Fellow awarded LGMA Young Leader Award

25 Sep 2016

Sarah Janali


Working with newcomers to Australia is a thread that runs through Sarah Janali’s career story.

Sarah provided support to newly arrived refugees in the non-profit sector before joining the City of Stirling – Western Australia’s local government with the highest intake of refugees. So it’s not surprising that she was interested in finding ways for local government to support migrants in their settlement journey.

Ms Janali pounced on an opportunity to learn more from experiences around the world when applications opened for Churchill Fellowships in 2015.

“When they called for applications, I thought, I’ve got a great idea and I think this would make a difference to the community,” Sarah recalls. “I put in an application with a project plan, went through the interview process and was awarded a Fellowship.

“When you’re working in a management position, you have don’t have time to do a lot of research. The Fellowship allowed me to have two months off to do some intellectual work in an area I am passionate about. The Fellowship was a great way to see what local governments were doing in other countries.”

Sarah visited local governments in Canada, USA, Belgium, Germany and Switzerland in 2015 and published her report in May 2016. She is keen to share her findings with others and is already applying them in her work.

“A key finding for me was about use of language and how we talk about people who come to Australia,” she explains. “I liked the term ‘newcomers’, which is used widely in Canada, rather than referring to people as asylum seekers, refugees or migrants. It’s a more inclusive word and doesn’t pigeonhole people according to how they got here. I’m now promoting the use of that word here.”

Another insight Sarah is finding useful is the way libraries can engage with newcomers.

“Canadian research shows that a very large percentage of newcomers visit the local library for information within the first couple of months of settlement. They take advantage of free internet and they see it as a place to find information and engage with the broader community. In Stirling, we’re looking at what the library does and how we support them to engage with newcomers and develop partnerships with settlement organisations. Mirrabooka library is trialling the concept of the Mirrabooka information hub, which provides assistance to newcomers to access local services and other information relevant to the settlement and integration process.”

Sarah initiated the LGMA Community Development Network’s Working Towards Welcome forum in July, her first public sharing of her Fellowship findings, supported by the WA Office of Multicultural Interests.

“There’s potential for local governments to work together to share best practice in responding to cultural diversity and migration,” Sarah asserts. “I found that local governments across Canada, the US and Europe were working together to create collaborative platforms and develop shared standards and striving to understand what it means to be a welcoming place. I hope there will be some sustained work in WA to discuss what our role is and how can we work together.”

Sarah encourages others to consider applying for a Churchill Fellowship. “It’s a great way for local government people to draw benefits to their communities.”

Humbling recognition

Sarah says it is humbling to be acknowledged by her colleagues with the Young Leader Award. “I am passionate about local government, where I’ve worked for nearly 10 years. I really enjoy being able to work in a sector that is collegial and collaborative and able to make an impact on people’s lives.”

She also pays tribute to Chris Brereton, Stirling’s community services manager, who, she says is “very supportive, and allows us to run with new ideas, to make mistakes and learn from them, and to do things outside the box.”

As well as the Churchill Fellowship, Sarah’s award also recognised her for a range of achievements at the City of Stirling, including her contribution to Aboriginal reconciliation and multicultural community engagement, especially projects that bring the two together. 

The City’s award-winning Aboriginal engagement project was profiled in the last edition of Statewide (Issue No: 164, 2016, p. 7).

You can email Sarah Janali at Sarah.Janali@stirling.wa.gov.au and download her Churchill Fellowship report at www.churchilltrust.com.au/fellows/detail/4035/Sarah+Janali

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