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Tamara Brezzi, Deacons lawyer, IWDA board member

Tamara Brezzi, Deacons lawyer, IWDA board member

Tamara Brezzi combines her life as a lawyer with a volunteer position addressing development priorities in the Asia-Pacific region. Deborah Singerman reports. Tamara Brezzi, a partner at…

Tamara Brezzi combines her life as a lawyer with a volunteer position addressing development priorities in the Asia-Pacific region. Deborah Singerman reports.

Tamara Brezzi, a partner at Deacons, says her interest in international development has led her to volunteer with the Melbourne-headquartered International Women's Development Agency (IWDA) since the mid-2000s.

After starting a career as a local government town planner in 1992, Brezzi completed a five-year part-time correspondence law degree at Deakin University in 2000, joining Deacons during the latter stages. She did her articles there and worked her way through senior associate to become a partner in 2008, specialising in planning and environment. "I only started law with the intention of getting into planning law," she says.

"I have been very fortunate to have strong female mentors and influences in my career and to have worked with both men and women who have had nothing but support for me and my career aspirations and growth at the firm," she says. But Brezzi, 36, also wanted something "out of the immediate realms of the industry" that would complement her day-to-day work. She already sat on a number of professional associations such as the Victorian Planning and Environmental Law Association, and was introduced to IWDA by a barrister colleague, taking up a position on the IWDA board.

IWDA addresses issues in the Asia-Pacific region such as livelihood and economic empowerment, education, environmental sustainability and civil and political participation and has also supported programs to benefit Indigenous Australian women and girls.

Brezzi was also impressed that the body "looked at industry sectors that are not necessarily all driven by making a dollar out of a particular project. They are much more about delivering education and empowerment and information about developing small business and putting micro-credit or finance programs into Asia-Pacific areas. So it opened doors on my personal development about understanding those issues better.

"I didn't feel that I had ever really been exposed to particular prejudices around me throughout my entire career, both as a planner and a lawyer, but I was very aware that that was not the experience of a lot of people and certainly not the experience of most women in developing countries," she says.

"I think it is easy for people to take the view 'Oh there are always problems out there, but where to start?'. IWDA is one of those organisations that has well and truly started with real programs for real people dealing with real issues."

One particularly inspiring memory springs from IWDA arranging for a couple of women from the Emerging Leaders Program (partners are the Karen Women's Organisation and Women's League of Burma) to visit Melbourne and give a presentation. When asked how completing the program would change their way of operating within the local community, "one of the women, very quietly spoken and quite shy but able to advocate her view, said that before she had done the IWDA program she had never understood or expected to be allowed to have a view or an opinion about how the community operated or how money coming into her household should be spent", Brezzi says.

"To me, it indicated that before she did our program she didn't feel she had a right to participate in life and it confirmed why I thought that being involved in IWDA was going to be a good thing to do." Further vindication is that 95 per cent of graduates from the leadership school in Thailand are now working in a community-based organisation helping to make decisions that affect their lives.

Brezzi also chairs the IWDA governance committee, which deals with local legal, occupational health and safety, management and structural issues, including security for IWDA staff when travelling to potentially politically unstable countries in which IWDA has programs.

Brezzi's partner, a management consultant, supports her varied life and her whole family is interested in current affairs that affect the region. "I'm a keen cook and explore culture through food and languages," Brezzi says. IWDA Feast at Melbourne's Grand Hyatt Hotel, with meals from 19 female chefs and wine from 13 female winemakers, is one of her favourite fundraising events.

Collaboration also manifests itself on a more political level. "I don't think we can operate in an isolated way, thinking that we are not linked to the Asia-Pacific Region, in the same way that we are not completely separated and isolated from the rest of the world. I think understanding those links is important - irrespective of what you do for a living. It is part of who we are."

Brezzi is pleased that Deacons, by supporting its staff's life components, whether it is about volunteering or family commitments or playing sport, has allowed her to act on her convictions. "It's this give and take that makes it a very flexible place to be. I think the firm also honours and encourages commitments made to causes outside our legal work for paying clients. It goes hand in hand with career advancement here."

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