Changing communities: embracing Australia’s multicultural strata community

An Original Essay By Daniel Hunt

“For those who come across the seas, we’ve boundless plains to share”.

Australian society is no stranger to cultural change, we’ve even written songs welcoming it…

But while we certainly know and recognise change, we’re not always quick enough to embrace it.

In news that will not surprise the reader, Australia is one of the world’s most multicultural societies.

According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics 2016 Census, 26% of Australians identified as being born overseas. That represents a higher proportion of overseas-born people than the United States (14%), Canada (22%), United Kingdom (13%) and New Zealand (23%).

Strata communities have long been the birthplace of change in Australian society and the multicultural nature of close proximity living is no exception.

The Australian National Strata Data Report 2018 prepared by Easthope, Buckle and Mann from the City Futures Research Centre, UNSW found that only half of all Australian apartment residents speak English as their first language at home.

The report also identifies that only 43% of all apartment residents are born in Australia, with China and India at 7% and 5% respectively, leading the list of birth countries for strata residents.

It’s official – neighbourhoods are changing, and as a result, so are your neighbours.

From my own experience working in a company that provides strata management services to clients speaking 25 different languages, diversity is a strength and strata communities need to be better in harnessing its positive power.

How can we call ourselves a community if we can’t communicate?

In recent times communication has shown itself to be an invaluable commodity as society comes to grips with sweeping change.

Set against the backdrop of an incredibly challenging year, communities all around Australia have benefited from leaders and institutions who communicate clearly and in a unified manner.

The single biggest frustration I hear from strata owners, tenants and strata managers in the effective management of a strata scheme, relates to clear and concise communication between community members – so with our diverse communities and their many languages in mind, strata communities must strive to break down communication barriers.

Starting simple, with a friendly smile to a neighbour to help them feel relaxed and comfortable will make all the difference as we eventually progress to a point where multi-lingual resources are available to help communities talk to each other more effectively.

Beyond creating a more inclusive community, there’s a host of important reasons why communication must be a priority.

After the infamous 2014 Lacrosse building fire in Victoria, the Melbourne City Council identified communication barriers as a significant problem in the safe evacuation of tenants, during and in the aftermath of the evacuation.

And just a few months ago, as a global pandemic took hold residents in Melbourne strata buildings faced challenges in understanding lockdown rules and social distancing guidelines in part due to poorly translated health resources.

Every Australian deserves to feel safe in their own community, so we must be better.

Learning and sharing as a community

Of course, breaking down language barriers does more than just mitigate risks and ensure good compliance in our strata communities, it helps us to learn from one another.

Along with many of my industry peers, I’ve travelled overseas to learn and observe other cultures and societies for the benefit of advancing our own strata sector.

We do this to understand how another way of living might help our own to move forward and it’s a notion we can apply to this problem of embracing change in the strata community.

One of the common claims made by strata owners in a multicultural strata scheme is that the newly arrived migrants never come to the Annual General Meeting or raise their hand to volunteer on the strata committee.

This is understandable when language barriers and cultural differences make it extremely daunting for new arrivals to come along and contribute to the benefit of the strata community.

The best strata committees are made up of individuals who can each provide a unique perspective and insight into common problems faced by the group, so it’s disappointing to know that language barriers are lacking so many unique perspectives out of the decision-making process in strata communities.

However, the work is being done, it simply needs to be shouldered by more.

I have been inspired by proactive strata committee members embracing multicultural diversity in strata schemes and hosting community events that promote inclusion.

I have been inspired by efforts at a committee level to issue AGM papers in several languages to help all community members play an active role in voting.

I continue to be inspired by the discussions in my team about investing in technology to be better in this space.

Ultimately inspiration must translate to action.

The steps towards change

So how do we get to where we want to be?

“Isn’t there an app for that?”.

Technology has a considerable role to play in helping communities take the next step towards embracing multicultural change.

Google Translate is an amazing application that can instantly translate words, phrases and web pages in over 100 different languages. This can help when issuing important building notices and ensuring compliance with evacuation notices and warnings.

In an age where technological solutions seem to appear when problems are faced, we possess few excuses in allowing ourselves to perceive change as hard, or impossible.

It simply requires the group to embrace it. Rome wasn’t built in a day, nor a harmonious community, but a step in the right direction can quickly gain followers.

In strata communities with a high proportion of multicultural residents, it is a good idea for committee owners to start by organising a survey to determine the different languages within the community and use it as a foundation for change moving forward.

Change isn’t easy, but with a plan we can get to where we need to be as a community. So long as we are open minded and prepared to change our thinking.

Our clients deserve it and will soon demand it.

Successful companies will be those that can interpret the message.

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