Student Youth Network

SYN is Australia’s largest youth media organisation. Based in Melbourne they have engaged thousands of young people in Victoria, and across Australia, since they launched in 2003. They run a radio station (90.7 fm on digital radio) and create TV shows and online content that gives young people a platform to share their stories and be heard.

In the last few years, SYN realised that to be truly representative of their audience they needed to have a variety of voices on air. So they embarked on an inclusion program that targeted young people from culturally and linguistically diverse (CALD) backgrounds.

Volunteering Victoria spoke with SYN’s Diversity Programming Coordinator Fiona Wright and one of the young CALD volunteers, Anisa, about how the program works, and what the outcomes have been.

Fiona on the challenges SYN faced in launching the program

Many of the programs we run are free and it can be difficult to create deep engagement and have good attendance at training when offering free programs. Time investment is a difficult area to balance for many not for profits. This is not a challenge restricted to volunteers from CALD backgrounds – it is prominent across many of our programs.’

Mentoring is key to creating better engagement between the volunteer and the organisation

‘Mentoring support appears to create deep engagement. Also choosing to work with smaller groups to deepen connections and friendships has also been very successful. Smaller groups are more likely to become friends and continue to volunteer and work together – bigger groups can get less radio time and then be less engaged as a result.’

The benefits of engaging CALD volunteers are tangible to SYN. Diverse voices on air made for great content and a stronger organisation.

Young people are creating interesting content from many non-traditional media perspectives and CALD volunteers are no stranger to that. Helping young people with different backgrounds learn media skills benefits not only SYN, but the Australian media landscape as a whole as more diverse speaking means more perspectives and that can only strengthen our community.’

SYN volunteer Anisa, who took part in the organisation’s CALD engagement program agrees that mentoring and ongoing encouragement have been beneficial for her.

‘Aside from learning how to make media you also get to engage with the media industry in general and learn a lot from mentors. The people at SYN are incredibly helpful and encouraging and that kind of environment cultivates a sense of confidence in the volunteers to take on opportunities at SYN and beyond.’

Anisa also shares her thoughts on what she thinks other volunteer involving organisations need to do to engage her peers.

‘I think organisations need to work harder to open up opportunities for people of CALD backgrounds as they face extra barriers e.g. cultural, language barriers.’

Mentoring or taking leadership from other people of CALD backgrounds is also really important as they would be most effective in understanding the challenges those volunteers face.

‘They also need to be culturally sensitive and have a basic understanding/willingness to learn about other cultures. Sometimes, people of CALD backgrounds, especially those who are new to Australia, feel shy or embarrassed to speak about their culture as they feel the need or pressure to just fit in to what they perceive as acceptable in Australia. A simple example is when people of CALD backgrounds are encouraged to anglicise their name. I’ve never understood the need for that, as it suggests that their name is foreign whereas e.g. Jack, Rachel isn’t. All names should be accepted and people shouldn’t be made to feel foreign or not white enough.’

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