Award recognises young African changemaker

14 October 2016

Monica Forson has demonstrated unwavering commitment to supporting African Australian young people in Victoria.

Passionate and highly motivated, Monica is co-founder of the Afro-Australian Student Organisation (AASO), providing socio-cultural relevant services and a network forum to improve outcomes for African Australian young people.

Alongside this initiative, her myriad of other roles include membership of the Multicultural Youth Network, which advises the Victorian Government, Community Engagement Director of the African Music and Cultural Festival and volunteer at Asylum Seeker Resource Centre.

The Victorian Multicultural Commission caught up with Monica on winning the Youth Award of Victoria’s Multicultural Awards for Excellence 2016 about her achievements, inspiration, insights and what she loves most about her work.

How do you feel about receiving a Multicultural Award for Excellence?
It is an incredible honour to be nominated and receive a Multicultural Award for Excellence. When I received the email notifying me of the award I was shocked! I volunteer because I genuinely enjoy working with community groups. To be acknowledged for my contributions is humbling and also reaffirms my belief that I’m doing purposeful work.

What is your cultural background?
I am a proud mixed race women, born and raised in the Western Suburbs!

On my mother’s side I am a seventh generation Australian with British heritage and strong ties to Daylesford in regional Victoria.

On my father’s side I’m a second generation Australian. My father is from Takoradi in the Western Region of Ghana, West Africa. He left Ghana as a 19-year-old young man looking for a better life in the 1980s when Ghana was in a politically and economically fragile position with limited employment prospects. He arrived in Australia in 1989 then met my mum.

What inspires you in your work on a day-to-day level and what inspires you on a personal level?
My father is my biggest source of inspiration. Whilst he is a man of few words, ever since I was a little girl he would tell me to work hard and focus on my education.

Like many children of migrant families, I am constantly reminded of the sacrifices our loved ones have made to ensure we live a good life. I am very aware that I am privileged to live in Australia and wake up every day wanting to do the best I possibly can – be that academically, personally or professionally.

What achievements or initiatives of the Afro-Australian Student Organisation (AASO) are you most proud of and why?
I'm extremely proud of AASO for organising the ‘Meet the Profession’ Networking Night.

When I speak to young Africans in Melbourne they always mention how incredibly difficult it is to find a job. They tell me they have applied for hundreds of positions but are lucky to get even one or two interviews. Around 80 per cent of today’s jobs are landed through networking and unfortunately many young African Australians simply do not have these connections. AASO’s program allows young African Australians to meet recruiters and discuss ways to get their foot in the door. Last year participants in the program noted that they felt more confident applying for positions after attending the program with one participant even landing a job interview!

This year for the first time leading firms including KPMG, Maurice Blackburn Lawyers, Commonwealth Bank and Monash Health will participate in the program.
I’m proud of this program because I know AASO is a youth led organisation, actively trying to combat the high unemployment rates in our community.

What do you think are the current issues for Victoria’s diverse African student population and how can we tackle them?
In recent years there has been an unprecedented increase in the number of domestic and international African students in tertiary institutions in Australia. However, whilst there has been an increase in the student population, the number of services to support the needs of African students has not been increased proportionally.

Only half of the universities in Victoria have an African association on campus, leaving many African students feeling culturally isolated and not having a platform to discuss the issues that matter to them.
From consultation with our members, identity, belonging and social cohesion in Australia are topical issues being debated frequently in the youth space . Another issue particularly mentioned by international students is difficulties obtaining internships whilst studying. Internships are highly competitive and many companies prefer to invest in local students.

What do you love about what you do and why do you think it’s important?
I truly love working with multicultural community groups. Through my voluntary and professional work I meet so many young people who have goals and ambitions like any other young person living in Victoria but who feel there is a glass ceiling limiting their potential.

I want to make a positive change to inspire and work directly with other young people to develop meaningful solutions to address issues and change the perceptions society holds about multicultural youth.
AASO has provided a platform for young people in the African Australian community to address the issues affecting our own community – from developing a mentoring workshop in schools, to facilitating community forums, to highlighting the achievements of local talents and advocating for youth issues within the African community. There is incredible talent, passion and determination within the African community in Victoria and I’m honoured to have worked with many of those individuals who I now call dear friends.

What’s next for Monica Forson?
As part of the Sarah Myer Leadership program though the Immigration Museum I am working on a cross-cultural forum between the African and Pasifika community. This is really exciting as there are many commonalities between the communities, but little has been done to build solidarity between the two groups. Increasing cultural understanding between Victoria’s multicultural communities is a personal passion of mine and I look forward to working with more community groups in this space in the future.

See a full list of recipients and find out more about Victoria's Multicultural Awards for Excellence on our awards page.

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