Role models and mentors

Role models and mentors are both important in helping shape your ambitions and coaching you in achieving them.

Role models allow you to imagine what you might become, while mentors actively help you with advice and guidance.

As these two videos illustrate, you can have not only career role models and mentors, but also educational, personal and even cultural role models and mentors.

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So with high school, I kind of, I looked up to, I guess the older year levels we had, I guess kind of like a buddy system. We had a lot of mentorship from the older, senior level students that would kind of talk to us. And there were some Pacific Islanders who were at my school that I felt like I could relate to. And I felt like that really did help me. I think it also came down to some of the teachers that I had. I had some really good teachers who knew about some of the personal things that I was going through with my family and obviously with my parents and things and knew that I was paying for my school fees. So they were a bit more, I guess, flexible and a bit more sensitive to my situation and to, I guess my youngest sister.

I actually do have a younger sister who was two years younger than me, who we all went to school. We went to school together. I felt like I had to be someone that she could look up to. So I kind of wanted to pave a way for her to see someone that regardless of all the adversity that we were facing internally through our homes and through the family things that were happening, I wanted my sister to kind of look up to me to say that she…that we can do this. And there are ways and outlets that we can get through it.

My older brother, who’s three years older than me, he went to university first. So he really did set the benchmark for us regardless of what we were going through as siblings. So he really did set the benchmark for me to continue on in that as well. And we did get a lot of counselling in school as well from the teachers who would really push university as the way after high school. So I felt like being around particular teachers and friends and students that I was around at the time, my circle of influence, we all had that goal to go to university.


Within our Melbourne Fijian community, there are a couple of Fijian nurses that I know of, and one of them, she worked overseas, and I guess that was always in the back of my head I’m like, ‘This woman worked overseas! She worked in Dubai for six years. I want to do that.’ I think again, and it’s going back to seeing people who look like you, who were raised like you, doing things that you want to do, working in countries that you want to work in, I think always having that in the back of my mind was always kind of a, ‘Yeah, like if they can do it, why can’t I do it?’ kind of a thing. I think it’s that, isn’t it, seeing people that look like you doing things that you want to do. If that doesn’t motivate you, I don’t know what else I can say.


Even though my parents are older than me obviously, they’re still working out and figuring out how they’re moving their way forward and I look to them and I look to other mentors that were around me in those formative years.

I think usually if you find something that’s working, really try and reverse engineer why it’s working and then plug it into how you think about things and just try your best because one of the things apart from modelling what’s working is just consistency. Like if there’s another attribute that I can look at my parents which will drive us, because our first role models are really who’s at home, is just looking at my Dad getting up at 4:00 AM, getting to the hospital, coming home at 7:00, my Mum just doing what needs to be done to keep the house together, and then going and seeing people that you may see on the TV or people that you see at church, or whatever it may be, you can see if they’re getting the real results and then trying your best to model that into your own life. Seems to work for me and I’ll continue to try and hack that as well.


Success for me is probably having had the impact that I wanted to have with the young people, and being able to be a part of their journey and see how far they’ve come. Over the years it’s been funny seeing that I used to look up to these mentors and they’ve taught me all these skills, and the young people that I’ve started to mentor have started to look up to me. It’s just funny trying to picture that because it was like, “Oh, it was only me not long ago.” Seeing that I was looking up to somebody and now I’ve got young people looking up to me trying to better their lives and choose a better path.


And then also I remember there was my legal teacher, my legal studies teacher back in high school, she was Australian background, but she kind of recognised the struggle that I had with obviously being an Islander kid in a predominantly I guess Western high school. She definitely guided me and provided just that extra support. And I remember her setting me aside and saying, “You can actually succeed in this area. You’ve kind of got something going on there, so definitely keep with it.”


Another thing on advice for younger kids that I would probably say is that if they can, get a mentor and get a Pacific mentor. Because once I found two women, Kiribati women, writers, academics. They were sisters. As soon as I found them, it’s like my world unlocked. I finally had someone to look up to in terms of the standard of work that is expected of me as a Kiribati woman. Also, reading back on their work and understanding how they have navigated through that career in a white-centred world and in Western society and their strength.

One of them unfortunately passed away and I hadn’t even met her, and I bawled my eyes out that day because I just was like, “I lost one of the mentors, one of the people that I looked up to.” That I just finally was like, “Yes, I want to be kind of like you.”

