Across the Desk Podcast experiment, # 3 featuring Christian Agbazue

This month I caught up with Christian Agbazue as my journey into the world of CALD education and employment continues via the “Across the Desk” podcast experiment. This twenty minute session explores the skilled migration process from the perspective of Christian who emigrated from Nigeria back in 2009. In this episode we cover some of the processes involved in the regional skilled migration journey and the unexpected path to employment.

Small apology for some sound quality issues on this one but worth hanging in there – this was an opportunistic sound grab when I met up with Christian in the gardens of La Trobe University. Big thanks to Christian for sharing his story and time.

To access the Audio  Click here and you will find the article as posted 31 March

Christian Agbazue


Big vision small steps matter continued – collective impact

On the 15 March 2017 I attended a strategic planning session hosted by NE Tracks LLEN as part of their overall review of reference groups throughout their footprint in the Hume region. Big thanks to Danny O’Donoghue CEO for the invitation and the facilitator Rob. Rather than give a straight overview of the session I have used it to reflect on what has become a major focus for me over the past several years as the NDCO – Collective Impact.

My first real encounter with this term came about as a small group of us local stakeholders went about setting up a network group to support local disability services. As part of that process I came across the Tamarack Institute. The Canadian based organisation professes, “Tamarack’s goal is to equip you with the skills, knowledge, resources and connections you need to make lasting change in your community. We support you in a number of different ways, wherever you may be in the world.”  Having waded through their resource, guides and practices it was evident that to solve complex community problems you needed a collective approach and I now carry this with me whenever I attend (or consider attending) strategic planning or problem solving community based networks.

In the past working as a Police officer I had been instructed to meet problems using the process of ‘SMEAC’ which is; Situation, Mission, Execution, Administration (logistics) and Communication. I have noticed this is not a long way from the Collective Impact ideals of; Common Agenda, Shared Measurement, Mutually Reinforcing activities, Continuous communication, Backbone support. I  think about this as I sit down for the session where the group will be covering; Current context, Where do we want to be, How will we get there, Next steps.

Let’s have a look at the current context – Benalla is hugely representative of a lot of regional towns throughout Victoria and this group collected here today had the prime focus of how to provide options, pathways and supports for the youth within their community, especially when it comes to transition from school to work life. This includes positive health and well-being outcomes through community engagement and belonging. Following the traditions of most network type meetings we started with the ‘circle of death’. (For some reason I always have a mini anxiety attack waiting for my turn as we move around the circle of introductions. I’m not sure if the longer you have to wait for your turn is better or worse. My mind rehearses what I am going to say and then ignores it as I catch the waiver in my voice). So considering the  areas of community that impact on the topic it was good to see representation from the following: The Centre (Adult learning), Department of Employment (federal), Victorian Police, MADEC (Employment Agency), GOTAFE skills and jobs, Benalla Council, Recruitment Select, DHS Centrelink, Tomorrow Today Foundation, The Personnel Group (Ticket to Work program), Benalla Library, Department of Education (state), Mayor of Benalla, Benalla councillor, Benalla P12 (School), Benalla flexible learning (School), Catholic college, Worktrainers (‘geared for careers’ program), several representatives from the LLEN as hosts.

Previously, representatives from these above organisations or services would meet in two different groups to provide advice, actions or platforms for advice or actions as to the question proposed above regarding youth. So the question immediately before us was around the positives and minuses of these two groups. Note, in simple terms, that one group (Education action development team) had been dedicated to education engagement and the second group (Jobs and skills action development team) was focused on the post school process.

(+) there is a strong commitment/ wide variety of stakeholders/ great opportunity to share and network / provided a forum to act collectively / good introduction platform / good stuff is happening

(-) where are the young people within the process / stronger purpose and follow on communication required / lack of awareness re the reference group members and broader community / poor continuity of services re outreach / greater potentials for collaboration/ in built barriers within program members / not being a true representation of a collective action required / gaps of representation / lack of measuring what is success.

