Walter Villagonzalo: An Advocate for Community Building

Walter Villagonzalo has always had a strong passion for being active in his local community, both in his native Philippines and after moving his family to Melbourne.

Walter relocated following political instability in the Philippines and settled into Wyndham in the western suburbs of Melbourne in the late 1980s, quickly becoming active in the local migrant community. 

After spending time with migrant resource centres in Altona and Footscray, he identified the need for a migrant resource centre in the new, diverse community that was rapidly growing around Wyndham. After being denied funding support from the local council for the centre, Walter looked to social enterprise as solution.

“We decided to form The Migrant HUB Inc and open a community café so we could have a place to meet,” explains Walter, “Our aim was to secure meeting premises by operating a profit-for-purpose project which would generate enough income to pay for the rent but at the same time bring together and build the community.”

From Walter’s first social enterprise café, he launched a string of other social enterprises to support new migrants, refugees and asylum seekers in and around Wyndham fully funded by surplus generated from operations.

MiREFUGE was developed to provide emergency accommodation to asylum seekers with Walter developing a relationship with a building company to lease and furnish an apartment complex. MiREFUGE operated up to 25 houses and accommodated over 1,000 asylum seekers and refugees over the last four years.

Walter’s next venture was to co-establish Blockhouse Inc, which renovated a warehouse to be subleased by his church and a training organisation. Blockhouse relocated to a larger facility and established the WynCUBATOR which was a co-working space and incubator for community groups, other social enterprises and small businesses during the week. On weekends it is utilised for community Church services.

 “We helped around 30 projects and partnered with a Work for the Dole service provider to create meaningful activities to 120 local unemployed residents while utilising their skills and experience to help the WynCUBATOR clients ” explains Walter.

Several projects came out of the WynCUBATOR, such as the Restoration and PrintHUB projects located in another warehouse to restore furniture and bicycles donated by the local community to be used by asylum seekers as well as a t-shirt printing business for local community businesses.

Walter is now planning his next social enterprise venture, WynTREE, a tree farm that will create local employment opportunities to grow trees and plants to supply local councils, VicRoads and landscaping and housing businesses.

He is also now assisting in the development of other social enterprises and entrepreneurs, acting as a founding member of BizBuddyHub, which provides support to local businesses and acting as Vice President of the Australian Council for Multicultural Entrepreneurs. He is also a mentor for local small businesses and speaks about social enterprises and his journey at churches and community groups meetings. He also hosted three overseas delegations seeking to learn from Australia’s social enterprise experience.

Walter was also recently recognised for his community efforts by the City of Wyndham, receiving the Community Engagement Award and being named Citizen of the Year in 2015. He was recently elected as a Councillor, acting as Chair to the Future Focused Economy portfolio.

“I will be preaching the message of Social Enterprise in Wyndham and everywhere I can – loud and clear.”

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