Our Team

Leading practitioners, policy-makers, researchers, business innovators and civic leaders.


Aleem Ali
CEO, Welcoming Australia

Aleem has spent the past 20 years seeding and mentoring the development of leading initiatives and social enterprises that advance welcoming and inclusive communities.

He is a mentor and advisor to various startups, community enterprises and government agencies; including Immigration New Zealand, the Council on Economic Participation for Refugees, and Regional Opportunities Australia.

As the CEO of Welcoming Australia, Aleem is working with leaders and organisations across the country to cultivate a culture of welcome and advance communities where people of all backgrounds can belong, contribute and thrive.

Sebastian Geers
Manager, Welcoming Cities

Sebastian has spent over 10 years starting and working in new initiatives that support more welcoming and inclusive communities.
Sebastian has worked within the immigration detention centres, helped start family mentoring programs, provided support to local, state and federal governments build their innovation capacity and led Australia’s largest corporate diversity initiative – A Taste of Harmony.
As the Manager of Welcoming Cities, Sebastian is working with councils and leaders across the country to continue to grow Welcoming Cities and ensure that we are delivering the best benefits to our members.

Bel Schenk
Coordinatior (Victoria), Welcoming Cities

Bel Schenk is a writer, editor and community development practitioner based in Melbourne. She is currently leading the Welcoming Cities initiative in Victoria - supporting local governments and communities to be more effectively networked and resourced.

Bel is also the author of three poetry collections and has worked as the Artistic Director of Express Media, the Arts and Cultural Development Officer at the City of Darebin and at Kids’ Own Publishing, harnessing the power of books and the publishing process to connect children, families and their communities.

Cate Gilpin
Coordinator (Queensland), Welcoming Cities

Cate has worked in higher education, community engagement and the arts for over 15 years, and in all her work focuses on building community, connection and belonging in different contexts.

As Queensland coordinator for Welcoming Cities Cate will support, engage and connect with councils and communities to harness diversity and grow inclusivity.

Turkan Aksoy
Coordinator (New South Wales), Welcoming Cities

Turkan Aksoy is a diversity inclusion specialist, and leads the Welcoming Cities initiative in NSW – supporting local governments and communities in social, cultural, economic and civic participation to thrive.

Her experience is in the government and non-government sectors and includes building the capacity of small and emerging communities, cultural diversity training, employment skills development, supporting diverse women, collaborating with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities and youth mentoring.

Olga Cherniak
Senior Research Analyst, Welcoming Australia

Olga Cherniak is a research, policy, and data analyst with an experience in not-for-profit sector in migration, settlement, gender, and health. She has led projects on multilingual strategic emergency communications, violence prevention frameworks and improving educational outcomes for people from migrant and refugee backgrounds. Over the last few years Olga has been working in the Australian migration and settlement sector with an aim to foster social cohesion and inclusive social and economic participation. 

Kate Leaney
Campaigns & Communications Manager, Welcoming Australia

Kate Leaney is an experienced and passionate advocate, campaigner and communications professional. She has worked alongside refugees and people seeking asylum for the past ten years, advocating for change in refugee policy, and developing initiatives such as the Welcoming Centre and Welcoming Careers. Kate actively supports emerging campaigners and leads the Refugee Justice team for Common Grace.

As Campaigns and Communications Manager for Welcoming Australia, Kate shares the stories of everyday Australians committed to cultivating a culture of welcome and to realise a future where all people have equal opportunity to belong, contribute and thrive.

Governance Committee

The Welcoming Cities Governance Committee provides strategic oversight and advice to ensure the Welcoming Cities initiative sustainably grows its reach and impact. The Committee also includes the people outlined above.

Anthea Hancocks
CEO, Scanlon Foundation

Anthea Hancocks has an extensive background in community service, business development, education, communications, relationship and services marketing and strategy through senior leadership experience in private, government and not for profit organisations.

Anthea is the Chief Executive Officer of the Scanlon Foundation, a private philanthropic organisation committed to enhancing social cohesion in Australia through research, community grants and projects.

