As ci­ti­zens, what we do for so­ci­ety counts

The West Australian - - OPINION - Michelle Scott

In­de­pen­dent, pas­sion­ate, so­cially en­tre­pre­neur­ial and keen to make a dif­fer­ence are not la­bels usu­ally ap­plied to the Gen-Z, but they’re the find­ings of research pub­lished this week by NAB. These are the at­tributes we see ev­ery day at the McCusker Cen­tre for Ci­ti­zen­ship at the Univer­sity of WA, where an Aus­tralian-first pro­gram is un­der way to en­cour­age young peo­ple to be­come life­long “ac­tive ci­ti­zens”.

The com­mon view about ci­ti­zen­ship is that it’s some­thing you ei­ther have by birthright or have been awarded af­ter you mi­grate to Aus­tralia. It’s the thing that en­ables you to carry an Aus­tralian pass­port when you travel over­seas.

But our work is about some­thing more: what re­spon­si­bil­ity do we have as ci­ti­zens and in par­tic­u­lar what re­spon­si­bil­ity do we have to be ac­tive ci­ti­zens, con­tribut­ing to the shape of our com­mu­nity? We call it ac­tive ci­ti­zen­ship. It’s a mind­set, an at­ti­tude and above all we want it to in­volve ac­tion. This is a ques­tion we are pos­ing for students study­ing at univer­sity and the com­mu­nity more gen­er­ally.

Ac­tive ci­ti­zen­ship, in our view, is the busi­ness of en­gag­ing with the com­mu­nity in which you live and work and a par­tic­u­lar fo­cus is on build­ing a far greater un­der­stand­ing of those ci­ti­zens who are on the mar­gins of our com­mu­ni­ties and our re­spon­si­bil­ity to con­trib­ute to­wards a more so­cially in­clu­sive so­ci­ety.

One of our aims is to ex­pose young Aus­tralians — in par­tic­u­lar, our Univer­sity of WA students — to some of the com­plex chal­lenges in our com­mu­nity and to pro­vide them with struc­tured op­por­tu­ni­ties to make a con­tri­bu­tion — to make a dif­fer­ence.

We offer un­der­grad­u­ates and post­grad­u­ates credit to­wards their courses if they take part in struc­tured in­tern­ships across one se­mes­ter with more than 200 not-for-profit, com­mu­nity and govern­ment or­gan­i­sa­tions. We want ac­tive ci­ti­zen­ship to be­come a life­long habit.

So what is the ap­petite among our Gen-Zs to make a dif­fer­ence in their com­mu­nity? The best answers are found in the sta­tis­tics gleaned from the McCusker Cen­tre’s first year in op­er­a­tion. This year, our first year, we placed more than 130 students in in­tern­ships. There were more than 300 ap­pli­cants from across all fac­ul­ties; com­merce, law, science, medicine, arts, en­gi­neer­ing.

Young students have con­trib­uted more than 13,000 hours to mak­ing a dif­fer­ence in the com­mu­nity. They have worked along­side our part­ner or­gan­i­sa­tions in ar­eas such as mi­grant and refugee sup­port, as­sist­ing fam­i­lies who have chil­dren with foetal al­co­hol spec­trum dis­or­der, writ­ing sub­mis­sions to govern­ment on the over-rep­re­sen­ta­tion of Abo­rig­i­nal peo­ple in our prisons sys­tem and run­ning so­cial me­dia cam­paigns on poverty. They have trav­elled widely with or­gan­i­sa­tions in re­gional WA, in­ter­state and New York.

And the feedback from some of our in­terns: “This in­tern­ship has made me a more well-rounded in­di­vid­ual … and I’ve learnt a lit­tle more about hu­man­ity” to “I can make a dif­fer­ence even though it’s only maybe an hour or two hours, any­one can make a dif­fer­ence to some­one’s life.”

Young peo­ple also have a great ap­petite for look­ing at new ways to solve old prob­lems. This year, the cen­tre, in partn­er­ship with Bloom and the Cen­tre for So­cial Im­pact at UWA, took part for the first time in The Big Idea, run by The Big Is­sue, to con­ceive and de­velop so­cial en­ter­prises de­signed to ad­dress home­less­ness and dis­ad­van­tage in the com­mu­nity.

We have started an am­bi­tious pro­gram, Vi­tal Dis­cus­sions for Aus­tralians, on is­sues such as men­tal health, dis­abil­ity, end­ing world poverty, lead­er­ship and ci­ti­zen­ship to re­in­force the im­por­tance of be­ing in­volved. More than 9000 peo­ple have joined in these dis­cus­sions.

We have more than 200 part­ners lo­cally, na­tion­ally and glob­ally com­mit­ted to build­ing a greater ca­pac­ity in our com­mu­nity to build a more so­cially in­clu­sive so­ci­ety.

For them, our in­terns of­ten rep­re­sent a well­spring of fresh ideas and the chance to forge last­ing re­la­tion­ships with the peo­ple most likely to be­come to­mor­row’s de­ci­sion-mak­ers.

Next year, we want to build our num­ber of in­tern­ships to 200 and forge part­ner­ships with more or­gan­i­sa­tions, lo­cally, na­tion­ally and glob­ally. As we grow, it’s this no­tion of ac­tive ci­ti­zen­ship that un­der­pins our vi­sion: to foster caring, con­nected and so­cially en­gaged ci­ti­zens who ac­tively con­trib­ute to the well­be­ing of their com­mu­ni­ties. Michelle Scott is the di­rec­tor of the McCusker Cen­tre for Ci­ti­zen­ship.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Australia

© PressReader. All rights reserved.