60 seconds with Carmel Guerra

CEO and youth advocate

What are you enjoying doing at the moment? 
With generous philanthropic support, I have been given the opportunity lately to think more creatively about employment initiatives that will really make a difference to the Victorian community. Australia’s youth unemployment rate has risen from 12% in March 2016 – 13.2% in June 2016, demonstrating the importance of sustainable and effective action in this space.

Best thing that happened to you today? 
It made me so happy to hear today that a Centre for Multicultural Youth program participant has joined the team in an official capacity – as a staff member. That we have seen this young man grow so much in the time that we have known him, and then to be able to offer him employment has honestly made my day. He, and the other young people CMY works with every day, is an inspiration and true testament to hard work, dedication and going after your goals, even when you may face adversity.

If you had a magic wand, what would you use it for? 
My first order of business would be to rectify the inequality seen in education for young women across the globe. I would make sure that each and every young woman who wanted to go to school was supported, encouraged and enabled to do just that.

If you could have any job in the world, what would it be? 
If I couldn’t be CEO of CMY, I would really love to be a pilot. Or an astronaut! Good thing I didn’t follow that path though, as I’m sure my motion sickness and hatred of flying might have hindered my success!

If you could give one piece of advice to someone new to Australia, what would it be?
Uprooting your life and moving it across the world can be, understandably, overwhelming, unnerving and anxiety-inducing. Fortunately, there are a number of professional and community structures in place to assist migrants in the settlement process. Australia is a country built on migration and is generally very welcoming. Embrace the opportunities available to you and this great country will show you its true beauty.

What’s your favourite word in the English language? Why? 
Being bi-lingual, I love the fact that some words just don’t translate. One of my favourite Italian sayings is ‘Cosi Cosi’ which is used extensively in Naples, where my family comes from. It translates roughly to ‘So So’, but the English equivalent just doesn’t quite cut it!

What’s the biggest challenge you’ve faced as a woman from an immigrant or refugee background?
Growing up in Australia can be hard. Every child faces their own challenges and experiences their own issues. The biggest barrier to success for me, however, was the expectation that, as a child from a migrant background, I would not amount to much. I distinctly remember my high school careers teacher dampening my enthusiasm for journalism, instead saying I should just be a secretary like all the girls in my class.

Are there any disadvantages about being a woman from an immigrant/refugee background?
Similarly to what I mentioned earlier, I think the expectation that I wouldn’t amount to much in comparison to other kids was hard to grasp. But I see it now as both a curse and a blessing. It saddened me to think that my heritage, my family, might be the reason I couldn’t thrive in a country like Australia. But it also made me stronger and more determined. Ultimately it is one of the reasons I’ve worked so hard to ensure other refugee and migrant young people don’t ever feel the same way.

If you could invite any woman, living or dead, to dinner tonight, who would it be? 
There are so many possibilities but when it comes to dinner company, I would be looking for a really great conversationalist. Somebody who could stir emotion, ask deep questions and be fun all at once. I think with those criteria, Michelle Obama would be one of my top choices. She is grounded, intelligent and would have many stories to tell about her time in the White House.

What is your favourite possession? 
The jewellery that my mother left me when she passed is my most treasured possession. It carries with it such beautiful memories but also the hardship of the migration journey to Australia from a small village outside Naples.

If you could convince the world of one thing, what would it be?
We see so much negativity in the portrayal of young people in the media, particularly of late. I want to shout from the roof tops that young people are incredibly resilient, intelligent and resourceful. They are entrepreneurs, leaders and the future of this country. I think that if I could convince others of one thing, it’s that young people are the future – and that future will be bright if we give them a chance to shine.

If you could meet the Prime Minister tomorrow, what would you like to tell him? 
Please Mr Turnbull re-instate a Minister for Youth! We need this to believe the rhetoric of Australia being an innovative country and that young people are an important part of building a new economy.

Finish this sentence, “We need feminism because….”
We have made enormous strides in equality and women’s rights (18 current female world leaders are testament to this) but there is still so much work to do (as these women account for only 1-in-10 leaders of UN member states – and half of them are the first women to hold their country’s highest office!).We must never take for the granted the improvements we have made to the life situation of women throughout the world, and we can’t rest on our laurels.

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