Con Pagonis

Con commenced as an Ethnic Communities’ Council of Victoria (ECCV) volunteer in early 2015, initially editing the ECCV eNews up to 2019 and more recently supporting regional ECCs within the Melbourne metropolitan area. Prior to that his career focus was public sector migrant and refugee settlement program management and multicultural policy development. Con worked with all three tiers of government: the federal Office of Multicultural Affairs, Immigration Department, Victorian Multicultural Commission and the Municipal Association of Victoria. Con lived and worked in Canberra, Sydney and Hobart for over two decades before returning to Melbourne in 2004.

Advisory Committee

The Welcoming Cities Advisory Committee provide expert feedback and advice on the development and implementation of The Welcoming Cities Standard.

Dr Faiza El-Higzi OAM [Chair]

Dr Faiza El-Higzi OAM is an academic and a nationally recognised social advocate. Her experience spans the public, private, not for profit and academia. Her current involvements include advising the Queensland state government through her roles in the Multicultural Council (2020-2025), the Domestic and Family Violence Implementation Council (2016-2026) and Metro South Health Consumers Council. She has extensive experience in public policy having worked in strategic policy development in Queensland government and in international development with the federal government Australian Agency for International Development. Her work in refugee advocacy and cultural diversity was recognised by a Human Rights Award from the Australian Institute for International Affairs (2013) and in 2018 she was awarded the Outstanding Individual Award by the Queensland Government. In 2020 Faiza was awarded an Order of Australia Medal for her contributions to the community.

Faiza is currently an academic, research fellow and Deputy Chair of the Cultural Inclusion Council at the University of Queensland. She utilises her skills and knowledge for public good as an executive director with several not-for-profit organisations. Nationally she is an active member of the National Ethnic and Media and Broadcasting Council. At the state level she chairs the Ethnic Broadcasting Association of Queensland a community radio that broadcasts in 53 languages. She also sits on the board of the Queensland Council of Social Services.

Allan Mills
Deloitte Australia

Allan is the national lead for Civil Government services and works with Government Agencies and the NFP sector deliver against their strategic intent balancing the economic, financial and customer experience. He has worked on some of the most important reforms including the Countering Violent Extremism program in NSW, the NDIS both at a state and federal level as well as a number of government business transformations. Allan is also a mentor on the High Resolves leadership program which provides high school children with the opportunity to build leadership and social connectivity across our communities.

Dewani Bakkum
Settlement Council of Australia (SCoA)

Dewani is the Chair of the Settlement Council of Australia and the Chief Executive Officer of the Migrant and Refugee Settlement Services of the ACT Inc. She has been involved in the community and charitable sectors for the past 30 years in Australia and in Fiji, and has an extensive background in developing and delivering services for disadvantaged and vulnerable communities, with a strong focus on breaking down cultural and linguistic barriers to facilitate settlement and community participation.

Migrating to Australia from Fiji in 1982, Dewani has a strong understanding of the migrant experience and a passion for helping migrants, refugees and humanitarian entrants to participate in their new communities and to become proud and engaged members of a diverse Australian society.

Dewani was awarded the FECCA Multicultural Award and the ACT International Women’s Award for Multiculturalism in 2008.

Huss Mustafa OAM
Patron and Board member of Refugee Communities Association of Australia

Huseyin (Huss) Mustafa was a Senior Executive at Commonwealth Bank of Australia with more than 40 years experience in the financial services sector.

Huss has a Turkish Cypriot heritage and migrated to Australia at 10 years of age. He is a passionate community leader and championed a diverse work force at the Commonwealth Bank.

In 2011, he was appointed by the Victorian Government to the position of Commissioner to the Victorian Multicultural Commission for a 4 year term and also appointed as Chairperson to the Victorian Multicultural Commission Regional Advisory Council in Eastern Victoria. Huss played a leading role in establishing The Australian Turkish Business Council of which he is currently the President.

In 2014, he was awarded the Medal of the Order Of Australia for his services to Multiculturalism and Business.

