Interview with Zione Walker-Nthenda, IPAA Top 50 Public Sector Women award winner

23 May 2022

The Top 50 Public Sector Women awards were held in April. This year, they honoured and celebrated the enormous contributions of women during COVID-19.

Kevin Kapeke, a member of IPAA Victoria’s African-Australian CoP Committee interviewed committee member Zione Walker-Nthenda, IPAA Victoria’s African-Australian CoP Committee Member, and emerging finalist at this year’s Top 50 Public Sector Women awards, about her reflections on the awards and their importance.

[caption id="" align="alignnone" width="1920"]Zione Walker-Nthenda Zione Walker-Nthenda[/caption]

Zione is Director, Paving the Way Forward, North Melbourne and Flemington, Department of Families, Fairness and Housing and is a lawyer, social entrepreneur, and Executive within the Victoria Public Service. She is the co-founder of Incubate Foundation and founder of Community Builders Lab. Zione has experience in systemic, structural, and organisational change. She has worked at Victoria Police, Women’s Legal Service, Victoria Legal Aid, the Victorian Aboriginal Legal Service.

Some of the significant work she has led in her various roles include:
  • Most significant, family violence reforms in the family law system as the national co-convenor of Women's Legal Services Australia

  • Developing the first mentoring and professional development program for family violence lawyers in Victoria

  • Working with VEOHRC and police officers to develop the first human rights equity and diversity policy training for police by police in Australia as the Human Rights Manager at Victoria Police

  • Developing the first-ever Socialpreneurship Hackathon linking African Australians into the start-up ecosystem through Incubate Foundation

  • Collaborating with African Australian community leaders to facilitate community workshops and receive submissions from various community members and organisations to write the first-ever African community issues paper and action plan. This community issues paper was a precursor to the development of the ten-year Victorian African Communities Action Plan with the Victorian government committing $8.6 million for the first two years.

Zione describes herself as a global citizen, having attended schools in Hong Kong, England, Japan, Russia, Nigeria, and Australia.

What does a day in the life of a community engagement director involve? What are some of your favourite elements of your day?

Working with the team to develop and build bridges with the community through identifying, understanding, planning, and working with community members. It’s bringing a grassroots community knowledge and development context to systemic change. Favourite elements are meeting new people who through our work realise that government, is made up of people like them who are super keen to get their insights so we can provide services to meet their needs.

Who are some mentors you look up to who inspired the trajectory you’re on now? What did these mentors teach you?

I have not really been engaged in formal mentoring programs as a mentee though, I did work somewhere where the Managers were provided with paid mentors which were excellent and I would highly recommend to other organisations. I have had informal mentors and the key learning from them include knowing your value and worth and continually developing yourself (formally and informally) to learn and improve.  I am still studying; short courses and other things to get better and be better.  Assignments are a killer with work and caring responsibilities though!

From your perspective, what do you think are three qualities that this great group of 80 women recognised by IPAA Victoria share? 

Caring for the community, extending oneself beyond the obvious confines of one’s role, and respecting your teams; they really make the difference.

What challenges do young people face when it comes to finding work in our sector (or any sector)? How can they overcome these challenges? 

Big questions!1. Taking the time to understand one’s self; your strengths and challenges including the sensitive and delicate parts of yourself. 2. Identifying your skills, talents, and passions; wrapping that up into your unique value proposition for a job or business. 3. Connect with your networks; your friends, families, and their networks. Melbourne is two degrees of separation; you’ll be surprised that someone in your network is one or two steps removed from whoever it is you want to know or meet. Years ago, someone did a 6 degree of separation experiment and linked his grandmother in a Southern African village to Bill Clinton and another to Henry Kissinger. To help with overcoming challenges… I can’t pretend to know much here, but what has helped me has been reading about other people’s lives, self-development, reaching out to others and doing the things that make me happy (which can be totally superficial as long as it makes you feel as happy as a pig luxuriating in mud)!

What do you wish you had known ten years ago that you know now?

Gee, am I at the looking back stage….??  Get a buffer!By that, I mean a buffer of people who make you feel good, who elevate and encourage you so that when the inevitable bumpy times come, your buffer acts as a cushion until you get back up again.IPAA Victoria’s African-Australian Community of Practice congratulates community leader and IPAA Victoria’s African-Australian committee member on being recently recognised as one of IPAA’s Top 50 Public Sector Women.

This article was written and prepared by the African-Australian Community of Practice network.

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