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Migrant’s community work honoured in Australia Day awards

28 February 20240 comments

Promoting multiculturalism and advocating for gender equality are twin passions for Florence Mauwa.

And it was her work in these areas that recently saw her awarded an Order of Australia in the Australia Day 2024 honours list.

“It’s extremely humbling,” Florence said of being honoured.

“You don’t do these things for recognition but when you are recognised, it is humbling and it makes you realise that being acknowledged as an individual is nice but really it’s an acknowledgement of the team of people that is behind the work we do,” she said.

Florence is originally from Zimbabwe and arrived in Australia permanently in 2011 after having studied here seven years previously. She is a qualified accountant and works in Human Resource at Telstra.

“When I came to Australia I had always been active from a volunteering perspective. And I found myself working in a sector that was predominantly male,” she said.

“So, I gravitated towards women’s issues and particularly around women being underrepresented in so many areas of society.”

Florence’s first foray into volunteering was as a board member with ‘Refuge Victoria’, then known as ‘Safe Futures’, which provides specialist crisis accommodation and support services for people escaping family violence in Victoria.

“I joined at a time of transformation. There were a lot of things that needed work at the organisation,” she said.

“My focus was always around how to get something that was sustainable and to make an impact on turning the organisation around.

“I set up and chaired a financial committee because when I first arrived we had a deficit of $250,000. When my term on the board ended, we had reserves of more than $3 million. We also established board terms so there was a turnover of experience and talent.”

Florence’s contribution to Refuge Victoria’s financial situation has given the organisation the ability to grow.

“It was beautiful to be able to see the impact we made in people’s lives. We went from trying to arrest a deficit to being able to achieve growth and triple the refuge facilities available for people escaping family violence.

“In real life, this impact means the difference in whether people are going to be able to come out of a situation of family violence and begin to thrive or not.”

Florence next became involved in the Queen Victoria Women’s Centre, an organisation that supports women through creative experiences and community resources.

“My focus with the QVWC was on economic participation and leadership in relation to women. There was also a government relations and stakeholder relations element, because the organisation is a statutory authority,” she said.

“I was thinking about how we could promote the representation of women from minority backgrounds and about awareness and visibility of women participating in the arts space, where women are underrepresented.

“For me it was about supporting women in the arts as well as the advocacy work. I enjoyed being on the board for my term, which ended in 2022.”

Florence says she has a commitment to promoting equity for women from an employment perspective.

“Women are underrepresented in senior positions in most sectors and the tech sector has a particularly large gender pay gap. The question for me is, how do I continue to drive awareness about this. For me, it’s about mentoring and talking to people.”

Florence has also been involved in African community groups since 2016.

“One of the most enjoyable things I’ve signed up to is being part of the African Music and Culture Festival,” she said.

“The festival is about celebrating African culture and also promoting diversity and multiculturalism.

“I’m on the board and also I do some production work. We have one signature three-day festival and through the year we do pop up events at places like the Immigration Museum and the Queen Victoria Women’s Centre.”

Part of Florence’s work is also to work with community and government stakeholders.

“We worked with key sponsors like Victoria Police and the Department of Education when they launched campaign to increase the representation of the African community among police officers and teachers.”

This work extends to her participation as Vice Chair of the ‘Africa Day Australia’ event.

“This is effectively a celebration of African unity and most African countries celebrate the day through the African Union.” The African Union is Africa’s version of the EU.

“It is also about raising awareness about Africans in Australia and the contributions they make. During the year, we hold various activities including sports competitions and arts competitions, culminating in a gala dinner.”

But Florence’s work representing African communities is not all sport, art and dinners.

“In 2017-18 we had the African gang issue running in the media. I think that galvanised the community to try to show a positive narrative about African Australians and how we are contributing to the community and how we are part of the fabric of Australian society,” she said,

Florence is also part of the African Leadership Forum, a group focused on engaging with society-wide stakeholders on behalf of African communities.

She also joined the board of migrant and refugee settlement agency AMES Australia in August 2021.