Teaching people how to dream again
In discussing how she coaches community leaders, community builder Sharon Zivkovic sums up her work with a charming anecdote.
Saving diligently, a lady was able to pay for a 15-day boat cruise. Unbeknown to her, the fare included all meals. In budgeting for the trip, she allowed for breakfast. As she could not afford dinner, she discreetly took food from the breakfast buffet table, which she stashed in her handbag for later. What she did budget for was dinner at the Captain's Table on the final night of the cruise. On the night, she arrived at the table to be greeted by those she had met at breakfast, who were eager to discover her whereabouts at lunch and dinner. The lady then told her story to the group. Clearly bemused, her fellow travelers told her the ticket she had purchased included all meals.
"The core of what I do is assisting people to understand their world so that they can collaboratively make informed decisions that benefit their community. And I like to use this example because it has so much meaning," says the owner and founder of the Thebarton Campus-based Community Capacity Builders.
In offering a community leadership program to communities facing change, including communities with high levels of welfare dependency, Ms Zivkovic is reaching deep into the hearts and minds of individuals who are sometimes in despair.
She has created a leadership program that equips communities to manage the changing world, and bridges the traditional silos of health, environment, education, employment, planning, business and community development.
She discusses the importance of education and lifelong learning. She dispels the notion that schooling is not important ("because I did not finish high school, you need not bother") and explains what is meant by a changing or new world.
It's not unrealistic to regard this as a tall order. The task goes beyond restoring self-esteem and encouraging welfare recipients returning or entering the workforce.
Yet, if anyone is suited for the job and can literally "walk the talk", it's Ms Zivkovic.
After dropping out of school at 14--"I thought school was a social event, I did not believe I was there for learning."--she spent 15 years on welfare as a Housing Trust tenant.
Eventually, she returned to Para Hills High School and completed her schooling.
Then, in a space of 10 years, she obtained a Bachelor of Accountancy, a Graduate Diploma in Education and undertook a course in Introduction to Electronic Commerce. She is currently enrolled in the University's Master of Entrepreneurship program at Thebarton Campus.
Her tertiary education provided excellent opportunities and for two years she was Finance Manager for a large Australian company.
However, her calling to assist disadvantaged people was answered in September 1999 when she was hired as Employment Development Officer for the City of Salisbury, a position that laid the foundation for Community Capacity Builders.
It was during the interview stage that Ms Zivkovic first used her well-oiled phrase that she wanted to teach people how to dream again. Her vision was enough to sway the votes and as her new career took off, this same vision was taking effect as many she had dealings with turned to education or found their niche in the workforce.
"Although I do not use my own case when I meet with groups, I readily concede that my life's experiences have assisted me.
"It allows me to talk on the same level. I understand how they are thinking and the participants relate to me, and this has proven to be most successful," she says.
Today, as she goes about fulfilling this dream, communities seeking out the Community Capacity Building Framework will find that, like Ms Zivkovic, they too will see a whole new world. ■
Story Howard Salkow