SOYA Networking/leadership Conference, September 2009

Victoria University-Flinders Street Campus - The Serbian Orthodox Youth of Victoria stormed the conference rooms at Victoria University on Saturday 12 September 2009 for their inaugural Youth Leadership Conference. Over 50 vibrant, intelligent and enthusiastic young people gathered to show that the Serbian community of Melbourne is ready to change for the better. The conference highlighted the enthusiasm and overwhelming positivity of the youth regarding the future of the Serbian Orthodox Youth Association (SOYA) and the Serbian community in general.

The number of new faces attending the conference was yet another indicator of the enormous potential and influence of SOYA in Melbourne. The networking conference was held at Victoria University in heart of Melbourne's CBD and delivered on all counts: a great location, a great program and a great opportunity for all Serbs of all ages and professions to mingle and share their views on a number of issues.

The program contained both depth and breadth to challenge young Serbian people within the field of leadership. It was a rich mix of formats, ranging from sessions featuring well-known and thought-provoking keynote speakers to intense, highly interactive discussion sessions. Guest presenters were very influential and their approaches to the topic of leadership were truly impressive.

The main conference schedule consisted of six sections, all of which focused on leadership as a main theme. These included: General introduction to SOYA; Identity; Leadership; Achievement; and Community, respectively.

The conference commenced at 1pm after a light lunch and a brief meet-and-greet. Both guest speakers and participants were welcomed by the Episcopal Dean of the Serbian Orthodox Church in Australia and New Zealand- Fr. Milan Milutinovic. Both Fr. Milan Milutinovic and National President of SOYA Ilija Bilic aimed to introduce the main objectives of SOYA, with Fr.Milan focusing on motivation. What he covered in his speech was a concept that one can put to use in everyday life, inspiring attendees to reorder their priorities, consider their purpose in life and most importantly, to think positive in order to be positive. National President of SOYA, Ilija Bilic explained the reasons behind SOYA's existence, relating the importance of Serbian Orthodox Church to developing professionals and their careers. He also insisted that the church can and is willing to contribute to this development. What are Serbians without their Church, especially here in Australia, so far away from home? How much do these young people know about their Church? Ilija's speech left his fellow youth evaluating how much they themselves know about their Church and how relative their Church is to their careers and their potential as future leaders.

Slobodanka Vladiv-Glover, an Associate Professor of Slavic and Comparative literature at Monash University, then spoke extensively about the problem of ‘identity' in a multicultural and modern-day environment. While emphasising Slavic literature, she was able to create a strong link between today's Serbian migrants and some of the greatest Serbian names in the field of literature. She then further talked about cultural transformation and how one should appreciate other cultures, as well as the importance of family support in the sustaining of one's identity.

The next key-note speaker was Aleksandar Tin Bunjevac, a barrister currently working for Victorian Department of Justice. Aleksandar covered the topic of leadership by comparing and contrasting managers and leaders. Many leaders and philosophers would agree with him when on the point that managers do the same things again and again within existing frameworks while leaders motivate and transform things for the better. He touched on the topic of leadership within the wider community and reiterated that scepticism should never be a discouragement for true visionaries.

Steven Cvetkovic, South Pacific Practice Principal for Hewlett-Packard covered the issue of achievement as both a leader and a professional by discussing his own encounters with Hewlett-Packard. He discussed the high performance culture that is embedded in the strategy of his company, relating this to the fact that overall planning is very important in the attainment of one's goals within chosen career. He made participants realise how much control they can have over their own actions, through a positive mindset and sustained commitment.

Suzana Mihajlovic of The Serbian Welfare Association of Victoria (SWAV) gave a presentation about the state of the Serbian community in Victoria, raising a lot of questions about young Serbian people living in Victoria. The number of problems the Serbian youth face went further than family conflict and problems, education and employment and lack of quality programs and activities for young people. Problems that she brought up included substance abuse, mental health, stigma, and acculturation difficulties. Suzana highlighted the importance of the youth in evaluating the Serbian community as a whole, and also prepared the attendees for the next part of the conference. After these influential talks, the Serbian youth was ready to brainstorm and define the real problems existing within the community and to formulate possible solutions.

One of these issues was the negative media representation of Serbs in Australia. In order to overcome this problem, suggestions were made to contact the media at SOYA's discretion, as opposed to only receiving media attention under negative circumstances. Another major issue which was identified was the lack of unity among the Serbian youth in Melbourne. This problem was worrying for all who were present, and suggestions to improve the situation included more SOYA events and seminars, teaching the youth the importance of networking and interaction within their own community.

As well as collecting information regarding these problems and possible solutions, each attendee was asked to nominate themselves for one or more function within the objectives of SOYA. These included mentoring programs, event organising, sports, fundraising and even structural help such as web design and maintenance.

The conference raised some challenging issues and confirmed the youth's enthusiasm and motivation to overcome these together. The experience was mind altering, and overall proved to be a great success with 100% of attendees willing to attend a similar event in the future. The wheels of SOYA are now in full-motion, and more networking events are soon to come.