intersectional feminist and therefore I do highly value diversity and inclusion. In a multicultural rich country like Australia, I think we ought to do more to promote awareness and implementation of diversity and inclusive practices. 

One way we can do this, is by placing Intersectionality at the core of our work.  We certainly apply an intersectional lens to all the work we do at Vision & Regal Group and the advocacy work that I absolutely love engaging in. 

I truly believe that there is real value in embracing our uniqueness and there is genuine strength in unity. We can achieve great success by providing an environment where individuals can bring their authentic, true selves.

Have you ever faced challenges in your professional career from others because of your identity and if so, how were you able to overcome that?

As a young, woman of colour, who practices in commercial litigation, I often encounter hostility, and this can take many forms. Sometimes it is as subtle as a judge asking at the time of announcing appearances, that Mrs Verma, do you have a counsel representing the client.  Initially in my career, this question would often intimidate me and if even I thought I was confident to appear at a Directions hearing or a mediation, I would engage a barrister just so that my client would appear stronger. There is this entrenched notion in the legal industry that the more senior lawyer you have retained, the stronger your case probably is. Race also plays a significant role.

However, now I refuse to be apologetic for my identity. I often appear at Directions hearings and mediations myself without a barrister and if faced with this question, I bravely and politely answer that no, your Honour, I am quite capable of competently representing my client. 

ADVICE FOR the youth

Don’t ever be apologetic for your identities. You are unique and that is what makes you special. Use your uniqueness to your advantage. Dig deep and find your unique value proposition. What is it about you that makes you stand out from the crowd? And once you have found it, embrace it, work on it, and use it to push for real, meaningful change in our communities. 

Until we stop trying to fit the moulds created by the biases entrenched in our societies and institutions, we will not emerge from the tyranny of the oppressors. 

Want to follow and support mannie?

Feel free to reach out to me via my website or I have very recently joined twitter (I know it’s a bit late) and my handle is @MannieVerma

About the diversity champion:

(she/her) Hi there, my name is Mannie and I am an Indian-born-Australian. A Lawyer. An Advocate. A Wife. And the most rewarding title – A Mother to two beautiful children. As a Lawyer, I feel tremendous gratification in empowering my clientele, particularly young women of diverse backgrounds, to fight for their rights. This may include demanding a respectful relationship, employee entitlements or justice in a dispute. I appreciate that I am in a fortunate and privileged position where I can advocate for people who do not understand our complex legal system or who are not in a position to fight for their basic rights. As a young woman of colour, I am passionate about advocating and empowering local communities to address the issues affecting young girls, girls from diverse cultural backgrounds and bringing these issues to the attention of key decision-makers.

Image description: Mannie is smiling at the camera wearing a bright garment with a grey background

PEOPLE: Doctor, Lawyer, Disability Advocate and Researcher. Role model.

Dr. Dinesh Palipana is a leader.

We were simultaneously honoured and blown away by the inspirational story that Dr. Dinesh shared with our team at ECE. Here’s the story!

Can you tell our readers what a normal day looks like for you? 

My days are highly variable. I work between the emergency department of the Gold Coast University Hospital, our research lab at Griffith University, the Disability Royal Commission and a number of other extremely rewarding things. Our emergency department is the busiest in the country. If I am working in the emergency department, I will generally get up about 3.5 hours before work. This is because it takes awhile to get ready due to the spinal cord injury. Well eating breakfast for example, I will attend to things like email and life admin. I’ll organise my calendar then as well. After that, on my way to work, I like to use it as a bit of chill out time to listen to music. However, I might take some phone calls then as well. At work, we will crack on with the business of an emergency department! The drive home from work is generally chill out time. After I get home, I’ll have dinner, shower, then crash.

What role does diversity and inclusion play in the work that you do?

It’s critically important. If the institutions that I worked in didn’t have a focus on inclusion, I wouldn’t be able to work. It’s that simple. But, none of it has come from laws, policies, or guidelines. All of it has come from inclusive attitudes. In my experience, attitudes are the biggest barriers. Attitudes are also the biggest enables. I’ve experienced both in my journey. I’m lucky to have some pretty amazing people in my life that are enablers.

Have you ever faced challenges in your professional career from others because of your identity and if so, how were you able to overcome that?

