INTERFAITH-INTERCULTURAL ADVISOR, Darebin City Council 2013-2019
Serving within the Equity and Diversity Unit, Aziz Cooper provided internal consultancy on interfaith and multicultural issues, diversity management, new developments and emerging trends which impact on local government and its community. The work involved advanced knowledge and innovation around the nexus between cultural diversity and thriving, healthy, and safe communities. This was achieved through:-
- policy advice
- engagement opportunities
- co-designing and facilitating sensitive grassroots projects that foster Council values and social cohesion
- reaching and linking emerging communities with Council services
- assisting capacity building through community grants
- supporting mediation during communal tensions
- ensuring Council’s priority areas and policies reflect the needs of emerging and disadvantaged communities
- presentations to Council, and its services, on implementing access and equity strategies.
Interfaith Development Officer. As officer assigned to the Darebin Interfaith Council, one of several Council community advisory committees, I implement the Interfaith Action Plan. The formation of trusting relationships between local faith leaders is essential to maintaining peaceful co-existence. This is carried out through the provision of opportunities whereby faith leaders get to know each other through events and campaigns that promote inclusion, social justice, diversity, collaboration, etc.
Darebin SPEAK Youth Resilience Program coordinator. This prevention program empowers disenfranchised young people by offering avenues to express themselves through civic participation, linkages to appropriate Council services and grants, employment opportunities, wellbeing sessions, leadership mentoring, and intergenerational communication programs.
Experienced coverage of Multicultural Relations Officer and Team Leader at the Darebin Intercultural Centre.
Policies and plans examples
Civil Disturbances & Social Emergencies Sub-Plan. This emergency response plan is included in the Municipal Emergency Management Plan. The Plan supports minorities from backlash at times of communal tensions. It has been endorsed by Victoria Police and SES.
Darebin Community Inclusion Plan 2015-2018. Featuring results from community consultations and an extensive literature review of contemporary models and best practice as to the role local governments play in preventing violent extremism (PVE), this Plan led to the creation of the Darebin SPEAK prevention program for youth vulnerable to extremist influences and is set to expand to other identified priority areas of the community.
Community Engagement examples
- Brokering skills play a supportive role in maintaining the MOU between the Council and Victoria’s largest mosque, which has gone a long way to resolving traffic, noise, community relations and public safety issues in the neighbourhood.
- Facilitation of an iftar commemoration dinner in the wake of the Orlando shooting brought together members of the LGBTIQ and Muslim communities, two misunderstood groups who seldom interrelate, for a successful solidarity event.
- Supported the coordination of Council’s hosting of the Faith and Social Inclusion Victorian Interfaith Network Conference, the state’s principle annual interfaith convention, which attracted diverse cultures, lifestyles and officials.
- Organisation of the Muslim Leaders Conference that was called in the wake of localised tensions that spilled over from middle-eastern conflicts. Representatives from all local Islamic branches came from beyond Darebin to collaboratively work with Council towards local solutions.
- Secured the Board of Imam’s support for the Respect: Guide for Muslim Faith Leaders and Communities Toolkit, especially developed with and for the Muslim community.
- My consultation with a wide range of community and government stakeholders leading to the creation of the Darebin Community Inclusion Plan that includes tailored strategies for building resilience to extremism.
- Development of the Civil Disturbances and Social Emergencies Sub-Plan required influencing Council, community and the emergency services.
I’ve known Aziz since 2013 when he was engaged to Darebin City Council’s Equity and Diversity Unit. As Australia’s first Interfaith Development Officer at local government level, he presided over an important social policy community engagement portfolio. Council relies on his policy advice especially in areas that impact society, such as those faced by religious and ethnic minorities, refugees, LGBTIQ, indigenous, domestic violence, housing, gambling, and people with disabilities.
Over recent times, local cohesion has been tested amidst a growing range of social issues triggered by domestic and international incidents that have sparked polarisation, tensions and some backlash within the community. In response, Aziz supported the development of several policies to these challenges. In the design, he applied his skills in diagnosing emerging issues, evaluation of constraints, formation of strategic linkages with community through brokering consultations and negotiating processes to create innovative and effective solutions to local policy problems.
Cesar Diaz, Multicultural Relations Officer
DAREBIN COUNCIL – PRESTON MOSQUE MOU 2013-2019
The Islamic Society of Victoria (Preston Mosque) is one of most prominent Islamic centres in Victoria. Situated in a heavily residential area, its large congregation at times causes traffic congestion and late-night disturbances at busy times in the vicinity. Given the importance of the mosque, it has also been a target for racist attacks in the wake of terrorist incidents.
