Konstandinos (Kon) Karapanagiotidis OAM is a leading human rights advocate and an energetic champion for people seeking asylum.
Kon’s own experiences of racism, along with the exploitation and discrimination his parents faced doing factory work, inspired him to devote his life to supporting people to seek justice and freedom from oppression.
Throughout his esteemed career, Kon has demonstrated an unwavering commitment to social justice, working variously as a human rights lawyer, social worker and teacher.
An advocate for people seeking asylum
In 2001, while working as a teacher, Kon founded the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre (ASRC). What began in 2001 as a small food bank in Footscray has now grown to become Australia’s largest independent human rights organisation for refugees and people seeking asylum.
For over two decades, Kon has led the ASRC to not only support and empower people seeking asylum, but also to mobilise and unite communities to create lasting social and policy change. Under his leadership, the ASRC reaches more than 4,600 people every year, through a team of over 100 staff and more than 1,200 volunteers delivering 40 life-changing programs. These programs protect people seeking asylum from persecution, support their wellbeing and dignity, and empower them to build their own independent futures.
Kon's passion for life-long learning
Equally influential to Kon’s career has been his passion for knowledge. A committed life-long learner, he completed a Bachelor of Behavioural Sciences at La Trobe University (1993), then went on to study a Bachelor of Social Work at Victoria University, and returned to La Trobe to complete a Bachelor of Laws (1999). While studying his Bachelor of Laws, Kon worked at La Trobe as a Disability Advisor.
Kon has also completed a Master of Education at Victoria University, a Master of Development Studies at the University of Melbourne and a Master of Business Administration at the Melbourne Business School. In 2010, through a Churchill Fellowship, he visited leading refugee organisations around the world to research strategies for advocating and supporting asylum seekers in Australia.
Receiving an honorary degree
In May 2019, Kon received a Doctor of Laws (honoris causa) from La Trobe for his outstanding contributions to humanitarianism and his continued advocacy to advance social justice. Watch the video of Kon's inspiring speech to graduates, below.
Reflecting on his life and career, Kon encourages La Trobe graduates to have pride in their unique backgrounds and stories, and in the diverse, global community that they’ll join as La Trobe alumni.
I was the first in my family to go to high school. My father had to leave school at the age of nine. He dreamt of being the lawyer that I am now. My mother dreamt of being a maths teacher and she had to leave school at the age of 12. It’s really important to be proud of where we come from and who we are – of our stories, histories and struggles. To be proud of what brings us together.
He also challenges us all to apply our degrees to create change.
‘We live in such privileged times that sometimes we don’t need to think about the realities. But over 28 years, whether it’s been through working with people seeking asylum, or volunteering with first nations communities, or when I first started out as a kid working with young people at risk and homeless men on the street, what I find is a country of have and have-nots,’ he says.
There’s a moral urgency for us to act. So graduates, I ask you: what are you going to do with your privilege? You have this extraordinary opportunity to transform the world, to inspire and to dream big. You will always have people who will tell you what you can and cannot be. Listen to your voice. Own your power. Use your privilege. Hold onto your values. And lead with radical empathy, love and compassion.
Kon’s outstanding humanitarian and advocacy efforts are widely awarded. He has been a finalist for Australian of the Year (Victoria) (2007), the Australian Human Rights Commission’s Human Rights Medal (2012) and Maribyrnong Council’s Citizen of the Year (2016). In 2011, he was awarded an Order of Australia Medal and the La Trobe Alumni Young Achiever Award. Most recently, Kon’s work has been acknowledged by a Pro Bono Australia Impact Award (2019); a Distinguished Service Award from the Migration Institute of Australia (2018); and a Community Service Award from the Hellenic Australian Chamber of Commerce (2017).
Last updated: 17th May 2019