Rana Ebrahimi
Multicultural Youth Advisory Network (MYAN)

Rana Ebrahimi is the National Manager of the Multicultural Youth Advocacy Network Australia (MYAN). She leads the MYAN to advocate for young people from refugee and migrant backgrounds’ rights and best interests in policy and practice. Rana is the first Iranian woman to be a National Head of Office for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in Iran. Rana is an expert in social inclusion and humanitarian ethics.

Over 20 years, she has led strategic engagements to partner and build a shared vision with networks of stakeholders, funders and community groups to deliver transformative community and social operations.

She is the treasurer of Australian Iranian Society of Victoria and Vice President of Equal Employment Opportunity Network. Rana is also a member of the Victorian Multicultural Commission’s Regional Advisory Council and is on the Community Advisory Committee of Dental Health Victoria.

Rebecca Wickes
Griffith University

Professor Rebecca Wickes’ research focuses on neighbourhood social processes and their effects on social problems in Australia. She takes an interdisciplinary approach and has worked with large teams from different disciplines and organisations. She is the lead investigator on the Australian Community Capacity Study - an internationally leading longitudinal study of the concentration of social problems in residential communities. Rebecca is also interested in the safety and inclusion of immigrants in Australia and is involved in ground-breaking projects that examine migrant women’s safety in the home, in the community and in the workplace. Prior to joining Griffith, Rebecca was the Founding Director of the Monash Migration and Inclusion Centre (MMIC), established in 2018 at Monash University. In this capacity she worked with local governments, non-government organisations and state governments to identify programs and pathways that enhance social, economic and cultural inclusion in urban and regional communities.

Peter Morris
Reconciliation Australia

Peter is the the General Manager of the Reconciliation Action Plan (RAP) Program, Reconciliation Australia where he leads a team that works with a network of over 1,100 organisations driving social change across Australia. The RAP network directly impacts over 20 percent of the Australian working age population advancing reconciliation by building relationships, respect, and opportunities between Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities and the broader community.

Prior to his role at Reconciliation Australia, Peter served for eight years in various leadership roles at the National Congress of American Indians (NCAI), the representative body of tribes and Native peoples in the United States. During his time at NCAI, he led engagement with the Obama White House to implement the annual Tribal Nations Summits, strengthened partnerships with corporate and civil rights organisations, directed a tribally-driven think tank, and oversaw strategic communications.

Peter has served in various staff and board roles in higher education, youth and children’s policy, and community development. He holds a Bachelors in Aboriginal Studies from the University of New South Wales and a Masters in American Indian Policy from the University of Arizona.

Kathryn Arndt
Victorian Local Governance Association (VLGA)

Kathryn is the CEO of the Victorian Local Governance Association (VLGA). The VLGA is a high profile independent (NGO) governance organisation supporting councils and councillors in effective local governance. As a peak body, the VLGA supports the local government sector through leadership, advocacy and professional development.

Kathryn currently sits on the boards of Diabetes Victoria and is Company Secretary of the Royal Melbourne Tennis Club. Kathryn was a Member of the inaugural Victorian Ministerial Council on Women's Equality which concluded its term in mid-2020. In her capacity as CEO of the VLGA, Kathryn is a member of the Minister for Local Government and the Minister for Women Women’s Roundtable for Local Government.

Kathryn has a track record in leading teams and delivering success working at a senior and high profile level in the Victorian local government sector; with a demonstrable ability to quickly grasp the issues facing a sector with multiple stakeholders and the legislated responsibility to provide oversight and governance to, and the delivery of, critical services on behalf of state and federal government to Victorian communities.

Trudi Bartlett
Regional Development Australia Darling Downs and South West (RDA DDSW)

Trudi Bartlett is the Director of Regional Development for Regional Development Australia Darling Downs and South West (RDA DDSW) and currently lives in Toowoomba. Prior to her current role she was the Economic Development Officer for Western Downs Regional Council and the CEO for Dalby Chamber of Commerce and Industry.

Trudi has a passion for supporting business and industry in regional, rural and remote areas. During her time with RDA DDSW she has been involved in the Centre for Policy Development Cities and Settlement Initiative and facilitated the Darling Downs Migration Roundtable. RDA DDSW are involved in projects across the region that support secondary settlement to rural areas.