Marika Kontellis

Marika Kontellis undertook a Bachelor of Social Work and is now the Director of Zakumi, an organisation of Social Care Sector Specialists. Australia's social care sector is made up of not-for-profit, public, for-profit and "hybrid" organisations. Zakumi works with these organisations and the communities they serve. Her frontline social work experience brings credibility to her leadership advice when she supports social care organisations to understand their communities, predict future customer needs and honestly review service models. Marika is a past member of the Disability Council of NSW, the Guardianship Tribunal of NSW and was, until 2012, an elected Local Government Councillor.

1. Please may you tell us more about yourself, your background and how you ultimately got to be where you are today?

Marika Kontellis: My earliest memories are of me sitting under our dining table at home whilst my father (an established Greek migrant) supported and resourced newly arrived migrants. He and my mother would bring people together and link them to housing and work opportunities. They would ensure their children were enrolled in the local public school. Our home was like a community centre and soon my parents, along with many others, began to influence policy and finally government funding to support newly arrived migrants. I knew I would work with communities and aligned my values and lived experience with a Social Work degree at the University of Sydney. My real passion has been the inclusion of people with disabilities and after one shift as a residential care worker in Grosvenor Hospital (institution for young people with disability) I knew I wanted to part of the “deinstitutionalisation” movement. Since then I have held senior roles with the Benevolent Society of NSW, The Cerebral Palsy Alliance and London Borough of Barnet. I have been a member of the Guardianship Tribunal of NSW and The Disability Council of NSW. I had a stint in local politics as a Councillor for Marrickville Council and have built two businesses Zakumi Consulting where we provide services to Australia’s social care sector and Essential Home Care – an in home care service, supporting people in their chosen communities.

2. What are your happiest memories about your time here as a student?

Marika Kontellis: The Manning Bar on a warm afternoon. But I did have several “moments” sitting in The Quadrangle- all on my own. I loved sitting there on a windy, wet winter’s day. Of course I also remember and still value the friendships I made with many different people.

3. Who was your favourite Professor while you were a student at the University of Sydney and why?

Marika Kontellis: Professor Stuart Rees. He was (and still is) unafraid to stand up for what he thinks is unfair. I have had the pleasure of reconnecting with him again through his work with the Centre for Peace and Conflict Studies. He’s still got the charm and ability to capture his audience. He was always focussed on social justice.

4. What is your proudest achievement? What has been the most memorable success you have had?

Marika Kontellis: I think this is too hard to answer. I’ve had several achievements that have made me feel very good about myself and the communities that I am part of. One of those was supporting an older married couple return to their home after being placed (inappropriately) in a nursing home. It took three month of relentless advocacy and hard work but they went home together and managed to change the way professionals made decisions to place people in care. To this day, it’s a time I think about often.

5. Who inspires you?

Marika Kontellis: Who and what? I get very inspired when people “give a rat’s” about an issue. I get very motivated and am in awe of people who work together with others to deliver “common good”. This isn’t about glossy activism. It’s about pure passion and hard work. There are many people who inspire me across Australia’s social care sector but mostly it’s the people living in some awful situations, facing immense adversity that succeed in life and in community despite their challenging life circumstances. Good for them!

6. What is the mantra you live by and what drives you?

Marika Kontellis: Relationships Matter! Whether it is personal life, work life, community life, relationships are really the glue to getting things done and to having a better life. They can be hard sometimes and they don’t always go to plan- but relationships are worth investment!

7. What advice would you give to students graduating from the University of Sydney?

Marika Kontellis: Get involved! Study is only one part of what you do. Dove tail it with other things you do. Meet others different from you. Volunteer. Always reflect and think critically without criticising.

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