Sarah Janali and Ken Dachi share the inaugural Welcoming Cities Award, given to outstanding individuals in the sector. This award recognises those who go above and beyond to cultivate a culture of welcome and inclusivity in their communities.
Ken Dachi, Multicultural Affairs Advisor and Program Coordinator at Leeton Shire Council
Ken Dachi is the Multicultural Affairs Advisor and Program Coordinator at Leeton Shire Council, Regional NSW where he oversees migrant economic development, and related community development initiatives. Before joining Leeton Shire Council, Ken was based in the UK, from where he worked and travelled to over 40 countries undertaking various international development projects.
Ken’s work in international aid work had taken him to volatile, war-torn countries and these experiences have enhanced his ability to support Leeton particularly around migrant settlement, including perspectives on economic development and growth. He has been instrumental in supporting Leeton to be a leader in regional welcome and inclusion, going above and beyond his job to ensure the community thrives.
Welcoming Cities: Congratulations on the Welcoming Cities award. What does it mean to you?
Ken Dachi: I will use the words of a famous figure in history who upon receiving his Nobel Peace Prize said it was an award for the entire movement, the movement that he led. That was Martin Luther King Jr. He said the award was the recognition of the effort of the entire collective. The people on whose shoulders I stand, people who have done this incredible settlement work – I am just a feather on the cap. The work was ongoing, but I came in as a catalyst. Maybe it needed a modified approach, maybe it needed a certain dynamic, a certain element of restructuring. Maybe that’s what I’ve added, but overall, this work was present before my time.
This award is for Leeton and all those who have been active championing the cause for settlement. Receiving the award is commission to do lots more. The thing about awards and recognition is that it places you on a pedestal, it means that society’s expectations are greater. So, trembling while I do so, I see this as a commission to bigger, broader, greater work, not just for my personal conviction but also where the town needs to go. It needs to collaborate, it needs to advance this work, it needs to tap into more partnerships.
It is a humbling experience just to be supported, appreciated, and noted.
WC: You’ve worked in many countries. How has your own world experience helped with your work in Leeton?
KD: One of my mentors from the UK once said to me, ‘When you experience things globally, try to think locally.’ Each country has its own characteristics, and it’s a fantastic experience (working elsewhere), particularly for the relationships and the learning. For it to be meaningful, it’s more a case of interpreting the learning and fitting it into immediate context.
Having had all these diverse experiences, it sharpened certain areas of aptitude. I’ve always said that you must ‘think global and act local’. That’s what helps you do a better job. When I pull apart a problem, there are so many aspects that I see all at once and it comes from the privilege of extensive exposure.
WC: Beyond Leeton’s borders, you work more broadly with neighbouring councils has been outstanding. You’re such a wonderful advocate. What has inspired you to reach so far and wide in your work?
KD: It’s the commonality of the issues. The common denominator in this case has been advancing settlement. This cuts across metro areas and regional areas. For example, housing is a common denominator – the difference could be location, price and availability. You begin to think, ‘what are the different ways you can tackle this problem and how to we engage all spheres?’ This is where we come back to thinking globally but trying to narrow down to the context. So, when I’m approaching an issue, I look at its immediate concerns and then try to find answers across the rest of the country. What are some other approaches? Then figure if there’s a collegiate approach to address pressing issues. It compels me to engage, liaise, or contact – the answer might not be there, but at least I will have voiced it and it will be heading in the right direction. Suddenly you have a national, or regional or rural outlook on an issue.
I take pride in the power of collaboration. We have this wonderful African saying – ‘If you want to walk fast, walk alone, but if you want to go the distance, go together.’ So, I always think there must be other people playing in this field. I can advocate for what I’m thinking, but what are their perspectives?
WC: What does inclusion mean to you?
KD: Inclusion means participation. If all cultural groups are participating at different levels, with different energies, and in different spaces, then that’s an inclusive community.
It’s not just about appreciation or recognition. It’s about participation. It’s an essential characteristic of visibility and it does not carry any sort of tokenism. We are very vocal in Leeton about participation and driving ideas for everyone in the community, from First Nations, the oldest living culture, to the very latest arrival from the bus this morning. All of them. The more they participate, the more they will thrive.
WC: In your experience, what makes for an effective settlement program both generally, and in Leeton?
KD: Willingness! A willingness in the governance system. I will aways take the opportunity to say what a difference the local council makes. Not because it has experts who contribute directly to address challenges of settlement, it’s an openness to explore solutions across the community, or otherwise, with the sole aim of playing a part in advancing successful settlement outcomes for anyone coming the town and making it their home. That, I call the spine of a settlement movement. Within the local context, if you don’t get your local government buy in, you will marginally succeed but your overall success falls and rises on a willing local government system.
Secondly, you also need to bring on board key stakeholders. Our local cultural support group has been instrumental in being that voice, but they soon discovered the best way to advance the support is to get on board with other providers. It didn’t happen overnight, it happened gradually. All stakeholders must be interested in collaboration and targeting the overall outcome. Bringing all the settlement providers on board has been a significant game-changer.
Thirdly, you have to get buy-in from local community groups and that includes businesses who are primary drivers for settlement through employment – I cannot overstate the importance of getting businesses on board. Then key spokespersons, community influencers – get all these people to give sound bites for what you are trying to achieve, and suddenly you have a triangle of magnanimous effort. We face challenges, but with this multipronged strategy, we address them steadily.
These are the definite pillars for any one town. Target your local government, service providers and your local community groups which includes businesses.
WC: What is your main hope for the Leeton community?
KD: Leeton has such a sweet spirit. My hope is that the town keeps the momentum. The town really needs to cascade this work with more community engagement. It is happening but needs to be more intentional. We need to mobilise leadership, and then this work will self-sustain. It used to be key figures who drove the agenda, now it’s multiple people around the town championing the cause.
WC: Tell us why we should all move to Leeton?
Well, well, well, if you all moved to Leeton the population density would be a whole other matter – where are you all going to live? But come and experience what a harmonious culture ought to look like, not because of its perfection, but because of its intention. The intention here is unlike any other I’ve been to. Having a genuineness and an interest to mould a cohesive, thriving community – that’s what Leeton will offer you. I hope it’s not too ambitious to say, but Leeton’s a blueprint for what settlement can look like in Australia.