The next part of the process involved rating the following systems or categories – as either broken, weak, normal, or strong. Education (school /tertiary / community), Youth services, Health services, Social enterprises, Foundations, Disability services, Employment services, Community, Networks and partnerships, Government, Media where all canvassed with a distinct theme of broken and weak dominating. Although the group did add a caveat to there judgment and added the word ‘improving’ to many of these fields of activity. Note the addition of ‘Transport’ as major underlying area of commonality for these broken and weak systems. One of the other dominate aspects, other than transport, was the continued reference to ‘outreach of services’ that come from other areas in an inconsistent and ad hoc nature.

But where is the ‘gut instinct’ of labelling coming from? Are we working too close with the stereotypical ideal of what constitutes the young person? My comment is that the problems faced are all normal because this is happening at a macro level in a lot of circumstances and in most locations. (Or if I had my cynical hat on I would have just said normal in the context of ‘SNAFU’). Whilst I am mindful that this exercise is there to drive the conversation I reflect back on my recent experience with the process undertaken by Deakin University and the ‘Leave No one Behind’ series of workshops with Wodonga Council (see here), and the more intense mapping process.

Immediate question – where do the two reference groups sit in relation to the overall community map (other networks, initiatives and projects) noting that the LLEN as an individual sits separate to the process. After some discussion it is deemed that there is no need for two separate groups.

Given a one group scenario, how do we capture the intent of this single reference/advisory group. The follow draft statements came from the floor – ‘Better youth outcomes, social and economic, by raising valid aspirations, through informing youth of their potentials, building community ownership and awareness, building sharing cohesion of support, advocacy for young people.’ So we had the basis of a vision and mission statement, with due consideration the following – the need to refocus on the spheres of influence and capabilities of the collective. In summary, “better social, educational and economic outcomes for young people.”

But what does the group do? The first and loudest ideal from the floor is NETWORKING. When broken down this encompasses the below;

  • Provides a collaborative space / Host discussions for joint problem solving.
  • Sharing ideas and knowledge / Analysis gaps in the system
  • Discussions for collective actions / Analysis impacts of actions
  • Encouraging best practices of service delivery / Establishes partnerships.
  • Guides strategic direction / Advocates for an improved system

I see the similarity to the intention of other networks in the region and I recall the recent presentation on partnerships from Dixon Partnering Solutions at our recent NDCO conference. In that context there is one underpinning word that drives the efficiencies and effectiveness of all such networks and that word is ‘TRUST’. For these networks to succeed and thrive trust has to be at its centre. What I have noticed is that there is a collective drive within our communities to work much more collaboratively and I have sensed a definite shift in this space. I do have real hope that the collective impact change is coming, is happening and I would like to finish by saying ‘trust me’ but no, more accurate is trust one another with the big vision and pay attention to the small steps that matter. I look forward to seeing how this group proceeds out of the reinvigoration process and also how its outcomes align with the other similar workshops being conducted in the Wangaratta and Mansfield locations.

NDCO region 15 Podcast # 2 featuring Kelly McGregor

This month I caught up with Kelly McGregor, Adult English Migrant Program teacher at Wodonga TAFE. This thirty minute session continues my investigation into the  CALD further education and employment experience. In this months episode Kelly walks me through the process of arrival and initial integration into local communities undertaken by refugees and migrants. We also cover some of the demographics, common and not so common experiences. Big thanks to Kelly for given me her time and also sharing her valuable insights.  Click here to access the audio file.


Inside looking Out – Big Vision, small steps matter.

I attended parliament this week (13th Feb to 16th Feb) as part of the member for Indi, Ms. Cathy McGowen’s volunteering program. In this instance I was primarily invited via the NELLEN group of which I sit on the board of directors. Let me add by way of clarification, I did vote for Ms. McGowen and I have often been an advocate for her and her team and the work they do for the seat of INDI. Having said that, it would be remiss not to mention the other hats that I carry with me during this trip to Canberra. My principle job as the National Disability Coordinator Officer fully encompasses the seat of INDI and there are many community development issues that I seek to investigate where the opportunity arises. I also sit on a number of other boards and committees linked with disability services and Aboriginal communities where complex questions are always in debate. Not sure exactly what I expected before attending but I very much walked away with a new appreciation that good culture trumps strategy every time.