Definitely. The interesting thing is, until this year, I completely forgot that I was a migrant. I did a large part of growing up in Byron Bay. We went there as soon as we arrived in Australia. Byron Bay was an inclusive place. No one asked me where I was from. No one cared. We all lived together in happiness regardless of a huge socioeconomic spectrum. Therefore, being a migrant has rarely been front of mind. I’ve just felt human and Australian. I truly feel like we live in the lucky country.

The spinal cord injury is a different story. I experienced many barriers from attitudes due to it. I was nearly denied employment because of it. Senior doctors within our hospital, ironically from arguably one of the least physical specialties, said that they “don’t want someone with a spinal cord injury in the department”. A supervisor of the junior doctors said that I should leave clinical medicine to able-bodied people and not take their jobs.

I ignored them. At the end of the day, they can say what they want, but they are not going to the be the ones at the end of the road holding account of my life. It’ll be me. So, I kept going. Again, I was lucky enough to have a lot of supportive people. I celebrate them every day.


Surround yourself with people that celebrate you. Embrace everyone yourself. Don’t take an exclusionary approach. Don’t take up labels like black or white. We are all human. Be the change that you want to see.

Trade anger for compassion. Use challenges to grow. Energise yourself from frustrations. Most of all, remember, this is your life. These are your dreams. Don’t let anyone stop you.

Want to follow and support Dr. Dinesh?




About the diversity champion:

(he/him) Dinesh was the first quadriplegic medical intern in Queensland and the second person to graduate medical school with quadriplegia in Australia. Dinesh is a doctor, lawyer, disability advocate, and researcher. Halfway through medical school, he was involved in a motor vehicle accident that caused a cervical spinal cord injury. Dinesh has completed an Advanced Clerkship in Radiology at the Harvard University. As a result of his injury and experiences, Dinesh has been an advocate for inclusivity. He is a founding member of Doctors with Disabilities Australia. Dinesh works in the emergency department at the Gold Coast University Hospital. He is a senior lecturer at the Griffith University and adjunct research fellow at the Menzies Health Institute of Queensland. Dinesh is a researcher in spinal cord injury. He is a doctor for the Gold Coast Titans physical disability rugby team. Dinesh is a senior advisor to the Disability Royal Commission. Dinesh was the Gold Coast Hospital and Health Service’s Junior Doctor of the Year in 2018. He was awarded the Medal of the Order of Australia in 2019. He was the third Australian to be awarded a Henry Viscardi Achievement Award. Dinesh was the Queensland Australian of the Year for 2021.

Image description: Dinesh is smiling at the camera with a blue scrub top with a stethoscope around his shoulders

VIEW: Learning on the job is more valuable than formal education in fast-paced industries

Nikki Hamilton started her own marketing consultancy, Seedling Digital, under a year ago with no formal qualifications yet is succeeding beyond all her expectations. With a baby just over one, a commitment to constant learning, and a dedication to building beautiful brands with meaning, Nikki is a driven leader and passionate about helping businesses grow and thrive.

In this interview, Nikki shares the ups and downs of starting a business, the challenges she’s faced along the way and her advice to other small business owners and entrepreneurs.

  • What made you decide to go out on your own and start your own business? 

This one was a bit of a journey, with a few bumps in the road for me! I’ll try to keep it snappy!

I started my career as a teacher after completing a degree. After teaching in New Zealand for a year, I decided to move to Canada to chase snow, where I met my now husband. We stayed in a little town called Fernie for three years and I laid the foundations for my first business, making natural, vegan, skincare products.

We moved back to Sydney together, and I went all-in on the business, but after a while realized it wasn’t for me. I loved the marketing side, but the day to day management and production was just not my jam. However, I learnt a tonne, and had great success with marketing the product and building a great social media following in a short space of time.

So, I sold the business, but took that springboard and everything I’d learned and got a job in the corporate world as a Marketing Coordinator for a financial services company.

Throughout my time there I thrived, receiving a number of promotions and becoming more and more specialized in the area of digital marketing. I was constantly upskilling with short courses and development in the evenings and weekends. I primarily worked in the areas of website design / development / management, social media marketing, and email direct marketing. I loved my time in this role and am extremely grateful for the experience in a corporate space. I feel it really allowed me to develop a voice, gain exposure to all areas of marketing, build confidence, learn to work with stakeholders, take criticism constructively and develop a polish you don’t get elsewhere.

