Coffee With…Sameera Abdeen: Project Manager, Community Inclusion, Yarra Valley Water

Describe your work/role at YVW

Community inclusion is a relatively new division of Yarra Valley Water and looks at strategy and program development for the members of our community that might be experiencing vulnerabilities.  These are vulnerabilities such as financial hardship, engaging with culturally and linguistically diverse communities, accessibility, family violence and different life stages.  My role specifically is managing our family violence program.  I deliver family violence training to all new staff to our business, review and maintain our family violence policies and guidelines and get out into the community as much as I can to work with community organisations to inform them of the range of support programs we have available to support people.  Raising awareness for the support programs we have means we can engage those who are vulnerable in more meaningful and effective ways leading to better outcomes for our customers.

What excites and motivates you in your role?

When we meet with community partners to talk about the work that we do I come away with a new sense of excitement about the role we play in the industry.  Hearing about what they are seeing on the frontline informs and guides the work we do and the ways in which we support our customers and motives us to do more.  It’s always a great opportunity to get feedback on the way we are working in this space and it reinforces what we think we know.  We work for a water company, so we aren’t the experts on family violence, we are guided by the wealth of knowledge that the community, health and welfare organisations around us have.  People that we work with are often surprised that a water retailer has family violence policies and supports, leading the way and influencing change in the utilities sector is an exciting part of the role as well.

What is most challenging about your work?

There are so many wonderful partnerships and community organisation to support and work with, one of the hardest parts of this job is determining who we are able to support and what projects we would have a less active role in.  Of course, there is also the nature of the topic, we cannot pretend that talking about things like family violence or gender inequity all day every day isn’t difficult sometimes.  Self-care and seeking support during times of low resilience is part of working in this field and I am a big advocate for it.  Removing the stigma and normalising seeking support is a really important part of the role that I do, especially in situations where I am delivering training.

Tell us about the trainee programs YVW has for young indigenous people? Can you describe how having a diverse workplace adds value to your work?

Diversity and inclusion are important at Yarra Valley Water.  The more diverse we are the better we can understand and serve our customers, we are after all a microcosm of our community.  We have had a Reconciliation Action Plan since 2017 and to me this means that we walk the walk not just talk the talk.  It details objectives and actions across many different parts of the way we work and hold us accountable to that.  For example, this year we have developed an opportunity for young Aboriginal people to learn in the workplace through partnering with AFL SportsReady to run a traineeship program, something we are looking to do on an ongoing basis and hope to expand.  We’re also learning about what it means to be a culturally safe workplace, getting to know different Aboriginal community organisations and building connections and relationships and understanding the different ways we can work together.

As part of diversity and inclusion, our LGBTIQ+ working group have just launched an initiative called Pride in Water.  Research shows that almost 50% of LGBTIQ+ people feel compelled not to reveal their sexuality or gender identity at work, for fear of isolation, discrimination or abuse. Shocked by these statistics and driven by a commitment to fostering a diverse and inclusive workplace, Yarra Valley Water launched the industry-first, Pride in Water network.  Comprising of representatives from across the water industry, the initiative aims to provide support and guidance for other authorities on their LGBTIQ+ inclusion journeys and develop a better practice model for the inclusion of the community.  With over 6,000 professionals working across the sector, there’s never been a more important time to carve out a safe space for LGBTIQ+ individuals where they feel not only included but valued and empowered.

What strengths do you see in the Eastern Region Community?

The partnerships and connections amongst the eastern region that are working towards ending gender-based violence are active and strong.  The understanding that more can be achieved as a collective and through collaboration is something that continues to motivate me, looking around at the way we all share information and resources and jump in when someone needs a hand or a suggest a mutually beneficial project or connection is something the East Region should be so proud of!

Where do you recommend in the East for Coffee/ Lunch/ People Watching/Lunchtime Exercise?

I don’t drink coffee, but I do love food.  I often rely on the recommendations of others cause I’m not from around these parts!  Our team tried a great new café just near us the other week called Mr Robertson in Nunawading for lunch, we were all very satisfied!  Going for a walk at lunchtime is always a great way to get some fresh air, we are lucky that we are located in a lovely leafy residential street.

If you could change one thing about the world right now, what would it be?

The most dangerous place a woman can be in Australia is in her own home.  The reality of that gives me goosebumps.  Every single piece of work that is happening in both response and prevention space is contributing to changing this horrendous reality, but that change certainly can’t come quick enough.

If you weren’t working at YVW right now, what would you be doing?

I would be working in a school or with school-age children in some capacity.  I am a qualified primary school teacher and take my hat off to those who dedicate their days to this profession.  I strongly believe that education is the way to affect real change in our society and is the most effective way to empower people.  I don’t know exactly what I would be doing, but it would be working with our youngest minds.

We acknowledge the Wurundjeri people and other peoples of the Kulin nation as the traditional owners of the land on which our work in the community takes place. We pay our respects to their Elders past and present.

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