To address communal tensions and build capacity of the mosque community, the Darebin City Council entered into a Memorandum of Understanding to ensure proactive partnership between the mosque’s management committee and Darebin Council. To support the MOU’s actions the Darebin Council engaged Aziz to help broker partnerships and negotiate emerging issues with all stakeholders to ensure a collaborative process. Aziz also plays a linking role making the mosque aware of Council’s health and wellbeing services that support women, youth and children. This MOU is believed to be the first of its type between a place of worship and local council in Australia.
Aziz convened the Council-led Preston Mosque Working Group, a quarterly meeting between mosque management, Victoria Police and Darebin Council. By working together, this working group has helped resolve a range of traffic and safety issues in the area as well as linkages to services that support our community.
Tarek Khodr, President, Islamic Society of Victoria (2019)
INTERCULTURAL AND INTERFAITH EVENTS MANAGEMENT (2013-2019)
Aziz Cooper has substantial experience facilitating community and local government events requiring sensitive engagement, specialised logistical support and risk management. At Darebin Council, the following events were implemented to facilitate diverse communities’ participation in civic life:
Victorian Interfaith Network “Faith and Social Inclusion” Conference (2016): As Interfaith Officer, Aziz coordinated Darebin Council’s hosting of the event in partnership with the Faith Communities Council of Victoria. This peak annual interfaith convention attracted 400 delegates that included community and political leaders from across the state. Delegates came together to explore faith and social inclusion” as experienced by youth, women, Aboriginal people, refugees, LGBITQ and people living with a disability. From these communities, he helped secure appearance of guest speakers, coordinated local promotions and invitations to dignitaries, supported culturally appropriate catering, an art expo and prayer facilities.
Orlando Nightclub Shooting Commemoration (2016): Sensitive facilitation of a Ramadan dinner in the wake of this tragedy brought together members of the LGBTIQ and Muslim communities, two often marginalised groups who seldom interrelate, for a poignant solidarity event.
Muslim Leaders Conference (2014): Coordination of this gathering called in the wake of localised tensions spilling over from middle-eastern conflicts. Representatives from several branches of local Muslim communities came from beyond Darebin to collaboratively work with Council towards local solutions. The success of this program led to numerous Muslim engagements, such as the Mayor’s Eid dinners.
“Respect: A Guide for Muslim Faith Leaders & Communities” (2017). This prevention manual offers guidance to faith leaders addressing family violence situations in their communities. The booklet launch and training for imams was also facilitated.
Darebin Council theme events: World Interfaith Harmony Week “Joint Statement” and “Stories of Hope” youth events; World Refugee Week “Living compassionately – What does it mean to be a neighbour?” seminar; Cultural Diversity Week “Meet and Mingle with our diverse communities” celebration; “Constitutional Recognition” interfaith breakfast seminar; Harmony Day “Freedom of speech, responsibilities and respect – Where are the lines drawn?” seminar; “Welcome Dinner” iftar for asylum seekers; Community Safety Month “Faith and Community Safety – What does it mean to be safe?” seminar; “Protect the Planet” interfaith climate emergency conference; “Peace in the Park” International Day of Peace festival; IDAHOBIT “Faith & Sexuality” forum; Palm Sunday “Walk for justice for refugees”, “Community Connections” International Students event in partnership with La Trobe Uni and Melbourne Polytechnic; and the Immigration Museum of Victoria’s “Re-imagined” future directions seminar.
Multicultural Festivals: Coordination, risk management and logistical support for diverse religious community events on numerous occasions, such as Muslim Eids, Christmas Day lunches for homeless, Hindu Ganesh Chaturthi, Buddhist Visakha Puja and Luna New Year festivals for Asian communities.
Interfaith annual tours to Darebin’s iconic places of worship promote interfaith and intercultural understanding.
Logistical and facilitation support for municipal programs: North East Refugee Settlement Issues Network (NERSIN); Victoria Multicultural Commission’s (VMC) Northern Region advisory meetings; Welcoming Cities Network consultations and Advisory Committee; Northern Alliance councillors meetings, Darebin Emergency Relief Network (DERN), and Back Your Neighbours asylum seekers campaign.
Ramadan dinners: Partnership between Darebin Interfaith Council, EPIC Islamic College and Victoria Police Muslim Association has hosted “Know Your Neighbours” iftar (2018) and “Many Cultures, One Community” iftar (2019).
