Our People


Sincere in service, conscious of the needs of others, and positive agents of change in the community.

Board members

Chair


Saara Sabbagh has served the Muslim community across a broad range of services for 30 years. She has worked in the field of cross cultural education, youth, domestic violence, health & wellbeing, advocacy, faith based education, and much more. Her passion for creating a third space where conversations on identity, faith, spirituality, and inclusion within an Australian context, inspired her to create Benevolence in 2008. Saara is passionate about reviving the ancient wisdom of the Islamic tradition through teaching the virtues of the Prophetic Way, spiritual values, and promoting a life of consciousness.

Vice-Chair


Dr Susan Carland has a PhD in sociology, and is the Director of the Bachelor of Global Studies at Monash University. Susan has been listed on the 500 Most Influential Muslims in the World list, and a "Muslim Leader of Tomorrow" by the UN Alliance of Civilizations. As an academic and author, Susan's work has appeared in local and international newspapers, academic journals, websites, and anthologies. Firmly believing in Benevolence's ethos and approach to Islam in Australia, Susan has been a part of the Benevolence community since its inception.

Secretary


Toltu Tufa specialises in connecting with diverse communities and believes Benevolence has a genuine pulse on what Australian Muslim communities need. Toltu has won state awards for her educational programs, and most recently founded Afaan Publications, an initiative to promote Africa’s fourth most widely spoken language: Afaan Oromo. When Toltu is not with her two children, she pursues a career in Psychology and also works at a specialist hospital in Melbourne.

Treasurer


Zara Merchant has completed studies in Law/Commerce (majoring in finance), and was admitted to the Supreme Court of Victoria as a lawyer in 2015. She is currently working in risk management for a global investment bank. Zara was attracted to Benevolence for its culture, and is committed to playing a role in the Benevolence journey by helping extend their values of mercy and service to the wider community.

General members



Rita Narangala has been an active supporter of Benevolence since 2011, and is also a playgroup teacher at BeneKids. Rita brings her skills learnt as an engineering manager to steer Benevolence's strategic direction in the areas of risk, ethics and governance. Rita’s personal passions are her children, environmental sustainability, and furthering WASH (water, sanitation and hygiene) in developing countries. As a convert, Rita deeply appreciates the importance of Benevolence as a community and family for those without ancestral roots in Islam.


Hena Kalam is ExxonMobil’s Pipeline Risk Coordinator and a professional engineer. Alongside her professional work, Hena is passionate about giving back to the community by actively volunteering for causes she believes in. She is a teacher and Deputy Principal at BeneKids, and also serves on the board for the Australian Muslim Women’s Centre for Human Rights (AMWCHR). Hena's volunteering work is part of her commitment to contribute to society by strengthening communities through mutual respect, love and harmony.

Maryam Badvi has been enthusiastically involved in Benevolence Australia since 2008. She has developed strong relationships through Benevolence, and is keen to propogate the connectivity and Islamic knowledge to equally benefit the community. Maryam's background is in legal and scientific studies, and she is motivated to provide her skills and knowledge as a lawyer to the Benevolence Board and broader community to support Benevolence’s vision, strategies, governance, and community work.


CEO

Meriem E. Abida is skilled in intervention and change management, holding a Masters of Science in Business Studies from the University of Sherbrooke, Canada. She is passionate about bringing people together in the Muslim and wider community to foster social cohesion, harmony, and connectedness. Meriem believes Benevolence has an authentic and vital role within the Australian Muslim community and the outreach sphere on a national and international level.

Being the CEO, Meriem is steering Benevolence through its new phase of growth as it transitions from a grassroots organisation providing a safe space for Muslims, to a leading voice in shaping the Australian Muslim narrative. Working closely with the Board of Directors, Meriem oversees the management team and provides strong and clear leadership as Benevolence expands through collaboration, bringing the vision of Benevolence to a broader audience.


Program managers

BeneKids and BeneYouth


Azi Mustapa earned her Commerce and International Business degree in the US, and began her career with American Express as a Financial Advisor and then found her passion in Human Resources and Operations. With an international background spanning Malaysia, Laos, Egypt, Indonesia, the United States and now Australia, she has now made Melbourne her home. Her drive and achievements are born from a genuine desire to help others realise their goals and reach their potential. Azi has a passion for working as part of a community to earnestly make a contribution to others and make a real difference and add value to those around her.

Media and Public Affairs

Jessica Swann has a background in international journalism in the Middle East, USA and Australia with ABC. She holds a Masters in Islam in The Modern World from the Australian National University and Food Security, Food Wars and Agricultural Policy from the Crawford School of Public Policy.  As Media and Strategic Public Affairs Manager, Jessica oversees the direction of Benevolence Australia’s reputation and positioning as a primary resource in public affairs and contributor in the media on issues relating to Islam-West relations and understanding Islam and Muslims in Australia. Further to her role with Benevolence, Jessica is consultant National Secretariat at the Australia Arab Chamber of Commerce and a teacher in Media at Swinburne University of Technology.

Outreach

Dee Darwiche is a post corporate young woman, who spent many years in the technology, digital and marketing space, where she represented some of Australia and the world's leading business, financial and telecommunications organisations. She holds a Bachelor of Information Systems with a Major in Business, and is passionate about creating educational programs that promote harmony. Dee manages the end-to-end delivery of Benevolence's Outreach programs which includes school programs that complement the Victorian and Australian Curriculum. As Outreach Program Manager Dee's role is aimed at exploring common misconceptions and challenging stereotypes about Muslims through educational programs.


BeneHouse

125 George St
Doncaster East
Victoria 3108

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