New Speaker: Kon Karapanagiotidis, Melburnian of The Year 2023
Congratulations to Kon Karapanagiotidis, the 2023 Melburnian of the Year! The accolade is the cornerstone of the Melbourne Awards, celebrating people whose vision and hard work shape the city.
When it comes to inspirational stories about compassionate visionaries, few come close to Kon, the CEO and founder of the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre (ASRC). ICMI is incredibly proud to announce the addition of Kon to our roster of speakers following his win of the prestigious award.
Kon is a fierce advocate for the rights of people seeking asylum, refugees, and Indigenous Australians. As the largest independent human rights organisation for refugees and people seeking asylum in Australia, ASRC assists thousands of people each year, with the help of over 1,200 volunteers and 125 staff. Kon is also a human rights lawyer, social worker, board member for Children’s Ground, philanthropist, and cooking enthusiast.
Kon is proudly Greek and grew up in a working-class family in a small country town in Victoria. His personal experience of racism and witnessing the exploitation of his parents in factories, as well as his grandparents’ experience as refugees who fled the Pontian genocide in Anatolia, planted the seeds for his passion for human rights.
It all started on Sundays at the Royal Children’s Hospital, where 18 year old Kon would do midnight volunteer shifts on a crisis line during mealtimes at a homeless men’s shelter. He then went on to do volunteer work at 24 other charities. During this time, he also completed six degrees, becoming a lawyer, social worker, and teacher.
After a decade of helping communities in need, the hopeful and determined 28 year old Kon founded the ASRC in 2001. Then a TAFE teacher, Kon realised people seeking asylum were living in our communities without any basic support. The ASRC started as a humble student-run and community-funded food bank, operating out of a small shop in Footscray.
Today, the ASRC has grown into the largest independent human rights organisation in Australia, having supported and empowered over 12,000 people seeking asylum and refugees over the last 15 years. More than 1,000 people are fed each week through the ASRC’s foodbank, with free hot lunches served daily.
It’s a place, a service and a movement, with initiatives like investment in refugee-led businesses and political action. For example, the ASRC team worked to have the last children taken out of the Nauru immigration detention centre and convinced state governments to make public transport concession cards available to asylum seekers.
Beyond this year’s Melburnian of the Year award, Kon’s work has been recognised with more than two dozen other awards and honours including an Order of Australia Medal (OAM) and a Churchill Fellowship. He has also been a finalist for Australian of The Year (Victoria) and the Human Rights Medal, as well as Citizen of the Year in his local community.
Kon has also inspired as an author, with his memoir The Power of Hope showcasing the power to change the world by putting community, love and compassion at the centre of our lives.
He is also a passionate cook, something he showcases in his most recently published book Philoxenia, a cookbook he co-wrote with his mother Sia. In it they showcase veggie-powered Greek classics while exploring the innate ability of food to uphold our connection to culture and identity.
“Philoxenia” is a Greek word meaning ‘to show generosity to a stranger’. It’s a great encapsulation of the selflessness that’s energised Kon through a lifetime of passionate advocacy.
Congratulations again to Kon for being this year’s Melbunian of the Year. We look forward to supporting him as he continues his journey inspiring and motivating positive changes across the community.
Call 1800 334 625 to book Kon Karapanagiotidis for your next event.