After over two and a half years with this company, I learnt I was pregnant. I was in discussions to have my contract extended again and decided to do ‘the right thing’ and let them know about the unexpected tiny human brewing in my belly. Unfortunately, I was told shortly after this that my contract wouldn’t be renewed. I was absolutely devastated to say the least. I remember ugly sobbing through a wad of tissues with the phone on mute to HR. It was one of the hardest times of my life, personally, professionally and financially. I decided to end my contract early, as I didn’t want to stay with a company who could let a woman go at 7 months pregnant! This would have left me ineligible for any government maternity support, and I didn’t fancy my chances of finding another job that close to my due date.

I got another job to tide me over, and took a big step back in terms of pay, responsibility and job satisfaction, and dropping my hours down to around half. It was one of the hardest times of my life. I was also battling with HG (hyperemesis gravidarum) which meant vomiting up to 50 times a day, which was less than ideal!

Throughout the second half of my pregnancy, I decided to refocus my energy, and put this into something positive. I spent a lot of time working on my mindset, setting goals, manifesting and trying to build something that would suit me better than a corporate role.

I wanted to build something where I wasn’t reliant on anyone else, something where I could utilise my skills and hustle as the basis for success. Something where I loved my work, I loved my clients, and I was able to make a difference in the success of other businesses. I wanted to make more money than I made in my corporate role, and have flexibility in my hours to work around my new baby.

By the way, I’ve succeeded in everything I wanted!

  • Were there any areas or skill-sets where you didn’t feel confident? How did you go about filling those gaps? 

Absolutely – a lot! As a woman in tech, I at times feel overwhelmed and over my head! It’s such a male-dominated industry, but I just keep on going and keep on growing. Google is my best friend – there’s nothing you can’t learn from Google with the right search term and a bit of time!

However, I’m a big fan of getting the distilled version, from experts in their field where possible. I’ve spent a lot of money on ecourses this year. My favourite thing is learning, and I’m a big believer that investment in my education, even through non-traditional routes will pay me back in dividends. I also love that as a business owner, I can direct where that money is spent, and I love supporting other women in business offering up their knowledge.

  • What’s your view on the role of formal education and training in the current world of work, particularly in your field? 

My view on this is likely contentious, but I’m of the opinion that it’s not necessary! Particularly in my field. I’ve actively encouraged other women to not invest in formal education, and instead to put their time into learning on the job, completing short courses or finding a mentor.

The nature of my work is so fast-paced, technologies are constantly changing. I feel like traditional education fields can’t pivot that quickly, there is a lot of process and time involved with adding new, more relevant material. Additionally, when tutors are out of the field, not ‘doing the work’, I can see how it would be easy to fall out of touch. 

  • What has been the most challenging aspect of starting your own business?

The most challenging aspect of starting Seedling Digital has been the time factor, as I’m sure most business owners can attest! But as a mum to a busy, co-sleeping baby boy, I think I have a few more demands on my time than many!

In my line of work, creativity is so important, and it takes time to get in that flow. I need uninterrupted space and time to get going, and it’s something I just don’t have while my baby is at home with me. We’ve put him in daycare a few days a week, and having that space has been vital over the last couple of months to really build my business.

I’ve also become a master at spending my time more intentionally. So when I’m working, I’m working. When I’m with him, I’m with him! But within that, I complete tasks within the appropriate pockets. So for example when I’m on ‘mum time’ I can complete errands, like putting a load of washing on, picking up groceries or sending a package. Learning to make the most of time, and almost bend it to suit you is vital to success. 

  • For others considering starting their own business in 2020, what’s your advice and what’s the biggest watch-out they need to be aware of?

My biggest advice is to learn to back yourself. We come inbuilt with intuition, and over the span of our lifetime we learn to tune this out and rely more on our logical, thinking brain. As a business owner it’s important to turn that side back on and learn to work with your gut.

In most cases, you already know the answer, so it’s important to just take action! Watch out for people who take advantage of your skills and knowledge, especially as women we need to stand up and speak out, and demand to be paid appropriately for our time.

About the expert

Nikki Hamilton is an easily entertained, 90’s hip hop obsessed, exclamation point loving, perfectionist. She is a mother, a wife, a passionate creative based on the sunny Gold Coast of Australia.

Originally from New Zealand, she found myself in Sydney after a three-year stint chasing snow (and a certain handsome Australian guy) through the Rocky Mountains of Fernie, Canada.