So if you can, find a mentor. Mentors can always change, but find someone who knows your culture.


My cousin Mac, he was very inspirational and I was scared of him. And he challenged me all the time. Now that I think about it, I was like, “Oh now I know what he was doing.” When we go to church, after church, he will say to me and his sister, “What did you learn today?”

Even though I didn’t do well at school, he never said, “Why didn’t you pass? Or why didn’t you?” There was always, “Oh, so how’s school going.” And I’d just lie. And I was, “Oh yeah, it’s okay.” And he’d be, “So, what are you going to do after school?”

And I said to him, “Oh, I don’t know.” Because I was already working in retail part-time and I said, “Oh, I think I’ll just work there full-time.” And he said, “Oh cool. So what do you want to do after that? Are you going to try and be the manager? Are you going to try and…? And I’d be like, “Is there always a question? Is there always something?-


Do you know how to mind your business!


But it was never in a pushy way. It was just like he always challenged us to think. He went to uni and he graduated with a law degree and he didn’t even want to do law. It was because his Dad, us Pacific [people] – they want us to do certain things and then you just feel like you just got to go do that. But lucky for him, he’s smart. So he could do that.

Whereas I couldn’t just go to law school [laughing] and even, and then he went into business, he’s always been really encouraging at any stage that we’ve been at. And I think that’s why I am the way that I am when I talk to people and they say, “Oh, I just work at a factory.” I’m like, “Yeah, that’s okay. And so what do you want to do after that?” It’s like, “It’s good that you’re doing something. It doesn’t matter where you’re working, but if you have a dream to move out of there, that’s cool. What are the steps? I hope that I can help.”


Ama, who’s your influential person?


Mine was the same. Mine was also Mac, our cousin. He’s just the epitome of success in our family. He was the comparison, so everyone…because he was like, what? He’s the oldest as well, our second oldest first cousin. So everyone after him just paled in comparison. [laughing] But for me, because Venna’s schooling life was a lot different to mine, and because he was the epitome of success, I always was just like, “Okay, whatever Mac’s doing, I’m going to try do.”


What sort of advice would you give to our up and coming youth who might be interested in working within the international development space or working in the community development space? What sort of advice could we give to them now to kickstart their careers? How do we get them interested and inspired to pursue work in the space that you’re in?


Look, I feel people like myself and you and others, I think we have a role to play in that. I think there’s two things. A connection between young people and people who are professionals or who are working or who are slightly older. I think there’s some mentoring that could be happening, some better kind of mentoring kind of connections because there’s so much that can be shared between us. But for me, it’s about hearing it from people who know you, who can make you feel safe.

We’re not going to judge. And in fact, somebody who could be a sort of a long-term mentor support. It’s also a touch point for you. I get mentorship from my colleagues through the project I’m working on at the moment. I get great conversations out of that. The people who, when you speak to them make you feel like you’re not crazy. You’re normal and how you’re feeling is perfectly normal are the people that we need to be putting in front of these young people because I’m confident that it’s not a matter of them not having the ability to do something, but it’s about us being able to help them find those pathways.

  • ‘Akesa – Community Facilitator
  • Ama – Lashing Business Administrator & Marketing Coach
  • Annie – International & Community Development Specialist
  • Ashirah – University student
  • Cass – English Teacher, Writer, Project Manager, & President of the Victorian Kiribati Association
  • Chris – Field Officer (HR)
  • Christopher – Carpenter & Stonemason
  • Crofton – Visual Effects & Animation Specialist
  • David – App company CEO
  • Elisabeth – Teacher
  • Elvina – Building Services Mechanical Engineer
  • Fipe – Cacao Products Manufacturing Business Owner
  • Grace – Airline Customer Service Agent
  • Leki – Physiotherapist
  • Luisa – Registered Nurse
  • Malelega – Legal Assistant
  • Marita – Writer
  • Rose – Workplace Consultant
  • Sefita – Community Engagement Officer
  • Semisi – Lawyer
  • Talei – Lawyer & Community Engagement + Government Relations Consultant
  • Teisa – Medical Doctor
  • Tevita – IT Professional
  • Thom – Make-up Artist
  • Venna – Lashing Business Owner & Trainer
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