Sydney, Australia

Common Ground: One Space, Many Cultures

SydWest Multicultural Services

November 18, 2008

Shared meeting space creates cohesion within a multi-ethnic community

Ethnic communities often choose to work and live in cluster neighborhoods and as a result frequently have very little contact or communication with each other. Through a strategic use of physical space, SydWestMSI has successfully managed to create a genuine community with a broad range of new immigrants.

SydWestMSI was originally established in 1985 to assist with the settlement needs of recent migrants and refugees in the Blacktown Local Government Area. Since then, SydWestMSI has expanded its services to include community liaison and advocacy, multicultural consultancy and most importantly, it has become the place to convene people from all age groups and from all ethnic communities.

Today, SydWestMSI describes itself as an independent, community based organization dedicated to the empowerment and unity of people from a broad range of culturally diverse backgrounds. The cultural communities that it is involved with include: Arabic, Sudanese, Bosnian, Sierra Leone, Persian, Liberian, Italian, Croatian, Afghan, Pakistan, Sri Lankan and Indian and many more.

Among the unique and effective ways that SydWestMSI is helping to foster relationships between these communities is through the structure of the centre’s management committee. SydWestMSI is managed by an elected Committee made up of representatives from each of the ethnic groups who are either involved in the Centre or are living in the Blacktown area.

A Physical Place…

However, it is the creative use of their physical space that has enabled SydWestMSI to sit at the centre of a variety of ethnic communities.

For new immigrants, housing space is often limited and renting meeting places can be expensive -as a result, the facilities of SydWestMSI are in great demand.

SydWestMSI helps groups come together and then uses their physical proximity to expand on their involvement with them. For instance, when African seniors in the area had no place to meet their peers or to socialize, SydWestMSI opened their doors to provide them with a meeting area once a week on Friday afternoons. From providing a meeting space, SydWestMSI is now in planning to create a number of programs and activities specifically for them including beading and ornament classes.

Where possible (and when appropriate) SydWestMSI programs look to bring together women from across communities around a shared concern or issue. For example, a multicultural play group gives women from different cultural backgrounds the opportunity to meet, share information and build friendships. Says one participant, “The Centre not only provides help to all new migrants but also helps them to know about this country and its systems. The Centre organizes groups for different communities where you can make friends, share problems and know that everything is confidential. I was a member of a community group last year. It helped me to make new friends, learn new things and most important to find a job.”

Examples of these programs include Multicultural Health Services that provide information on women’s health for the Sudanese, Pakistani and Afghan women’s groups or special computer classes for Afghan women to help them learn basic online and computer skills in order to help their children with homework. There are classes on parenting between cultures, men’s groups for each cultural community and a Kid’s Gym class that includes participants from Pakistan, India and Nepal. Other classes include employment workshops, guidance on how to start a new business and classes on health and nutrition as well courses on learning about the culture and traditions of daily life in Australia. SydWestMSI also provides resources such as photocopiers, faxes, internet and computers for community groups and services.

SydWestMSI’s multilingual staff offers expertise in areas including health, employment, housing, women’s issues, young people, aged care and crisis management. They also provide consultancy services, including training and advice on delivering culturally appropriate services,

There are cross cultural programs for young people that include the Weekly Word Jam for newly arrived refugee and migrant young people. This project delivers interactive workshops in digital media, poetry, writing and drama activities, giving the participants a chance to strengthen their English language skills in a fun and safe environment.

Multicultural celebrations are another way that SydWestMSI regularly brings together their growing community. For instance at International Women’s Day, Blacktown held an event with over seventy women from diverse cultural backgrounds in attendance. It included women dressing in traditional attire, performing traditional dance, a guest speaker and shared lunch. Similarly, Harmony Day brought together over 300 people from across the community and was supported by the local Police and Fire department.


SydWestMSI success has led to delegations and groups coming to study the centre accomplishments. For instance, in February 2008 SydWestMSI hosted a Japanese delegation from the Council of Local Authorities for International Relations (CLAIR) who came to study the SydWestMSI model, the success of the various programs and the range of groups involved.

For a selection of library resources related to this Good Idea, see sidebar at right.

Making it Work for You:

  • Integration occurs within and across communities - even when those communities are made up of diverse newcomer groups. Intercultural learning through shared experiences is an important step towards social cohesion.
  • Use community newspapers and other community media to profile diverse community members and groups and foster a sense of identity and belonging.
  • Bringing communities together requires a sustained investment in time patience and space.
  • Find out how your community can help build bridges with another ethnic community in your area through a shared event, an invitation to an upcoming cultural holiday or a shared commitment to addressing a local issue.