Harmony Week Q&A

Kwabena Obuobi Ansah standing in a suit in front of red and teal graffitied wall

The theme of this year’s Harmony Week is “Everyone Belongs.” As an industry, we have come a long way in delivering media, marketing and advertising campaigns that accurately represent the make-up of our society. But we’ve still got a long way to go in making sure those campaigns reach all audiences. Too often, campaigns are not designed to reach audiences outside of the mainstream – like non-English speakers, deaf and blind Australians and Australians without access to stable internet connections.

To reach audiences from diverse cultural backgrounds, Icon has had the pleasure of partnering with The LOTE Agency. To celebrate Harmony Week and LOTE’s amazing work with communities across Australia, we spoke to Kwabena Obuobi Ansah, the Head of Communities and Research at The LOTE Agency.

ICON: Hi Kwabena! Thank you so much for talking to us. Can you tell us a little about yourself and your work at The LOTE Agency?

KOA: My full name is Kwabena Obuobi Ansah. My roots and heritage have made me who I am. I am from Ghana, from the Akan Tribe. My father was raised in an Akosombo village, while my mother was from the port town of Tema. Almost any Ghanaian you meet loves to smile, laugh, and talk about how they could run the country better than whatever political party is governing at the time. I migrated to Australia when I was four and my godparents told me I barely spoke a word of English apart from the word “sh*t” - thanks, Dad!

I have two siblings, and we are incredibly different. We grew up in Sydney’s North Shore with limited engagement with the Ghanaian community, which is mostly centred in Western Sydney after my father passed in 2000. So, I grew up belonging to a very different social circle.

When I reached my thirties, I decided to make a very determined effort to connect and foster my relationships with African men and women in Australia. Why? Because I never quite felt like I truly belonged. Even though I could mix with every part of Australian society, I always felt like a token. I had friends from culturally diverse backgrounds at school, including from Italian, Vietnamese, Lebanese, Greek, Iranian and Chinese communities, and they all had friends from their own communities. I could see how having people who understood them and their culture made them feel comfortable.

At LOTE, we are a team of 27 people working from seven international locations and between us, we speak 27 languages. We pride ourselves on understanding what it's like to live and work in a place where you're speaking your second (or third) language. Being in this environment has really been rewarding for me as I have never had this before, and it means I belong to one of the most diverse corporate offices in Australia!

ICON: What does this year's Harmony Day theme “Everyone Belongs” mean to you?

KOA: Everyone Belongs, for me, is about a physical and mental adjustment. It means we all need to reflect on our environment and consider whether it makes us happy, stimulates us, and brings out the best in us. If it does, continue with it, if not, take steps to change it. And if that means adding in some diverse cultural friends, seek it out. If that means visiting a country that doesn't predominantly speak English, do it. Or it could simply be opening up your heart to new experiences and people.

ICON: Who are some of the businesses or community champions who you have watched shape their sector to ensure people belong?

KOA: A dear friend of mine, Jackie Leewai, is now the Inclusion, Strategy and Engagement Manager at Screen Australia. She is just fire! Jackie has done it all and if you don't know who she is, add her on LinkedIn or reach out to grab a coffee with her – she is worth the chat. She is a leader in this sector and a star – not a rising star, but a star! She has helped shape my thinking over the years and has provided insights into the sector I haven't considered.

ICON: Are there any initiatives that policymakers, business leaders or governments can do to ensure everyone belongs in Australia?

KOA: This is a hard one because successive governments have added and then removed programs. We had Big Australia from Prime Minister Kevin Rudd, then we had Stop the Boats from Prime Minister Tony Abbott. Having been in and around politics, I understand the thinking behind these two polarising policies. What is true is that Australia has a shortage of unskilled labour, due to the pandemic and unwillingness of ordinary Australians looking to do these jobs. This has been something many business leaders have been saying for years, and due to borders being shut globally, we have seen this exacerbated further.

I really believe there needs to be a physical and mental adjustment at the individual level and at the country-wide level as well. Australia is a global leader in many areas, and as such, citizens of other nations are attracted to visiting, migrating and seeking refuge here. As someone who considers themselves a global citizen, I encourage our business and government decision-makers to take steps to ensure everyone belongs here in Australia, no matter their race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion.

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