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Early Graduates in IR: Kupakwashe Matangira

In this career spotlight we have the pleasure of speaking with recent Bachelor of Politics, Philosophy and Economics graduate Kupakwashe Matangira about her experience working at the Australian Human Rights Commission and at Oxford University, her transition from university to full-time work, and her recent achievements as a finalist for the NSW Young Woman of the Year 2024 and recipient of the 2024 Youth Medal.

Kupakwashe Matangira is a youth empowerment activist and social entrepreneur. 


Kupakwashe’s goal is to ensure all young people enjoy a lived experience of their rights. She has connected hundreds of young people to decision-makers to ensure their voices inform climate policy and youth justice reform at every level of Government, including at the 2023 COP28 Climate Conference and 2022 United Nations Convention on the Status of Women.

Kupakwashe advises state and federal Government Departments on issues affecting young people. She is a Plan International Youth Activist and sits on the Global Youth Committee at the Global Institute for Women’s Leadership.

You have completed your undergraduate studies both at the University of New South Wales and the University of Oxford. Could you elaborate on your university journey?

I always knew I wanted to study international relations. As a young Zimbabwean with a politicised identity living in Australia, politics always affected my life. Being Zimbabwean and being exposed to the impacts of Southern Africa’s complex regional dynamics made me want to study international relations. Armed with this life experience, I began studying law and international relations, law because I wanted to be an international and human rights lawyer. 

I realised very quickly this chosen path was not for me. I wanted to understand why the world is and why it came to be like this as opposed to merely what the world is. I decided to study politics, philosophy and economics to learn how to think about the world and critique. I chose to complete my studies at Oxford University because of their excellent scholarship in Middle Eastern politics and development. 

What experiences or moments helped you identify your passion in international affairs?

All throughout high school I did model UN debating and public speaking. Whilst cliche, model UN changed my life because it enabled me to realise I did not want to be a passive receiver of world events, I wanted to shape policy. 

Through UN Youth Australia, I went on delegations to Europe and the Middle East. I went to the International Criminal Court and there was a quote on the wall ‘The UN was not created to take humanity to heaven, but to save humanity from hell’. As I walked through the Hague, I realised that the international system could enforce a world order of peace and justice. Safe to say, in the Middle East, I saw the opposite of this happen as conflict was made real. Hearing young Palestinians my age recount the realities of being inter-generational refugees and seeing fundamental human rights being deprived made me commit to ensuring human rights were a lived experience for all. Those images are forever etched in the walls of my memory, they are what drive me to work in international affairs. As a result of wanting to ensure young people enjoyed their rights and also striving to create gender equality in my home country, I started a social enterprise to educate orphaned girls in Zimbabwe. I also worked with Save the Children and Plan International to make child rights a reality for more young people and in 2023, I represented Australian youth at the COP28 Climate Conference in Dubai.

In 2023 you started working at the Australian Human Rights Commission. Tell us more about your typical workday as a Policy and Research Officer in their Race Discrimination Team!

Each day is varied. I do a mix of public awareness/campaign work focussed on promoting anti-racism. I also conduct research for the National Anti-Racism Framework and our team’s monitoring, evaluation and learning. I co-lead the team’s public awareness on anti-racism within community sport and am part of a working group researching the intersection of climate change and human rights in Australia and the Pacific. An exciting project I am currently working on is creating an anti-racism youth leadership initiative for young people across Australia. No two days are the same, but each day requires juggling these priorities in some way.

You’re also a Research Assistant at the University of Oxford. What are your responsibilities in this role, and how are you managing the remote working arrangements?

My research role involves analysing how the countries of the Arab League interact with multilateral institutions such as the United Nations. Currently, I am gathering all the speeches made by Arab League countries at the UN General Assembly from the UN’s inception until now. After this, my supervisor and I will conduct natural language processing on the texts and then add a historical/political context overlay to analyse the changing dynamics in the Middle East and North Africa and how they impacted language. 

I started this role whilst I was studying at Oxford University. Thankfully, I work on this research part time and remotely. I am grateful for the flexible role, but the balance of this, full time work and advocacy is tricky. A balance I am still trying to strike!

You were recently recognised as a finalist for the title of NSW Young Woman of the Year 2024 and were awarded the esteemed 2024 Youth Medal. What do these awards entail and what do they represent to you both personally and professionally?

I was nominated for these awards because of my dedication to youth empowerment and ensuring young people have a say in all policies that impact them. Specifically, over the last 9 years, I have helped link up young people to decision makers at every level of Government. The goal of this work being for youth to inform climate policy, family violence policy, gender justice and youth justice reform premised on addressing social policy failings (such as in-equitable access to education and employment). My work focuses on amplifying youth voices, promoting investment in youth solutions and recognising that young people are today’s catalysts of change.

I do this work because I want all young people to enjoy a lived experience of their rights. Honours such as this affirm the importance of making rights a reality as opposed to mere words on paper. The awards also show me that society perceives a need for this work, so not only is it relevant but also necessary in achieving justice, be it climate justice, gender justice or just outcomes for young people. 

Personally, as any human would say, it feels really nice to have your hard work and efforts recognised. I can’t help but smile knowing someone, let alone society at large, appreciates the all-nighters writing policy papers to lobby politicians, the hours of bus rides taken to speak to young people or the days spent researching to plug gaps in your knowledge. Above all else, awards like this show me that humanity is committed to the fight for justice, a better world for us all is possible.

Lastly, how did you navigate the transition from university to the professional world, and how are you managing your work-life-balance?

The transition from university to the professional world is a hard one that definitely needs a learning curve. The way I manage the work-life-balance is through prioritising rest and scheduling it every day. For me, self care is taking time to enjoy the little things. I schedule runs in the park so I can see the trees and flowers in bloom. I try a new tea every couple of weeks to keep things exciting. I love to cook, I religiously watch cooking shows with my sister to find new recipes. I am also obsessed with cheese and make it for fun! I also try new coffee beans each month to keep my taste buds on their toes. 

I also meditate often and explore, locally and internationally, whenever I can. Most recently I went to the Cook Islands, I am going to Malaysian Borneo next!


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