Her diverse background includes working in the corporate marketing sphere, as a degree qualified teacher, and as an owner of a product-based business. This experience allows her to apply technical, design, strategic, marketing and coaching lenses to every project she works on.

Image description: A black-and-white landscape headshot from the waist up of a women with shoulder-length curly hair, a floral embroidered top and blazer in front of large rock formations.

PEOPLE: Building a business school for women, by women

The culture, structure, and communities of business schools have altogether contributed to why women are still the minority among students. However, with significant improvements in each of these areas among many business schools internationally, the numbers are improving with 39% of students who enrolled in the top MBA programs being women according to a 2019 journal. Women highlighted the positive impact of a supportive and like-minded community, and changes from networking activities that were male-dominated to inviting and retaining women into these programs.

And this is good news for business leaders. With more female business graduates, there are greater chances of women joining or progressing within organisations to higher ranks, and businesses led by female CEOs and with female leadership present on boards demonstrate stronger business outcomes.

Peace Mitchell is an entrepreneur and business leader who recognised the opportunities presented by empowering more women, and also recognised the importance of continuing to invest in developing more accessible business school programs for women in order to truly reach gender equality and equity in corporate leadership.

  • Why did you start The Women’s Business School? Have your ambitions for the organisation changed over time? Why or why not?

My sister Katy and I have been in business since 2009. Our first business was AusMumpreneur, a community for Australian women with children running businesses from home.

We started the Women’s Business School in 2016 after recognising a need for dedicated business education for women. So many of the other programs out there were time consuming and inflexible and after listening to what women were looking for from a business program we created our own.

Our vision has always been the same, at its heart we believe when women are happy and well they’re better equipped to care for everyone around them and this includes their immediate family, their extended family and the wider community as well. Our delivery of this vision has evolved over time and has incorporated 4 key elements – community, education, celebration and investment.

  • How does your program differ to others?

Our program is unique in that is specifically designed for women. So many times when you hear about business, it’s stories told from a male perspective, books written by men, examples of successful men in business, photos of men in boardrooms wearing business suits.

Where are the women? What are their stories? What are their experiences? How do women do business? Where are the books about business written by women? How have the women who came before us navigated the world of business? What does success look like for women?

There really aren’t a lot of people talking about this and so we wanted to be pioneers in this space, highlighting examples of women leaders, business books written by women, and providing a diverse range of women mentors.

It can be intimidating for women to speak up in online spaces which are dominated by men so a learning environment where women felt safe to share, discuss and process their ideas, challenges and thoughts is important.

In addition to this the women we spoke to wanted to be part of traditional Accelerator programs but simply couldn’t commit to the 40 hours/week expectation to be in a coworking space, the research backs this up showing that women are less likely to enrol in postgraduate programs like MBA’s because of the demands on after hours time for group work and in person lectures. The universities know this and yet fail to address this.

That’s where our programs are different. We’ve created a time efficient and flexible program so that women can access them wherever they are and they can fit them into their busy lives.

  • What are some examples of how you’ve changed or adjusted the program in response to feedback from women?

When we started out most of our sessions were pre-recorded and available as transcripts, video or audio files but the feedback showed that they preferred regular live calls instead of precorded and we now do weekly live calls which has really developed a strong sense of community and collaboration.

Another aspect that has been really popular is one on one mentoring. We introduced this in 2019 and it has been really successful in providing a sounding board and deeper conversations around strategy and direction for the students’ businesses.

  • What are some of the most common challenges you worked with female entrepreneurs to overcome when you started out in 2016? Are they different to the challenges female entrepreneurs are facing today?

The most common challenge we see is self doubt. So many brilliant women are held back by that voice in their head telling them that they’re not ready, not pretty enough, not smart enough, not qualified enough, that no one will buy what they have. This voice makes them questions themselves and their ability and think, “Who am I to do this work?”

Because of this our program focuses on balancing both business acumen and personal development, providing a safe and supportive space for women to step out of their comfort zone and develop their confidence and self belief.

  • What’s your advice to female entrepreneurs who have been sitting on an idea, but are hesitant to act on it due to the current uncertainty in the market due to COVID-19?

My advice is always to listen to that voice in your heart that tells you to go for it, give yourself permission to indulge in the dreaming stage for a weekend and then go for it, take that first step, test it out on a small scale and see what happens. Don’t let fear stop you from following your calling.

