A Diverse and Inclusive Melbourne: Supporting the City’s Migrant Population

The last century has seen Melbourne’s diversity increase astronomically. For Lord Mayor’s Charitable Foundation, a better-connected society is a stronger society.

Lord Mayor's Charitable Foundation seeks to foster a thriving Melbourne for all.

When Lord Mayor’s Charitable Foundation was founded in 1923, the cultural landscape of Melbourne was vastly different. Australia was in the grips of the White Australia policy. The most prevalent migrant groups, including the Greek, Italian and Chinese communities, numbered in the hundreds, not thousands.
According to the 2021 census, an estimated 30 per cent of Victoria’s population were born overseas, and over 300 languages are spoken across the state. Philanthropy has played and continues to play a major role in ensuring that people new to the country can participate in Australian life to the fullest. The history of Lord Mayor’s Charitable Foundation demonstrates that support in practice.
In its early decades, the Foundation was driven by mass public fundraising, with support from across the community, from Chinese festivals to Italian bazaars. Greek and Italian balls raised thousands of pounds. The aftermath of the 1939 Black Friday bushfires saw widespread community fundraising, with the Chinese and Greek communities commended in the media for their support.
From the end of the Second World War, the Department of Immigration established a nationwide immigration program to build Australia’s population. The adage ‘populate or perish’ encouraged waves of immigration, and through the twentieth century the population grow ever-more diverse. A quarter of a million Greeks immigrated to Australia in the latter half of the twentieth century (almost half of them settled in Melbourne), to 137,000 refugees from Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos from the 1970s onwards.
In these decades, the Foundation supported numerous immigrant-focused causes, from the Australian Jewish Welfare and Relief Society in the 1970s to the Ecumenical Migration Centre in the 1980s, as well as various causes supporting the emerging Vietnamese and Southern Sudanese communities.
Today, there is a greater understanding of the interrelatedness of the challenges faced by new Australians. While Melbourne has always benefited from its diverse make-up, Australians from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds face many challenges, from racism and gender inequality to difficulty accessing services. As the largest independent community foundation in Australia, Lord Mayor’s Charitable Foundation works in many areas to impact this.
In the twenty-first century, the Foundation has continued to move with the times. In 2003, the longstanding Hospital and Charities Sunday Appeal changed its name to the All Faiths Community Appeal, reflecting the city’s diverse spiritual beliefs. And in the last decade, in line with the Foundation’s major strategy shift, it has built partnerships with a range of organisations. In 2019, for example, the Foundation played a key funding role in the Human Rights Law Centre’s push for a charter of human rights for Australia, and the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre receives regular funding as one of the beneficiaries of the Foundation’s Youth in Philanthropy program (see our Community Giving article [link]).
“Melbourne is one of the most diverse cities in the country,” says Stephen Torsi, the Foundation’s Program Manager for Inclusive, Sustainable Economy and Jobs impact area. “We have extraordinarily diverse communities. We also know that some of those communities are among the most socially and economically disadvantaged when they first arrive in Australia.”
Stephen says the Foundation aims to look beyond providing aid to addressing systemic drivers of inequality. “Migrants and refugees bring enormous talent and enthusiasm to the country,” he says. “They’re essential, but they do face barriers to entry, to being included, particularly employment barriers and education barriers. If we can address these barriers to participation, we can enable them to build better lives and contribute to the social fabric of the city.”
The Centre for Multicultural Youth is a community-based organisation that works with young migrants and refugees. Its goal is to influence government policy and give voice to young people in diverse communities, by empowering them to advocate for themselves. “The data and evidence suggest that lots of young people don’t have the opportunities to participate because of language, but also because structures and services are built in a way that doesn’t speak to them, or isn’t flexible enough to accommodate their diversity,” says Director and founding CEO Carmel Guerra OAM.
Carmel says that support from Lord Mayor’s Charitable Foundation has been instrumental in the Centre’s success. “I really like the way [the Foundation] works,” she says. “I think they’re working ahead of the pack.”
The Foundation’s support for the Centre for Multicultural Youth came about through a project that looked at the refugee and migrant experience of unemployment. “From that came a response to how we might tackle some of the structural issues around why so many young people find themselves unemployed,” says Carmel. The Foundation stepped in with funding. Carmel says the relationship has been strong ever since – even when money isn’t available. “They’ve always been a great supporter of the cause even if they can’t fund us,” says Carmel. “If they’re doing work in the multicultural space, they reach out and talk about it. It’s important to stay connected.”
The Foundation has also undertaken research into the giving traditions of different cultures within Australia. From those early instances of Italian, Greek and Chinese communities fundraising for the Foundation, Melbourne’s migrant communities have long been involved in philanthropy. The Foundation’s Asian-Australian Diaspora Philanthropy research is about better understanding different cultures’ giving habits, and ensuring people of different backgrounds are involved in the Foundation’s fundraising efforts. It’s part of an effort to be more diverse and inclusive at all levels of the Foundation’s work.
The Foundation’s CEO Dr Catherine Brown OAM says the diaspora research was about ensuring Melbourne’s communities can work together. “There’s a lot of generosity across different cultures in Melbourne, but not everyone understands how we could help with structured giving,” she says. “So we brought groups together and talked about it. We find a lot of philanthropy is very person-to-person, so we need to build relationships and it needs to be personal – often one person at a time.”
And with the challenges of climate change ahead, there is more to be done to ensure we’re moving forward together. Dr Karyn Bosomworth, Program Manager of Healthy & Climate Resilient Communities impact area says that the pandemic response showed up a lot of blind spots. “A lot of disaster information and climate information is in English,” she says, “so it can be quite exclusionary at even that basic level.  The way we plan for climate impacts and emissions is going to be different in different communities,” she continues. “It needs to be because they’re dealing with different issues.  We must make sure we have diverse voices guiding us in those efforts.”
Karyn adds that it’s not just about helping the marginalised. A better connected and more equitable community is a stronger community.
“There’s a lot we can learn from different communities about dealing with climate’s effects,” she says. “Our role in that space is to make sure people are provided these spaces and can participate as genuine equal partners in those discussions – what does our neighbourhood look like? Where do we want urban greening to go? It’s all interrelated and complex.”
Of course, diversity isn’t just about ethnicity. In 2022, the new Victorian Pride Centre opened. Built with support from the Foundation, this haven for Melbourne’s still-marginalised LGBTQI+ population is the first purpose-built hub of its kind. Catherine said at the time of its opening that the Victorian Pride Centre is about creating a “more caring, respectful, inclusive and resilient Melbourne.”
For Carmel and the Centre for Multicultural Youth, ensuring marginalised voices are heard is the key to unlocking a fairer society,
“Diverse voices should be heard, acknowledged and valued in everything they do,” says Carmel. “From the Board to the funding. That’s what we want. And we must think locally. Victoria is unique – we are different from every other state.”
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