In Australia’s most ethnically diverse city of Logan, Griffith University alumnus Gail Ker OAM is bringing hope, opportunity and inclusion to the migrant community. The award-winning CEO of ACCESS Community Services Ltd is a force for positive impact and change.
Under Gail’s leadership, ACCESS has grown from a one room youth employment service to one of Australia’s leading organisations in the provision of settlement, employment, training, youth support, housing and social enterprise services for migrants, refugees and Australian-born clients.
With an annual turnover of more than $20 million, this impressive transformation is complemented by Gail’s personal journey, one that saw her commitment to social justice begin early.
“I grew up in West End in Brisbane and my parents were active community members. Giving and compassion have always been part of what I’ve done,” says Gail.
“I remember a speech night in Year 8. I won an award, a book about Africa, and it spoke about the work of missionaries and the importance of education for the disadvantaged. Its message has remained with me all my life.
“Later, I had Spanish neighbours, newcomers to Australia, and they explained how they wanted to work and to make a contribution. I was able to help them and it just seemed like something I was meant to do.”
Accordingly, by the late 1980s Gail was running a women’s mentoring program for Logan Job Care, before joining ACCESS in 1992, the service having launched a decade earlier to support Logan’s disadvantaged youth.
In 1997, Gail was instrumental in starting the Beenleigh and Logan Migrant Resource Centre and she continues to be involved in several social and business enterprises in the region.
“Working with the migrant community is a calling that touched my soul,” says Gail, who completed a Bachelor of Adult and Vocational Teaching from Griffith University in 2002.
Since her appointment as CEO of ACCESS in 2006, Gail’s compassion, commitment and contribution have been recognised with a number of prestigious awards, including:
- 2010 Order of Australia Medal (OAM) for her work in Multiculturalism in Queensland
- 2012 Paul Harris Fellow-Rotary Foundation of Rotary International “for tangible and significant assistance given for the furtherance of better understanding and friendly relations among peoples of the world”
- 2014 State Finalist Australian of the Year
- 2015 Australian Human Resources Institute CEO Diversity Champion Award
- 2016 Women’s Federation of World Peace – Ambassador for Peace
- 2016 United Nations Association of Australia – Queensland Community Award for Recognition of Valuable Community Service
Meanwhile, in 2017 Gail received the Empowering Women Award in the 2017 Australian Migration and Settlement Awards, and the Creating Change Award at the 2017 Women in Business Awards. She was also Queensland’s recipient of the Purpose and Social Enterprise Award at the 2017 Telstra Business Women’s Awards.
Yet for all the personal recognition, Gail remains a firm believer in the value of shared purpose, shared action and shared achievements.
The key to everything, she says, is passion. It’s a quality she sees every day in the people of Logan, and is one she seeks through strategic partnerships, projects and alliances at local, state and national levels.
From an economic perspective, there is no understating the importance of migration to Australia. Gail is a member of the Migration Council of Australia and its research forecasts a dollar value of $1.6 trillion injected into the GDP by 2050.
For Gail, however, economic success must also be accompanied by greater empathy and opportunity.
“It doesn’t matter whether you arrived five minutes or five generations ago, the migrant stream runs deep here in Australia and it drives the work we do here at ACCESS,” she says.
“Yes, there are toxic elements that paint a false picture of migration and mutliculturalism in Australia, but they are the minority. In Logan’s example, people have their hearts and souls in this community.
“Do you know, I attended Carols by Candelight with my grandkids and they didn’t see the colour of the people. They simply saw people and we all shared in that event together.
“The opportunity is there, and the belief is there, to build communities of hope and justice.”