Presenting at the Advancing Community Cohesion Conference, held at University of Western Sydney today, Settlement services International (SSI) Chief Operating officer Dr Astrid Perry said social cohesion was a multifaceted concept where a clear definition had been difficult to achieve.
Dr Perry said: “Participation in the community, a sense of belonging and equality of opportunity has been credited as contributing to social cohesion along with shared values and common identity. Conversely, and not surprisingly, disadvantage and social exclusion contribute to lower social cohesion.
Drawing on the Five Dimensions of Social and Community Cohesions*, Dr Perry spoke about the potential, promise and challenges of social cohesion among marginalised communities.
“Our clients, by definition of arriving recently in Australia, are largely not connected to the Australian community, as yet. However, they are very keen to learn and find social activities that assist them in meeting people and getting to know Australia.”
Dr Perry said SSI’s focus on community engagement through initiatives such as Community Kitchen, Playtime and Ignite Small Business Start-ups, was directed at connecting clients with each other and the broader community.
One of the examples cited was that of SSI Ignite entrepreneur Sima Mahboobifard. With the assistance of Ignite Sima had started selling her handmade leather bags within two months of arriving in Australia.
“The establishment of the Ignite initiative was based on SSI’s knowledge of working with refugees with strong entrepreneurial backgrounds and the existing research to support this,” said Dr Perry.
Dr Perry presented as part of the ‘Tensions on Social Cohesion’ session. Other topics addressed today included youth education, marginalisation, and obstacles to social cohesion, with the day ending in a Q&A based on the topic “How to nourish social cohesion and advance the culture of tolerance and respect.”
*Markus and Kirpichenko