National Human Rights Program Manager, the United Nations Association of Australia;
Global Diversity and Inclusion Strategist
Fadzi Whande is fulfilling her lifelong dream.
“When I was six years old I woke up from a nightmare and my dad was watching a plane crash on the news. I asked, ‘Who are all the people with ‘un’ on their backs?’ He said, ‘It’s not ‘un’, it’s ‘UN’, an organisation that helps people all over the world. They’re mainly a group of volunteers looking for survivors.’ I thought, ‘Oh wow! I want to help people when I grow up.’
“Fast forward to Perth, Western Australia: I meet the leader of the Australia National Committee for UN Women Perth Chairperson and I get involved with the committee.”
Six months after joining the United Nations Association of Western Australia, Fadzi became the head of the National Human Rights Program for the United Nations Association, a voluntary position she holds as well as her full-time university position as a manager, inclusion and diversity.
A single mum, Fadzi had self doubts when she became a mature age tertiary student, but she pushed through the feelings of not belonging and found her place.
“I underestimated my own potential and the impact that my story would have on people.”
“I won the International Racial Equity Leadership Award in Austin Texas, which was just amazing. And then I was named a finalist (the only individual) in the Australian Human Rights Commission Racism it Stops with Me Awards.
“But my story truly changed when I participated in the Speakers Institute boot camp led by communication expert, Sam Cawthorn.
“I developed the confidence to tell my story – my authentic story – it was the first time I had publicly shared it.
“For a long time I felt like my whole story was shrouded with abuse. Now, I think about all the things that have happened and I can let the bitterness go. I’m happy with where my life is.”
“Everything I do has a focus on helping people, ensuring that they are comfortable enough to share their own story, whatever’s happened. I want to let them know there is still a lot of life to be lived.
“Sometimes you think you’re the only person who’s endured whatever it is and then you talk to other people. I was six when I was going through sexual abuse, and I had nobody I could talk to. For so many years, I carried that with a deep sense of shame as if it was my fault.
“I tell my story so others know that they’re not alone.
“I think that’s why I’m attracted to working in inclusion and diversity. I believe every person wants to feel a sense of belonging. Working in this space can be challenging but whose responsibility is it? That’s why I ask myself, ‘If I don’t do it, who’s going to?’ It has never been easy for the people who’ve advocated for change; some haven’t lived to see the changes. I just keep chipping away.”
6D: Who inspires you?
“My dad has six sisters and they are all very strong women – well educated and confident. My grandfather instilled that confidence in them. Growing up, there wasn’t ever a question about not being able to do something because you’re a female. It was shocking for me to leave that environment and hear people say there’s a problem with gender equality, it certainly wasn’t the example I was given.
“One of my aunts is my inspiration. She studied in America, worked hard and got her PhD then started working for the UN in Geneva. She didn’t have kids of her own, so she poured everything into me and my cousins.
“I saw how hard my aunt worked, her passion and desire to make a difference and I felt like that was the kind of person I wanted to be.”
“For me, the most inspiring thing is her selflessness. I said to her, ‘I have to get the PhD, so I can be Dr Whande Jnr.’
“Two weeks ago a colleague suggested I meet a researcher from Asuza Pacific University, California, who’s doing research on racism in higher education. The researcher and I had so much in common and he said, ‘You should consider doing a PhD.’ So, hopefully something will come of that.”
6D: You’ve been through a lot. Does anything frighten you now?
“I’ve spent a lot of time worrying about how people perceive me. People say I don’t realise the potential I have, or the way I inspire other people. I never want to get ahead of myself. I always want to feel like there are things to learn. But what people think about me doesn’t worry me anymore. I’ve been through so much, that now when I go through challenging times I think, ‘I’ve been through worse.’
“Although, I am sometimes fearful for my children. They’re going through their own journeys; I hope they are strong enough to handle it.
“And, when it comes to things I’m passionate about, I still get anxious, I have self doubt, particularly if I’m not being listened to. But it’s in those moments I really need to learn to speak up.
“In a previous relationship, I felt I had no voice, I couldn’t be myself. The control, the fear, I still have all the triggers from years of abuse. But I’ve learnt that I need to love and value myself before expecting any one else to.
“I get angry when I feel I am the voice of every minority. Why is it in 2018, that I am still the only woman of colour amongst hundreds of people? It’s hard, but I’m starting to challenge that. Particularly the need to allow multiple perspectives and experiences to guide our thinking and narratives. I’m starting to challenge their definition of inclusion.
“When I’m asked to speak at events, I always challenge people to be more inclusive. Who are your friends? Are they different to you?
“You can’t expect to have an inclusive work environment when you go home and you only have friends who look like you. First, we have to diversify our own lives.”
6D: If you didn’t feel the responsibility to be an advocate, what would be your drive?
“I can’t imagine that, we bring ourselves to a space. If what I bring is being a woman, and a person of colour, that will never go away. What I do find tiring is having to justify my existence. I don’t want to imagine a life where we’re all the same, because we’re not, and we all bring value. But I shouldn’t have to justify why I am different. When will we be able to look at people for who they are, not how they look, or what gender they are?”
6D: You’ve talked about faith. What role does faith play in your life?
“My faith is the essence of who I am. When I was little, it was all I had. Imagining life without it takes me back to a very dark place. I try to live a life worthy of the gospel, of my faith.”
6D: Where to next?
“The last two years have been very busy. I had invitations to speak at a lot events but I am always surprised at the things that come. In January, the Australia Day Council asked me to be an Australia Day Ambassador. Every year I am surprised at the opportunities that present themselves. And I am going to pursue the PhD I’ve wanted for so long.”
6D: What is success to you?
“Success to me is having a teachable spirit – there are still so many things I want to learn. Success is feeling I’ve made a difference in someone’s life.
“Success is not quitting, it’s making sure I leave the world a better place than when I came into it, whatever that looks like.”