30 June 2021

The Social Enterprise Investing in Opportunities for Refugees and Celebrating Multiculturalism

Carmen Garcia

Carmen Garcia

CEO & Managing Director of Community Corporate
Bachelor of Arts (International Studies)

Carmen Garcia’s grandfather always told her, ‘To whom much is given, much is expected’. Growing up as a second-generation Filipino migrant with a single mum in housing trust, she didn’t always understand what this meant – “we were materialistically poor but rich in love and support, so what could I give others?”

However, by the time her ambitions grew, and she went on to study International Relations at UniSA, her professional sights were set on driving progress and demonstrating that social good is a key to economic prosperity. It was clear this early lesson from her grandfather began to manifest itself in her work.

She understood what he meant; Carmen had been given courage and a voice, and had a responsibility to advocate for others. She now leads Community Corporate, an award-winning diversity and inclusion company, operating in the corporate social responsibility space.

The team’s mission is to find new employer partners who want to accelerate their diversity and inclusion agenda, as well as developing new products and services to keep ahead of the curve. Carmen spearheads these initiatives all while sitting on many boards and committees to influence the conversation and elevate Diversity & Inclusion on the agenda.

2021 is proving to be an exciting year for Community Corporate as COVID-19 has opened up opportunities to support all Australians impacted by the crisis. Even though their priority and expertise will always be supporting refugees, they now have expanded and customised into their DiversityWorks! Initiative to support migrants, women returning to work and vulnerable youth, and also launched a new service, ‘The PIPE Line Project’, creating professional inclusion pathways to employment.

Carmen and the team are also continuing to connect with the community through partnerships with Woolworths, OTR, Ikea, InDaily’s 40 Under 40 (in which Carmen snagged in its inaugural year), and events like their upcoming ‘Feast for a Future’ – a night at Lot 100 in the Adelaide Hills in celebration of Adelaide’s multicultural population.

Carmen (centre) takes a personal approach to mentoring and creating amazing opportunities for refugees and migrants in Australia
Carmen (centre) takes a personal approach to mentoring and creating amazing opportunities for refugees and migrants in Australia

When Carmen is not spearheading such creative inclusion strategies, you can find her tending to her hobby farm in Mylor with alpacas, miniature pigs, chickens and a Shetland pony, cooking up a feast, or as a Filipino and self-proclaimed karaoke queen, jamming out to motivational songs with her daughter.

She even recently took the time out of her busy schedule to tell us about her journey establishing Community Corporate, her work as a diversity and inclusion advocate, and helping as many refugees, migrants, women and youth as possible.

Could you tell us a little bit about the journey that led you to founding Community Corporate?

As a second-generation Filipino migrant, I witnessed first-hand my mother’s struggle to practice law as her qualifications were not recognised in Australia. I believe work lies at the core of human dignity and I wanted to challenge conventional recruitment that doesn’t look beyond the pages of the resume at the person, their values, attributes, skills and experience. We always quote, ‘it takes a village to raise a child’ but refugees and migrants need an ecosystem of support too as many jobs are not advertised and it relies on having connections and networks that most newcomers do not have.

I’ve long been a volunteer and advocate for multicultural communities and with my career experience in the state government, private and community sectors, I identified a real disconnect between community and corporates; hence, Community Corporate, the social enterprise, was born. I started Community Corporate in 2013 as a sole trader and now in 2021 we have 12 staff across two main offices in SA and NSW.

I started CC to make a difference and this year we were recognised as the National Social Enterprise of the Year! I can’t believe it – I did not honestly think we would win so I’m so proud that others can see the impact we make as much as I do now.

Carmen in the Philippines supporting a girls home with much needed supplies
Carmen in the Philippines supporting a girls home with much needed supplies

You've achieved so much already in your short career – where do you think your passion for this career path, diversity and inclusion began?

I think my mum’s journey had a lot to do with it, but also being impacted by unconscious bias myself, whether it was because I’m female, multicultural or, back in the day, too young. I was bullied in high school and often felt no one was in my corner, so when I found my voice and confidence to speak my truth, I grabbed it with both hands!

I believe everyone has talent, and I love the discovery process of helping people unleash their potential when it is truly aligned to their passion. For me, I feel so fortunate to have turned my passion into a profession.

Now, this is not what I do, it is just who I am. You can’t put a price tag on seeing someone who has applied for hundreds of jobs, been overlooked, rejected and never given permission to shine, finally be given an opportunity to find true purpose and belonging.

What would you say to anyone wanting to branch out on their own or begin an entrepreneurial career? Do you have any advice managing the challenges you have faced?

You have to get comfortable with being uncomfortable. You won’t know everything you need to know, so you have to ask for help – #outsourceyourweaknesses. You also need to surround yourself with people who have succeeded as it makes the impossible seem more possible! This is what I love about convening the Solstice Media 40 Under 40 entrepreneurs and business leaders in SA; I am inspired and motivated by their success, and that pushes me to achieve more and know that it can be done, as it’s been done right here in SA before!

It has become clear to me, that entrepreneurship is not just about excellence, skills or even talent – it is about one key attribute: courage! The courage to pursue rewards no matter the risk; the courage to back yourself and not be afraid to stand alone; the courage to not settle but to strive; and the courage to believe there is always a better way!

Carmen and her Community Corporate team was named the nation’s social enterprise of the year at the 2020 Australian Small Business Champions Awards in March
Carmen and her Community Corporate team was named the nation’s social enterprise of the year at the 2020 Australian Small Business Champions Awards in March

Are there any ways the average individual can model or help foster diversity and inclusion in their lives that benefits the whole community?

Absolutely! The standard you walk past is the standard you accept. We must call it out and make up our own minds. We must be curious for our truth and build this on experiences, engagement and actively understanding what it’s like to walk in someone else’s shoes.

Take COVID for example. Can anyone really be blamed for some of the community responses we have seen as a result of the threat of COVID-19? Although we mock the excessive obsession that has transpired with toilet paper, the motive is simple to understand its survival mentality.

Welcome to the plight of displaced people – a situation thrown onto some 70 million people around the world who have been forced from home by conflict and persecution. Among them are nearly 30 million refugees, over half of whom are under the age of 18. No one deserves it. It’s just now their reality as COVID-19 is now ours. Remembering no one chooses crisis and the only thing we need to do is be kind.

So, it’s timely that we recognise the plight of refugees in particular. We all now share, and hopefully can better understand, the experience of an unwanted, underserved sense of crisis, of survival, of self-preservation. The reality of doing what it takes for our families to cope.

There is no denying unconscious bias still exists in society and more so in workplaces. Assumptions are made of refugees being uneducated, uncultured, and in some unfortunate situations seen as less than us, inferior in some way – why? Because they were forced into crisis as we are now? Would the same be said about all of us now affected by our own crisis?

Like us, refugees are doctors, teachers, nurses, retail assistants, store owners, café owners, students, parents, children. They were going about their own everyday lives then crisis hit due to no fault of their own. They are human, doing the best they can to survive and manage the cards they have been dealt, again, like we are now with COVID-19, right?

So maybe we just need to live by the golden rule: treat others as we want to be treated, as we will never really know what it’s taken for someone to get here and sit beside you in class. Just be kind.

To find out more about Community Corporate, Carmen and her team’s inspiring initiatives visit their website here.

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