Aziz has supported DECC on numerous occasions in his capacity as a council officer. Our events always promote social justice, human rights and harmony involving diverse multicultural audiences often with complex needs. His specialist skills in engagement, promotions, logistics and hosting has contributed to many successful events.
Nalliah Suriyakumaran, Chair, Darebin Ethnic Communities Council (DECC), 2011-current
CIVIL DISTURBANCES AND SOCIAL EMERGENCIES SUB-PLAN, Darebin City Council 2015-2018
This emergency recovery plan will be added to Darebin City Council’s Municipal Emergency Management Plan. Supporting vulnerable religious and ethnic minorities in the wake of terrorist or racist incidents, the sub-plan endeavours to complement Council’s existing emergency arrangements.
Upon activation by police, this plan engages Council resources and officers assigned to appropriate community engagement portfolios to support disadvantaged groups at times of communal tensions and link recognised community leaders to relevant emergency services as EMLOs. This plan has received endorsement by local Victoria Police and the SES units.
Responding to community concerns, Aziz led the initial discussions that eventually led to the development of the Civil Disturbances & Social Emergencies Sub-Plan (now known as the Hostile Acts Plan). Over a 2-year period, he undertook situational analysis, scoping and concept design, consultations with the community, emergency services and council, and drafted the plan in line with council’s requirements to a point where it could be delivered to the MEMPC and developed further.
Shadi Hanna, MEM, Darebin City Council
RESPECT: Guide for Muslim Faith Leaders and Communities Toolkit 2017
Requested by the Board of Imams in Victoria, this prevention manual offers guidance to Islamic leaders striving to address violence against women in their communities. In the development of this Darebin Council resource, Aziz Cooper coordinated engagement between the Board of Imams and the Council’s working group to ensure smooth communication, culturally appropriate co-design and production that met all partner’s intended outcome. The resource has been adopted by a significant number of Islamic leaders across Victoria.
On such a complex and sensitive topic, Aziz gained the Board of Imam’s support for the Darebin Council’s Respect project. To ensure widespread use of the manual, he arranged promotions, a memorable launch, supported training for imams from Womens Health in the North and facilitated linkages to specialist service providers and women’s organisations.
Sk Muhammad Nawas Saleem
HOBSONS BAY INTERFAITH GROUP 2015-2017
Hobsons Bay City Council engaged Aziz Cooper’s services to strengthen connections between the Council and the municipality’s diverse communities of faith towards the formation of a local interfaith network. Several of these communities held reservations about partnering with other faiths and of Council’s agenda in initiating this group.
Therefore, essential to the role was establishing trusting rapport through sensitive engagement and effective consultation in order to facilitate participation and build capacity. Today, thirty diverse local faith leaders have formed the Hobsons Bay Interfaith Group and engage in meaningful dialogue towards addressing local social issues.
Aziz was instrumental in bringing together over 30 different local faith leaders to explore and establish the Hobsons Bay Interfaith Network. Following this work, he is still greatly respected by faith leaders across Hobsons Bay and Hobsons Bay City Council today and is often invited back to participate in the Network’s activities and events.
Amber Cassidy, Community Development Officer, Multicultural Portfolio, Hobsons Bay City Council.
Darebin SPEAK youth resilience program 2015-2018
This prevention program, run though Darebin City Council, currently empowers sixty disenfranchised Horn-of-Africa young people by facilitating opportunities to build resilience and participate in civic life. The program includes avenues for participants to express themselves through civic participation, councillor engagement, community radio, and production and screening of an advocacy video of their experiences of discrimination.
Engagement staff support linkages to Council services for their wellbeing, mental health and legal support. Capacity building is provided through grants, internships and intergenerational communication education. Preparation for employment was run through job fairs, CV training and mock interviews. Leadership programs offer mentoring, youth jury participation and camps. The program also works with participant’s parents, imams, schools and communities.
Having recently concluded the pilot phase, the program is exploring ways of supporting other identified priority communities with the graduates from the original program acting as mentors for new participants.
Aziz and I worked together on the Darebin SPEAK youth program. Aziz led the discussion that gained Council approval for this completely new endeavour and supported acquisition of state government funding to start the program. As coordinator, he established the pilot and assisted youth engagement staff. He oversaw internal/external stakeholder relationships, logistics, ensured that participating communities were sensitively engaged, and that activities are co-designed and co-delivered to a point where the program could be handed over to the Darebin Youth Services.
Feriyal Glaidous, Youth Engagement Officer