Collective action
Collective action


ALUMNI FOCUS

Collective action

It’s not often that someone can give you an insight into an entire generation as they are, not as we think they might be. Macquarie University Bachelor of Arts (Psychology) and Global Leadership Program graduate Angelica Ojinnaka is one such person. A researcher and advocate for youth affairs and gender equality, she was recently named Australia’s Youth Representative to the United Nations. But Angelica is more than a spokesperson for youth, she is creating a space for young people to reflect on the issues that are most important to them as defined by them, fostering a sense of agency in the process.

 

Collective Action

As Angelica Ojinnaka begins her year-long appointment as Australia’s Youth Representative to the United Nations, she is already quietly leading the way for Australia’s young people in her own distinctive way. It’s no surprise, though, as the position would appear to be a timely culmination of her personal experience, education and research so far.

With a Bachelor of Arts (Psychology) from Macquarie University, Angelica is completing a Master of Research (Public Health and Social Policy) at Western Sydney University and does various work for community organisations. As she explains, ‘If there’s one thing that ties together everything I do, it’s trying to address the challenges that those who are isolated or marginalised in society experience, especially youth, and reducing those challenges by being part of a collective action toward change.’

Interestingly, this is where Angelica stands apart – rather than on the individual, her focus is very much on the power of the collective experience as a catalyst for change. As she explains, ‘More than my own experience, I’ve always been driven by the experiences of those around me.

‘I wanted to be part of a process that contributed to change for people like me,’ she says, slowly explaining that she is the eldest of nine siblings, a second-generation Nigerian migrant who, it is clear, has faced significant challenges in her young life so far.

At just 24, there’s the hint at socio-economic difficulty and references to having to grow up quite quickly and being a carer – but there’s no touch of rancour in this bright, perceptive and insightful young woman. It’s a formative early life that might have felled a less resilient or connected person, but therein lies at least part of Angelica’s secret.

‘The importance of the collective and community has always been obvious to me,’ she says. ‘I’ve naturally grown up with that mindset. It’s partly how I was raised by my Mum, it’s also cultural, and it has also been because I situate myself within a whole mixture of different communities,’ she says.

There’s always been the touch of the leader, too, though again, not as you might expect. ‘The most important thing about leadership to me has always been placing a priority on caring for others and bringing other people along on the journey to change,’ she says, something that stems from her interest in psychology, which is what drew her to Macquarie in the beginning.

‘I’ve always been interested in how people relate to each other, the social relationships and the connectedness between people. I knew Macquarie had a great psychology program, so I was beyond excited when I received early entry through the Global Leadership Entry Program.’

Thriving in a diverse university culture, Angelica went on to enrol in the Global Leadership Program, winning the 2018 Dr Shirlene Lim Memorial Prize, which recognises students who contribute to the ethos of the program and their academic journey, acknowledging the significant adversity they have faced in life.

But she didn’t stop there, throwing herself into the extracurricular activities that were available at Macquarie University, getting involved in various mentoring programs, including with high school refugee students. Then, as the Global Leadership Program progressed, Angelica really started to find her feet.

‘I loved the extra-curricular program at Macquarie.’ she remembers. ‘I went on exchange and attended a symposium in Canberra where, as student delegates, we met with different embassies and the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade.’

Delving into international relations, cross-cultural engagement and further into leadership, she also met with the European Union delegation to Australia as part of the program. It was all starting to come together. ‘The Global Leadership Program really made my experience studying, and it’s where I gained a lot of the skills that led to the UN representative position,’ she notes.

On the position of Youth Representative, she says, ‘It’s very exciting and very humbling – it’s a real privilege,’ she says genuinely, determined to make sure the role creates a space for young people to learn from each other and share what they care about most. ‘I see this as an opportunity to raise the profile of young people and what they’re experiencing in Australia right now,’ she says.

And that will be Angelica’s unique contribution, co-designing the experience with young people to hear what they have to say – not what might be expected of young people, or what people want to hear from them, but accurately taking the temperature of Australia’s youth.

‘That’s what I’m most looking forward to,’ she says, and you just know she is the right person to bring young people along on the journey with her, inspiring grassroots change by not just giving a voice to communities and collectives that need to be heard, but by her presence and ability to hear what matters.

There’s no doubt either, that this won’t be the last we hear of Angelica Ojinnaka, even after her year as Youth Representative is over. ‘My focus will continue to be on research and advocacy,’ she says. ‘Still working with young people, but I would love to continue to grow in my leadership capacity so I can influence policy reform and policy change.’

The future is indeed bright for Angelica – and those who come into her sphere.

 

 

Angelica Ojinnaka, Australian Youth Representative to the United Nations and a researcher and advocate for youth affairs and gender equality, graduated from Macquarie University with a Bachelor of Arts (Psychology) (2020).

She has extensive experience in advocacy and providing policy/research advice on areas such as girls’ and women’s economic and social development, youth mental health, youth leadership and civic participation, racial and disability discrimination, and intersectional policy on both national and international forums.

Angelica is a founding member of the African Australian Youth Suicide Prevention Group and a Youth Activist for Plan International Australia, supporting their work on street harassment. She is also an active youth leader with MYAN NSW Youth Ambassador, Orygen and the Murdoch Children’s Research Institute.

In 2021, she received the NSW Premier’s Youth Medal in recognition of her gender and youth wellbeing advocacy, and was named as one of the United Nation’s 23 Young People Leading Resilient Recovery in the Decade of Action.


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