DAY 1– The first part of the morning begins with an early arrival where the place is already humming. With the day breaking I walk through the background of a doorstep interview featuring Senator Mathias Cormann. My first thought; ‘normally I would be eating breakfast and watching ‘sunrise’ not being a prop on the other side of the screen as the sun rises.’


Mathias Cormann talking coal versus renewables and setting the tone for the week

Through security we make our way through the large hallways and meet the wonderful team and are warmly welcomed. An overview of expectations and briefing of the upcoming day helps to settle some nerves and excite the palate. This is quickly followed by the tour of the building by the parliamentary staff which gives gravitas to the atmosphere and energy of the experience of being somewhere meaningful. The occasional passing of a well-known senator or minister only adds to the sensation of feeling influential. The number of little insights re-the architecture and history are too numerous to include here and I wouldn’t want to spoil the surprise of undertaking the tour yourself. One little tip to share – if you get lost there is always the five dollar note in the pocket to help find my way around.

With the tour complete, it’s down to business. Learning the phones, understanding roles and planning activities. Note one of the harder aspect of the morning is not having a security access card for the first part of the day. This meant having to be escorted by another staff member which leaves one feeling hamstring especially after the initial tour which made one more apt to want to explore further.

Question time comes soon enough. As someone that has previously spent some time watching the televised components of these sessions I was not surprised by the format or processes but one cannot help but view it in different terms given the live ‘performance’ that it is. I make my notes and explore my thoughts as to what this all means in the context of all the hats I bring to the event.


Image of Parliament clock. Red for senate, Green for House. When they be flashing and the bells be ringing, the members have four minutes to get to chamber

The day continues to flow as we finally receive our access passes. I head back towards our office unconstrained by the company of others for the first time that day. The Senate and house bells chime as the red and green lights of the clocks flash around me. This signals a rush of activity as Senators and members of the lower house rush to find their seats for a division. This occurs at the same time I passed offices of the Liberal party and I am a little taken aback as I passed the Prime Minister and several of his front bench. I smile and try to catch their eyes nodding a polite hello. There is a glint of acknowledgement in their eyes and even a hello smile back from some of them. Regardless of whatever hat I wear, if I had seen myself from outside myself, I would’ve of noticed a definite strut in my walk.

Back at the office we consider our next move through the evening’s program. Having a previous life working as a police officer I’m naturally drawn to the ‘Friends of Police Association’ gathering. This a chance to learn and improve my networking skills I soon find myself excelling at the task although I feel slightly unprepared as I fail to remember the names of some of the attendees who I have seen via various press offerings in the past. As the mixture of Ministers, Senators and Police figures from across the country mingle in the garden of the President suite I am drawn to John Laird from Vic Pol. It was this off chance meeting that gave me some closure from some leftover PTSD still rumbling around from the history of my previous work life. Big thanks John. The significance of the presentation of the united association flag bearing the names of all those officers that have died in the line of duty is not lost upon me having worked along some of those whose names I recognise.



Senator Parry (left) hosting the National Police memorial flag presentation

Humbled by the experience, I meet the rest of my group at the other events happening in what seemed all parts of the Parliament grounds. For the rest of the evening my disability hat was clearly visible as I sought connections to the NDCO program from targeted guests and I walked away with several valuable connections. Hope I wasn’t too annoying as I pointed out things like the fact that the house of representatives and the senate both have big steps built into their structure. I long to see the day universal access is considered right at the very top. Do we have to wait for a wheelchair user to reach the front bench? (maybe).