About the expert

Peace Mitchell is a keynote speaker, author, CEO and co-founder of The Women’s Business School & AusMumpreneur, host of Women will change the World TV and Australian Ambassador of Women in Tech. Peace is passionate about supporting women to reach their full potential and create the life they want to live. She has helped thousands of women achieve their dream of running a successful and profitable business and believes that investing in women is the best way to change the world.

Peace Mitchell co-founded AusMumpreneur in 2009, creating Australia’s #1 community for mothers in business and co-founded the Women’s Business School in 2016 to provide entrepreneurial education for women globally. Today, her commitment is stronger than ever, to invest in the power of women to change the world.

PEOPLE: “It was up to me to find my own community” – How Kera started Fibromyalgia Aotearoa NZ

Kera Sherwood-O’Regan is passionate about making social change movements accessible and equitable for everyone. After being diagnosed with fibromyalgia and realising that the majority of information available wasn’t relevant to her or others in her community going through this experience, she took the responsibility upon herself to build and support a community with relevant and accurate information.

Growing up with a strong support network and Maori community, Kera believes strongly in the power of role models and community engagement. In this interview, Kera shares why and how she started Fibromyalgia Aotearoa NZ, and her views and experiences with ableism.

  • Why did you originally start Fibromyalgia Aotearoa NZ?

I started Fibromyalgia Aotearoa NZ because at the time I was diagnosed there just wasn’t any support here. Most people, including health professionals, hadn’t heard of it, and it was taking most people many years to get diagnosed. As a result there was hardly any information available, and where it did exist it was predominantly from the United States.

As I started to navigate the health system here and my own experience of Fibromyalgia I realised that a lot of that information just wasn’t relevant in a New Zealand context, and if anything it was contributing to a lot of people’s fears, and I would say internalised ableism, around the condition.

So it was really important to me that there was good support for people going through Fibromyalgia in Aotearoa, and I felt that if there wasn’t that support provided formally elsewhere, then it was up to me to find my own community and to support others who were also navigating this journey.

I wanted to make sure that there was a place for people to go when they first got that really long, hard to spell word from their doctors, and that it would be a place where people could support each other and realise that it is possible to be well with Fibromyalgia – even if that looks quite different to the lives we had before.

  • How has the direction of the organisation changed over time, including during COVID-19? 

Initially it started out online – building a website, then Facebook groups and Zoom meet ups. The demand just kept growing, and as we started to reach more people it became possible to meet up in person, so I started facilitating support groups in West Auckland, and then added a Central Auckland group, and have been on the look out for potential facilitators in other regions as well.

To be honest, it’s been difficult during COVID-19 but for a lot of reasons that are different from other organisations. I had already facilitated Zoom sessions, so I wasn’t too worried about moving to digital in a technical sense, but rather making sure that everyone in our community had access to the right information and support. Many people with Fibromyalgia are also in the high risk category for COVID-19, and we tend to have a lot of co-morbidities – or other conditions alongside Fibromyalgia.

So for example, I had pneumonia and pleurisy recently, so as well as having some challenges with Fibro, I also have to be particularly careful because I know if I caught the virus I would be likely to have a worse outcome than people without other conditions.

So we ran a Collective Care Zoom Hui with others from the disability community which was really good to see what services existed, and to make sure our members would be aware of services that might be able to help them – like priority online shopping delivery.

We’ve also increased the frequency of meetings – so having them online via Zoom each week. But the truth is that it’s been very difficult during this period – there is so much going on, and it’s hard when you’re not a big NGO with paid staff, but people just supporting voluntarily, and when we all have health needs ourselves as well.

  • How have your personal experiences of Ableism impacted how you run and manage Fibromyalgia Aotearoa NZ today?

I think they’ve massively impacted my approach. When I was first diagnosed and first started FMNZ I didn’t really have a good understanding of ableism, disability rights, or the disability sector. It hadn’t even occurred to me that I was disabled, or that that was a label I could claim for myself.

Although I didn’t really understand it, I did definitely feel that there was a general approach to chronic illnesses and Fibromyalgia in particular that didn’t sit right with me. I didn’t like the way our people were treated, or the language that was used, or the way we talked about ourselves and our community. It all felt very deficits-focused. And that’s important to a degree – it’s important to be real about the challenges we face, and not pretend like getting Fibromyalgia is like winning the Lotto. It’s not. But there was always just this sense for me that our community deserved so much better, and that there were changes that could be made.

