Effective Leadership: Community, Inner Peace, Diversity and Tools for Change

Thursday, December 24, 2020


IofC Australia and Work Force Diversity collaborated to offer a seven-part public webinar series on ‘Effective Leadership in Times of Crisis,’ from September 2020. The webinars brought together a range of thought-provoking speakers to explore the kind of leadership we need today. Speakers shared their community work and the connection with their life journeys. This is part 2 of our story. (Part 1 is here).


The fourth session on 18 October brought together 'Uncle' Eric Law and Prakurthi Mysore Gururaj.

First Nations elder and Wakka Wakka man ‘Uncle’ Eric Law presented highlights from his life of service, which has included military service in Vietnam, teaching in country schools, and then a return to his traditional lands at Cherbourg, Queensland. Here, he became superintendent of the then-Aboriginal Reserve, and later Mayor of its independent council. He currently serves as a Murri Court Magistrate. For his contributions, he was awarded the Order of Australia (AM) in 2015.

Uncle Eric compared the current COVID-19 crisis with the 1919 Spanish Flu, noting that the swift action by the council to lock down, and the active involvement of the whole community, helped ensure no lives were lost in his local area during the 2020 pandemic. He spoke of the influence his father and his grandfather have had on him. ‘If you are doing the right things and you are listening to the right people, you will meet a lot of very good people,’ had been his grandfather’s advice.

Uncle Eric left participants with this thought to ponder: ‘In all your life, if you take 20 seconds out of every day just to be brave, then you will be all right. There are more than 80,000 seconds in a day; just take 20 of them to be brave.’

Social entrepreneur Prakurthi Mysore Gururaj, Director of a community group, Connect Within and Beyond, spoke of incidents in her life that have led her to her current community work. Of Indian background, Prakurthi found that her new life in Australia had its own personal challenges for her and her family but it was her resilience to see the challenges through that led to her success. ‘Life is a journey of challenges and the best way is to challenge the challenges,’ she said. ‘Connect within yourself and see your purpose, and this leads you to connect with others.’

Listen to Uncle Eric and Prakurthi speak below.


Inner peace

The fifth session on 25 October featured Ali Yaghobi and Ronit Baras.

Ali Yaghobi, community worker and Secretary of the Afghan-Australian Initiative reflected on how the Life Matters Workshop he attended in March 2020 had an impact on his personal life, transforming his thoughts, perceptions and way of thinking towards people, events and circumstances as well as his view on world affairs in a post-COVID pandemic era. ‘We need more than ever to talk about people, community, responsibility, ethical leadership, inner peace and forgiveness,’ he said.

Life coach, speaker, and educator Ronit Baras shared her own story of losing her newborn baby 27 years ago in unexpected circumstances. The next pregnancy ended in a stillbirth. In those difficult times, she learned that, ‘I thought I was not strong but I realised I am much stronger than I think.

‘We can’t control what happens to us…but you have a choice of being bitter or better – always choose to be better versions of ourselves,’ she said.

Listen to Ali and Ronit speak below.


The sixth session on 1 November featured Kerrie Woodrow and Athalia Zwartz.

Kerrie Woodrow, a community development worker at Multicultural Australia, has worked in many different communities in Australia and Colombia, and currently is with Multicultural Australia. Through her work in many countries, she came to the realisation that, ‘We don’t really hear until we seek the different experiences around us.’ She stressed the need for diverse voices to inform the task of ‘building back better’ after COVID.

For cultural diversity practitioner Athalia Zwartz, a brother born with Down’s Syndrome, when she was 11, was her ‘first and most precious gift of diversity…Diversity is like a curiosity as to how each of us live and approach the world…we want to see the world in different ways through other people’s eyes,’ she said.

Her work, including six years as Executive Officer at IofC Australia, has encouraged her to look at diversity as ‘an attitude that we carry that includes appreciation, acceptance of the differences and a curiosity about them.’ At this time of COVID, when everyone is looking for answers, she believes that, ‘There is no right way, but we can bring our curiosity and diversity of different approaches. Then we are better able to make our contribution to what is needed.’

Listen to Kerrie and Athalia below.


The last session took place on Sunday  8 November 2020. The session featured Nigel Heywood, former community development and research manager at IofC Australa, and Sunny Mawiong from IofC India, who hails from Meghalaya, northeastern India.

Recognising the struggles that many, including himself, have been through during this time of the pandemic, Nigel introduced the idea of using practices such as looking inwards, silence, reflection and prayer as tools to deal with what is happening around you. ‘Emotions are signposts that help us to flag things in our own lives and give us important information…what we feel becomes part of our body,’ he said.

Sunny Maiwong spoke of the life struggles he had been through a few years ago. Purposeless, bitter, angry, addicted to substances and with his personal relationships in turmoil, he recounted how the values he has learnt through IofC of absolute honesty, purity, unselfishness and love have changed his life. He described moving ‘from bitterness to joy, anger to love, hurt to healing and nihilism to meaning.

‘Whether it is a personal, community or world crisis, the tools I find useful are knowing what our principles are, spending time in reflection such as quiet time, and creating a chain reaction of care,’ he said.

Listen to Nigel and Sunny speak below.

  • Did you catch Part 1 of our ‘Effective Leadership’ webinar series? If you missed it, click through for the first three sessions in the series.