Lara Bernardo

ALUMNI

Degrees

Bachelor of Management

Graduate Certificate of International and Community Development

Campus

Geelong Waurn Ponds

Graduation years

2013

2017

Current position

Diversity and Inclusion Coordinator at Tennis Australia

Overview

Lara Bernardo's career at Tennis Australia has taken her from the HR team to Fiji, where she runs clinics for a variety of groups.

Interview

Tell us about your current role – what does a typical day look like for you?

Over the past five years I have worked in various roles AT Tennis Australia, I started as an intern with the HR team through a Deakin University/Government Internship program. I then transitioned into HR Administrator, HR Coordinator and then HR Advisor. Having developed a keen interest in community development, I sought out to support the social impact/charity department called Tennis Cares. In 2016 I completed a six month secondment in the department which saw me manage a fundraising drive at the Australian Open as well as implementing a staff grants initiative called Pay It Forward. My current role as Diversity and Inclusion Coordinator focuses on pathways and programs to enhance equal opportunities, quality of life and wellbeing of diverse communities in Australia 󠰲omoting inclusiveness of all people.

What is the best/most rewarding part of your job?

Being given the opportunity to work in Fiji, supporting Tennis Fiji’s local tennis development officers, building capacity. I support them with running community clinics (in schools, public housing communities, local villages and an orphanage), as well as completing data collection and reporting training.

What were some of the memorable experiences you had at Deakin? i.e. social, academic, intellectual.

Completing an international internship in Kuala Lumper, Malaysia, with the Victorian Government Business Office. I worked with a diverse team of students from Deakin University and developed a proposal to support international study opportunities for young people in Malaysia and Australia. I really enjoyed throwing myself into another country and working within a cross-cultural setting. This was definitely a highlight during my Bachelor of Management studies!

Did you learn anything from your Deakin studies to take directly to the workforce?

I feel that my initial studies in Management supported me in developing an understanding of business operations, and more particularly in regards to people management and how people work together. Having made the decision to change my career path, with the desire to work in a role heavily focused on community inclusion and equality within the international development sector, I was learning new language and foreign terminology. From my recent studies in International and Community Development, I was able to build upon my foundation in this space. I learnt so much from cross-cultural communication to what makes an effective community development practitioner. I since have been able to take this new knowledge and practice it in a real life context in Fiji.

What are your career highlights?

To date my career highlight is having been a part of the Disability Empowerment Skills Exchange (DESE) Fiji team. DESE is an inclusive volunteering model connecting skilled Australians who have a lived experience of disability or knowledge of the impact that disability has on participation in society with partners in Asia and the Pacific, to share knowledge and develop leadership for disability empowerment across the region. I was fortunate enough to be selected as an Australian Volunteer for International Development, an initiate of the Australia Government, in the role of Disability Empowerment Officer. We worked with the Fiji Ministry of Education, and three pilot special education schools in the West division (in Nadi and Lautoka). The focus of our assignment was to build capacity of others as well as, to work with vocational teachers to improve and develop the Individual Transition Plan (ITP), to assist students with a disability and teachers with the current work ready program. I worked alongside teachers, one on one, as well as students, to help identify the skills teachers currently have and the skills needed to develop, in supporting students in being able to obtain work experience and employment. With my team, I facilitated workshops with teachers, and collaborated with them to map out the program structure, this was key for the success of the program development. Collaboration was also conducted with parents, as a means to involving them in the future development of their children. We also ran professional development with the teachers to build their capacity and to be able to perform skills based training with the students, for example, how to write CVs and mock interviews. Building trusting relationships with all stakeholders and with potential employer partners was vital to the program’s development. We supported the development of partnerships with employers, to support the opportunities presented for students to gain work experience. Disability awareness as a whole was also a big focus, changing perceptions and mindsets within the culture has been essential for opening further opportunities for young people with disabilities. To ensure long-term sustainability the program findings were shared with a variety of stakeholders, including Disabled Peoples Organisations and government agencies (DFAT, High Commission, Ministries). Overall, working in a cross-cultural setting and gaining experience working in an international context was a big highlight. I really enjoyed working with the teachers and supporting them in their own development, especially through facilitating ITP mapping sessions and the PD sessions. I also treasure the time I had in getting to know some of the students from the schools. I learnt how to sign my name and some other words (and planning to start an Auslan course soon), and spent time exploring the vegetable gardens and carpentry rooms where the students would proudly show off the work they had produced! I have learnt so much about people living with a disability in Fiji, employment barriers, the special education system and even mobility training. I am so grateful and proud to have been part of such a diverse and amazing team, to achieve what we did in such a short amount of time was incredible and I look forward to seeing the continued development of the program by the teachers and other volunteers in-country. Some of my key takeaways from this empowering and motivating experience – if you cannot be flexible or adaptable to the cultural context or situation you are in, community development may not be for you. Secondly, there is value in everyone, our worth isn’t based on how we look or perceived ability, each person has the right to share their ideas, have a voice and make a contribution. Before we see disability, gender, or even race, we must see the person. Ability above disability!