Day 2: Starts with purpose and a clear understanding and expectation of what’s ahead. Lots of thank you cards to be prepared and mailed. Reports from last night’s network meetings to be completed. Administration tasks which leads me to several quests around the building and, one big highlight for me, arranging my own very own ministry meeting for the next day. Preparation for this meeting is punctuated by other small duties followed by a visit to hear business in the House of Representatives, especially the close the gap statement address where I proudly don my Aboriginal hat. Speaking of question time my second day of sitting in on the ‘questions without notice’ brings a strange sensation of déjà vu is the same or very similar questions are asked by the same people with guess what, the same answers or non-answers.

The rest of the afternoon is made up of representing Ms. McGowen at various lobby meetings or briefings. The first of these being a group from e-cigarettes. Whilst I enjoy the process of the networking and use the opportunity to seek insight into the process there is not much to be gained for the time spent, unless you count the unexpected opportunities that just happen. In this instance it was my decision to leave when this opportunity presented itself. As I hurried down the hall I ran into a staffer from Senator Parry’s office, Leanne whom I had met the previous day at the friends of police function. In a setting that sometimes appeared very much corporate it was great to meet someone so generally interested in helping me, not for any other reason than she wanted to help and give me her time and insight. A truly wonderful person that I will never forget. Through this interaction she made me aware of the details and the process on how to make the events happen that I was busily attending. Something very concrete for my many hats to take away as part of the experience of being there.


House of representatives sitting. Circle indicates Cathy McGowen as she sets up a meeting for me with Mr Andrew Giles

So off to the next meeting where I meet the most worldly and wise elders of a past era, briefing the Senators and Ministers (and me) about Mawson’s Hut and everything Antarctica.I am not necessarily a celebrity idoliser type of guy but nevertheless was humbled by being surrounded by the most senior of Ministers and Senators, regardless of whether they recognise my input or not. I glance over the shoulder of a front bench Minister who is about to leave. He writes on slip of paper to pass to his colleague and this gives me a real understanding of where the political mind considers issues. In this instance the question to be asked was, ‘where is the money coming from? Make sure they’re not cutting it from the other budget.’ Given the lateness of the day and the dignitaries that surrounded me I do decide not to stay for drinks and nibbles. Sometimes retreat is the better form of valour. After this decision to leave I find myself attending to an overview of the day’s activities and make sure any matters of relevance are distilled and noted for further consultation if required.



Mel Yates, performer and fund raiser with myself

The last order of the day is to attend a nearby office for a musical fundraising event. This is where I can relax and the authentic networking happens. Given the fundraiser is an event for mental health I don my disability portfolio hat and firm my links with the host performer.

As the night proceeds there are no hats left to wear. It is just me; son of a hard-working civil servant who would bristle with pride to see his son walking the corridors of Federal Parliament; the brother of four hard-working man cut from the same cloth as their father; and finally, the father of two young boys (men) with whom I can’t wait to share my experiences with. To make them as proud of me as I am of my father. To give them a role model that inspires them to fully participate in a caring community where belonging matters and everyone belongs.

God bless you Cathie for providing the opportunity for me to participate in the journey of INDI and may the cultural change you have brought to this institution grow and last forever, which I am sure it will do.


Big thanks to the following for making this truly wonderful Professional Development opportunity a reality.

  • NELLEN and the wonderful crew who travelled with me – Bev, Billy and Julie.
  • Cathy and her dedicated staff, in particular, Jeremy, Di and Julie.
  • Wodonga TAFE who by default and without hesitation co-sponsored my attendance.

NDCO region 15 Podcast #1 featuring Sarah Whitling

Late last year I sat down with Commercial Cookery Teacher and good all round egg Sarah Whitling from Wodonga TAFE to discuss her recent experience working with a group of African students. This recording goes for around 30 minutes and covers a range of topics, challenges and successes as she endeavours to bring new skills to the students, and more importantly, find a meaningful work experience opportunity for them. Please enjoy my first outing in the world of podcasting and a special big thanks to Sarah for letting me pick her brain and sharing her time.

You can download the file from the following link – click where indicated in the appropriate article:



Wodonga TAFE Teacher Sarah Whitling – receiving a special recognition award the day after the podcast recording.