As I learnt more about disability rights and ableism I began to recognise that a lot of the things I struggled with, and what a lot of our community was struggling with, actually came down to internalised ableism. It also came down to ableism from the wider community – and especially from the medical community.

So this understanding of ableism and disability rights really impacts everything in my approach to FMNZ now – it impacts the messages and framing I use when talking about issues; the way I communicate to new members who are grappling with a recent diagnosis; the way I want us to collaborate with the wider disability community; and also hugely the way I engage with the medical sectors as well.

The medical profession has been horrendous to people with disabilities, and people with Fibromyalgia and it’s really not good enough. That’s a big push for me at the moment.

  • Have you seen Ableism in the community during COVID-19? 

Content Warning: Ableism, Eugenics

Unfortunately, yes, to a massive extent. We’ve seen this in the way disabled people and people who are at high risk are framed as being appropriate casualties in this pandemic – for example a lot of messaging in New Zealand has been for the general public not to panic because “only elderly and people with pre-existing conditions die from it”.

We’ve seen it with people dying overseas, and with ideas in the United States and elsewhere that disabled people who rely on ventilators should give up their life-supporting equipment because somehow saving the life of an abled person is seen as more valuable than saving the life of a disabled person.

We’ve seen a lot of pontification on whether our community should be a sacrifice in triage, and whether people should bother saving our lives, because there is this assumption that our lives are terrible. This includes a lot of the medical profession who should know better, including a GP Practice who sent letters to at risk patients asking them to sign Do Not Resuscitate Orders so they could prioritise care for the otherwise healthy.

Then there’s this whole eco-ableist narrative about how “humans are the virus” and “earth is healing itself” which completely disregards the human cost of this pandemic, that that cost is disproportionately borne by disabled, indigenous, rural, communities of colour etc. and which also completely shifts the real causes of climate change from corporations who could change their practices today if they wanted to – and puts the blame on those who have contributed least.

It’s unfortunate that I really could go on and on, there’s just been so much ableism come to the surface over the last few months.

  • In your view, what can governments, communities, businesses and individuals be doing to stamp out discrimination against people with disabilities during and after COVID-19? 

Fundamentally for all those sectors I think it comes down to listening to our community first and foremost. There is this perception that we’re some voiceless monolith, which is completely untrue. We’re out here having these conversations, often on social media, blogs, and other publicly accessible forums.

So people can actually hear what we’re thinking about, they just have to put the work in to recognise that their practices have been excluding us, and make a concrete approach of seeking out disabled voices to listen to – and a broad range at that.

Also make an intentional approach to not only listen to the disabled voices who are the most palatable or seem to be the least confrontational. If you care about our community you need to be listening to the most marginalised and those facing intersections of structural oppression – and you need to be prepared to sit with the discomfort that might bring. So listen without jumping to action, and listen for what we need. 

On a governmental level, I’d like to see governments actively listening to the disabled community – so that could be governmental advisory panels that are backed up with resources and powers to make decisions about our communities; funding disabled organisations to respond; utilising rights-based messaging in all of their communications; and fundamentally resourcing our most at risk communities to be safe. No one should be having to go without kai (food) so they can afford PPE; or having to be sick with no access to healthcare because they can’t afford to get tested.

There’s a long list, but I think it starts with actually viewing our community as experts on ourselves and our own experiences, and taking our lead on what our community actually needs.

About the expert

Kera Sherwood-O’Regan (Kāi Tahu, Te Waipounamu) is an indigenous multidisciplinary storyteller and activist based in Aotearoa New Zealand. She runs social impact creative agency, Activate Agency, to co-create community-led stories and projects for social change. Kera’s work and activism centers structurally oppressed communities in social change, and crosses the intersections of indigenous & disability rights, hauora (health), and climate change. She is also the Founder of Fibromyalgia Aotearoa NZ, and in her spare time facilitates support groups for people living with chronic pain. Kera is a member of and collaborates with many NGOs on issues of climate and disability justice.

Photo description: Photo of Kera Sherwood-O’Regan, an Indigenous Māori woman with light olive skin and long brown hair, sitting in her living room. She is wearing a white collared jumpsuit, vintage style tortoiseshell glasses, Haus of Dizzy love heart earrings, and red lipstick. She wears a Māori pounamu greenstone pendant around her neck, and she is smiling slightly at the camera. There is a green houseplant and wooden furniture in the background.

Photo credit: Jason Boberg