Tinke Wesseling, Trudi Mitchell and Karen Khadi
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Meet Australia for UNHCR’s new Board members

Tinke Wesseling and Karen Khadi bring executive experience and passion for refugee issues to their roles.

Here at the Leading Women Fund, we’re all about celebrating inspiring women – and last month, two impressive female executives joined the Board of Australia for UNHCR

Tinke Wesseling is Managing Director of Strategy and Consulting – Supply Chain and Operational Excellence at leading consultancy company Accenture Australia, and has considerable experience in advocating for refugee employment. 

Karen Khadi brings to the Board extensive experience in financial management, governance and stakeholder engagement. She is currently an Executive Director with Macquarie Group, leading stakeholder engagement for Commodities and Global Markets, and was previously the Group’s head of investor relations. Khadi has strong experience in mentoring women and raising funds for education. 

Their personal stories highlight their passion for refugee issues.

How a dinner sparked Tinke Wesseling’s lifelong advocacy

Australia for UNHCR Board member Tinke Wesseling
Australia for UNHCR Board member Tinke Wesseling

“It really struck me that they weren’t able to see the people they loved so much.”

When she was six years old, Tinke Wesseling’s father, a professor at the University of Amsterdam, brought home two young men for dinner. They were his assistants, aged just 18 and 19, and they were political refugees. 

“He had taken them under his wing, and that was the first time I became aware of the existence of people who didn't have the freedom that I was born with,” Tinke says. “They talked about how they weren't able to see their family, and that really struck me that they weren’t able to see the people they loved so much, just to pursue their ambitions. Yet I could live in freedom and never had to fear anything.”

When Tinke went to university and her perspective broadened further, she felt compelled to take action. “I started to better understand what was happening elsewhere and I felt I had to do something. I came in contact with a not-for-profit that provided scholarships and mentoring to refugees; over the years, I mentored many of them.” 

In 2015, while working at Accenture in the Netherlands, Tinke was struggling to find the right people for her team. “It didn't make sense to me because we had an influx of refugees coming in, particularly Syrian refugees. They were just not on the radar for recruitment agencies. I started talking to some of the refugee people that I was mentoring and we came up with the idea of a digital platform where we could showcase the skills the local market was looking for.” The Refugee Talent Hub was born — a digital matchmaking platform connecting refugee talent with global employers.  

Tinke moved to Sydney in 2017 to take on the role of Managing Director of Strategy and Consulting – Supply Chain and Operational Excellence at Accenture Australia. But her advocacy didn’t end there; in fact, Tinke played a key part in obtaining the first working visa for a stateless person in Australia. 

“A friend told me that she’d found me the perfect candidate,” she says. “I interviewed him, despite the fact he wasn't in Australia yet, and that he may or may not ever be able to get into Australia. He went through all the official interview rounds because I wanted him to be hired based on what he was bringing to the table. It took almost two years, but we got there in the end, and he’s an incredible person.

“I can come up with bold ideas,” she adds, “and have been fortunate to end up with a support network making possible what seemed impossible.”

How Karen Khadi’s early experiences in Lebanon inspired her to help refugees

Australia for UNHCR Board member Karen Khadi
Australia for UNHCR Board member Karen Khadi

“I'm constantly saying to myself, why am I the lucky one?”

Karen Khadi and her four siblings grew up in the relative safety of Australia. But in 1986, with the Lebanese civil war looking like it was about to end, Karen’s parents decided to move the family back to their homeland, in anticipation of witnessing its rebirth. 

Ten-year-old Karen was used to hopping on her bike and going wherever she liked. When she discovered her brother Andrew had snuck off one day to a cinema near her grandfather’s house in Lebanon, her first thought was to follow him. “It was so cool, no one was there,” Andrew told her. 

But when their grandfather learned of Andrew’s adventure, he was furious. “Don’t you understand that is a prime spot for an explosion?” he shouted. “There was no one there because everyone knows not to go!”

For the next three years, the family was schooled by their seasoned grandfather in how to live amid a civil war. 

“Through care and worry and love, my grandfather didn’t want us to go anywhere: you have to stay in this building, he’d say, and that’s because it was a very volatile country at the time, and we struggled with that as kids,” says Karen. “Then there were the bombings. “It became the norm to always assess your safety routes wherever you went in the event something happened.” 

When the political situation failed to settle, the family returned to Australia, but Khadi’s experiences have stayed with her for life. “I'm constantly saying to myself, why am I the lucky one?” Her parents didn’t need to apply for refugee status and had the means to return and start over. “We just got lucky, and I think that it's incumbent on me to make the most of the opportunity I've been given.” 

These days Karen is an Executive Director with Macquarie Group, leading stakeholder engagement for Commodities and Global Markets. Her early experiences have instilled in her a passion to use her privileges to help others; so far, she has mentored talented women as part of the Women in Banking and Finance program, and has also worked with Women for Change to raise money for girls’ education in Kenya. Karen is also the Chair of LIFE Generation Australia, which raises money to support scholars’ education in Lebanon.

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