5 minutes with Victoria's #DiversityHeroes: John & Pauline Gandel

21 October 2016

John Gandel AO and Pauline Gandel have been honoured for their heartfelt dedication to multiculturalism in Victoria as recipients of the Premier’s Award for Community Harmony for 2016.

Drawing on a personal understanding of anti-Semitism, John Gandel AO and Pauline Gandel’s have been passionately committed to programs that tackle racism, anti-Semitism, xenophobia and intolerance and promote cultural, religious and social cohesion.

Leading one of Australia’s largest independent philanthropic funds, Gandel Philanthropy, John and Pauline Gandel have provided critical finance and other support to programs that aim to foster social harmony.

We spoke with these deserving award recipients about what drives them, what they’ve achieved and their vision for helping to build an inclusive community.

What would you like to tell us about winning the award?

Pauline and I are truly humbled to be recognised with this award.

The work we do, the engagement we have with the community, comes from the heart. It also comes from the knowledge that we have been very successful in our lives and in the work we do, and that’s why we feel an acute sense of duty to proactively help those less fortunate in our community.

One of the strengths of our society as a whole is the way in which it is welcoming and accepting of refugees, asylum seekers and migrants from all corners of the world. We all have a role to play in helping those that come to our shores feel accepted, as well as helping those who are already here feel their lives, their liberties and their way of life is as important.

What are your family’s origins?

Both Pauline and I were born in Melbourne and both our parents arrived to Australia from Poland in the 1920s. Like many Jewish immigrants from Poland at that time, they fled anti-Semitism in that country in order to make a better life elsewhere and settled successfully in Australia.

What inspires you personally, and in your work, on a day to day level?

Pauline and I are driven and committed individuals. Our inspiration, first and foremost, comes from our family, our children and grandchildren, and we strive to help them be a positive force and a force for good in this world.

We are also very much inspired by the people we meet every day, especially those working in the not-for-profit sector, who are passionate, committed and driven humanitarians that dedicate their careers and their lives to helping those in need.

What achievements and/or initiatives of Gandel Philanthropy are you most proud of and why?

To us, the true ‘jewel in the crown’ is the Gandel Holocaust Studies Program for Australian Educators. This program supports secondary school teachers from all Australian schools to get a better understanding and proper education on how best to teach about the Holocaust and human rights in the modern world. To date, more than 150 teachers across Australia have completed the course, many coming from Victorian schools. In our view, the program plays a critical role in ensuring proper awareness of the Holocaust, better understanding of the importance of upholding and protecting human rights in every situation. It is also about building empathy, social cohesion and cultural understanding in our communities.

Another program we are very proud of is ’Shout Out’, delivered by Centre for Multicultural Youth (CMY). Designed in direct cooperation with CMY, the program aims to strengthen the capacity of young refugees and migrants to be their own advocates in the broader community, to have their voices heard and break down stereotypes by telling a story with a human face.

The program has been running for two years now and dozens of young migrants and refugees have been trained in public speaking. We recently learned about one of the participants, Celia Tran, and the story of her journey in the program. She used to be a very quiet and shy, however, the Shout Out program helped Celia to build her confidence and become a much stronger voice in the broader community. As a result, she has joined a board of one community organisation, Western Chances, and last year she also received the young person’s Ambassador Award of Victoria’s Multicultural Awards for Excellence 2015.

We are also very proud to see that the Shout Out program is being promoted by the Australian Human Rights Commission’s “Racism, it stops with me” campaign as a leading speakers program.

Why do you think Victoria’s multicultural diversity is important?

We are strong believers in a society that is multicultural, harmonious and inclusive. In fact, it is worth noting that part of the mission statement of our philanthropic arm, Gandel Philanthropy states, “We will support initiatives that promote community values and cultural dialogue, foster community cohesion and build community spirit.”

However, having a strong, resilient and inclusive community is a constant work in progress. We can never rest on our laurels, we must always continue to build social cohesion with both older and younger generations.

To this day, anti-Semitism is present and can be found in many parts of the world. As Jewish people we know, perhaps as well as anyone else, what it means to be a minority or a target of suspicion. This makes myself and Pauline even more committed to ensuring that all people are treated equally, that everyone’s human rights are respected, upheld and protected, and that we never stop teaching – and learning – about the value, importance and moral imperative of treating our fellow citizens as humans and as equals. And we can only hope that we are doing our bit towards achieving that goal.

Are there any new developments or initiatives in the pipeline that you can share with us?

We are always on the lookout for new ideas and new approaches to ensuring we continue to help build a stronger, more inclusive and more resilient community.
One recent example of a program we supported is the ‘Emerge’ cultural leadership program for multicultural artists delivered by Multicultural Arts Victoria. The program combines the power of the arts with building stronger connections among the artists, their own communities and mainstream audiences. It’s an exciting development with great potential, and we will monitor its progress closely and with interest. There are a number of other initiatives we are currently exploring – but more on that in the future!

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