Say Hello to René

4 March 2021

We love getting to know you better and hope you like getting to know us too. This interview lets you know a bit more about René Mckenzie-Low, our Head of Community and External Engagement. 

Where did you grow up and what was it like? 

I grew up on the Central Coast, north of Sydney. In those days, the Central Coast wasn’t overly populated so not much happened other than going to the beach. I grew up in what you would call a ‘working class family’ on one income with 5 other siblings. Being from a large family was never boring. However, we also grew up with domestic violence as part of our day-to-day lives – something which still affects me, even today.

Tell me a little about your career journey and how you ended up at City West. 

If you have ever experienced domestic violence as a child, it inhibits you from having a voice, which can be soul destroying as a young child and have ongoing impacts in all areas of your life over the years. So, after many (successful) years as a visual merchandiser and hair and make-up artist for film, tv, theatre, etc., I took a huge leap and left my jobs as I wanted to work in a space where I felt I was helping people, especially helping young people to have a voice.

I started out volunteering at a community hub, and after a few failed attempts to get work in the community sector, I was about to give up when I was given the opportunity to work with homeless teenagers.

Funny story, I was told when applying for jobs that I wasn’t cut out for this type of work and that I should just go back to doing people’s make-up and leave this ‘type’ of work to the professionals. Did I listen? Absolutely not.

I took every opportunity available to me to expand my knowledge and educate myself about the sector, often volunteering just to get noticed and the experience of working with different demographics. I loved every minute!

Gradually, I found myself over the years working on larger projects that involved all of the community and all the while my agenda was always to let the people’s and communities’ voices be heard.

In 2013, I took another leap of faith and sold everything I owned (which wasn’t much) and moved to Nairobi, Kenya for a year to volunteer at a little school in Kibera which is located in the slums of Nairobi. What a life-changing experience!

When I returned in 2014, I wanted to stretch myself further and was lucky enough to land the role at CWH where I have been now for almost six years.

What hobbies or initiatives are you involved in outside of work? 

As far as hobbies go, I’ve always loved travelling. To date, I’ve been to 44 countries! When it comes to initiatives outside of work, last year I was asked to become a Director for a new start-up charity for domestic violence The Equanimity Project.

“For many of us we pride ourselves on our successes throughout our careers and family life, but for many of us we hide amongst the busy noise of our daily lives. We hide the shame that is domestic violence.

For me, being part of this project isn’t just about ‘doing good’, it’s about making a valiant effort to right the wrongs that so many of us and those we know go through silently, including me. 

I am a woman with a purpose who wants to change the landscape for women and am grateful to be part of an incredible team of imaginative, agile and passionate volunteers focused on delivering a client experience that is remarkable.”

What is a goal you still want to accomplish? 

There’s still so much I would like to do. I’ve been ticking off my bucket list since I was about 25; however, over the years, life can throw you some happy and heart breaking curves. So as long as I can stay happy and healthy, I think the biggest thing on my bucket list is to write a book.

Life goes by so fast, doesn’t it?
One minute you’re here, and the next … you’re not.
… so really, I’ve got nothing to lose, have I? Nothing!

Better get cracking on that book!