The Workplace Injury Commission’s Mabior Ring: The Project Manager with Ubuntu at Heart
Mabior Ring has lived a life few of us could ever truly understand. As a migrant to Australia, the intelligent and compassionate Project Manager has overcome challenge after challenge with resilience, gratitude and a determination to succeed. We’re proud to share his story.
More than my circumstances
The field may be bare of grass, but it’s full of life: boisterous, barefoot boys kicking up dust under the hot Kenyan sun. Their laughter and mild heckling chime across the brown-dirt expanse, their eyes twinkling, brimming with unbridled energy, promise and potential.
Right in the middle of the action is Mabior Ring, star football player with a smile that shines like the sun. He shoots, he scores! The crowd goes wild! He can almost hear it, see it.
On the field, Mabior and his friends are in their own world, refusing to be defined by the refugee camp surrounding them. It’s true that the Kakuma camp in northwestern Kenya is a significant part of their lives. But even at the tender age of eight, Mabior understands he is more than his circumstances. He’s more than the civil war that forced him, his mother and older siblings to flee their home in Sudan to find safety in this desolate land.
Mabior knows that what matters most is his humanity, his Ubuntu: an unwavering spirit of community, belonging and care for his fellow human being.
Ubuntu is an African proverb rooted in shared understanding, a sense of belonging, community and humanity. Therefore, “I am because we ARE.” This expresses that we, as individuals and humans, need to express humanity towards others.
“Ubuntu is something I wholly believe in,” Mabior reflects 25 years later. “The belief that we, as human beings, are a community, and we should all do our best for our fellow human beings. To be able to see that and experience that in the camp is everlasting with me. Even now, in Australia, I still prefer that collective approach to life. It’s about, ‘What can I do as a member of this community to not only improve my life but also to improve the lives of others?’”
The power of connection
When I first met Mabior, I had never heard of Ubuntu. But its essence was clear in Mabior’s respectful, considered and compassionate approach to all he did. And the more I got to know Mabior, the more I could tell that Ubuntu was a gift he continually gave and received as Project Manager at the Workplace Injury Commission (WIC).
I had the privilege of working alongside Mabior in early 2022 as part of Employer Branding Australia’s (EBA) work with WIC to uncover its employee value proposition and write the stories of their people. His passion for WIC’s mission to resolve workers’ compensation disputes and help Victorians find a way forward was palpable.
But what struck me the most was Mabior’s unique balance of calm, composure, and deep kindness. I was curious about Mabior’s own story, so when the opportunity arose to learn more, I couldn’t wait to begin. Little did I know the impact his story would have on me and all of us at EBA.
Mabior was born in Khartoum, Sudan, surrounded by inequality and persecution. His mother cooked moonshine to feed her children. When life in the city became too dangerous, the family fled to the Kakuma refugee camp in Kenya, near the border of South Sudan.
Conditions in the camp were harsh. Food, water and medical aid were scarce, yet Mabior recalls a happy childhood.
“I was a positive child, always keen on building connections and relationships. I played football day in, day out, and time went quickly because I enjoyed being with friends. Sometimes, we might be hungry, but I loved my childhood. There is not a single thing I would change.”
In the camp, Mabior came to a profound realisation: that although we humans beings are capable of inflicting terrible pain and damage, we can also create immense good. So, he made a powerful choice: to contribute to the good.
“I met children whose parents and siblings had been killed right in front of them. To see their resilience was so inspiring to me. It flipped a switch, where I knew I was privileged because I had older siblings to protect me. So, I changed my mindset to, ‘What can I get out of life? What can I do as a person to make life better for someone else?’ From then, I knew it was up to me to give life purpose and meaning.”
New life, new challenges in Australia
After nearly five years in the refugee camp, Mabior’s family gained asylum in Australia. He remembers the day he landed in Brisbane: December 1st, 2003. For 13-year-old Mabior, it was like entering a strange, new world.
“First of all, I was so puzzled by the vast infrastructure. I was amazed by the airports, the skyscrapers, the buildings and the roads. I’d had no idea what to expect because people had informed me, ‘Australia is a desert. Some parts are so dry, if a fire starts, the whole state could be engulfed by fire!’ So, that scared me a bit!”
Yet, Mabior was eager for the challenge of life in a new country. He also couldn’t wait to start school. Like any bright young student, Mabior was full of hope about the future and wanted to seize every opportunity to learn and reach his potential.
Sadly, instead of being encouraged to spread his wings and soar, Mabior faced closed doors.
“There is a misconception that accent and intellect are linked. At school, I was taught by teachers who said I couldn’t do specific classes because of my background. They didn’t think I’d be able to cope or excel compared to white Australians. I was constantly underestimated. I felt like all my hopes and dreams were continually undermined. For a young kid, that is quite damaging.”
For the first time in Mabior’s life, his confidence began to erode, and he started to lose his sense of self.
“I felt like a second-class citizen. I thought, ‘What’s the point of coming to Australia if I’m constantly treated in a way that diminishes who I am?’ My experience is a human experience rather than just a black, migrant, African or South Sudanese experience. I wanted to be able to say, ‘This is what I want to do,’ and be told, ‘OK, if this is what you want to do, what can we do as teachers to help you achieve that?’”
A journey of re-discovery
Although significantly tested, Mabior’s positivity endured, and he embraced this challenging time as an opportunity to grow.
Mabior realised he wanted to pursue a profession where he could help people. So, he began a double degree in law and government and international relations in 2011. As a first-generation tertiary graduate, Mabior’s university days were challenging and rewarding.
“When I attended uni, I faced a lack of opportunities, as well as a lack of mentorship and reliable support to encourage and promote my growth. I also had to support myself and my family members back home. So, there was a delicate balance between ensuring I reached my potential academically and working to support myself and my family.”
While studying, Mabior worked at a freight and logistics company, gaining experience in business development - an area he quickly developed a passion for.
This led to an opportunity in 2016 to move to Melbourne and join one of the top four banks as a Continuous Improvement Specialist. And for the first time since moving to Australia, Mabior felt recognised and rewarded as a person for his contributions.
“The people around me at the bank asked, ‘What are you interested in? How do you want to develop? What support can we offer you?’ It was so refreshing. I began to find myself again.”
Mabior spent two years at the bank before becoming a Business Analyst at a national law firm. He relished the opportunity to contribute to the firm’s mission to find justice for those less fortunate.
Hungry to gain more experience, Mabior had just begun a contract at another law firm in early 2020 when COVID-19 struck. He soon found himself unemployed.
It was a difficult and distressing time. Finally, after months of unsuccessfully applying for roles, Mabior was contacted by a recruiter who presented him with an unexpected opportunity at WIC.
“I did not know who in the world WIC was!. I did some research and thought, ‘OK, this is interesting.’ I’d had some visibility of workers’ compensation disputes at the law firms I had worked at. Through my research, I discovered that WIC played a crucial role in supporting the resolution of these matters. I was intrigued. And when I looked at their leadership team, I saw it was a mixture of diverse talent. That was a good sign. So, I agreed to an interview.”
As soon as Mabior met John Brennan, WIC’s General Manager of People and Culture, he knew he’d found a special organisation that aligned with his values of community, integrity and genuine care.
“John was able to really tell the story of WIC. He painted a compelling picture of its history, what was to come, and how I would help them achieve that vision. I knew this organisation would provide me with the environment to be myself, to learn and grow, and most importantly, to contribute to the Victorian community.”
Empowered to achieve
When Mabior joined WIC as a Senior Business Analyst in 2021, he was immediately impressed by its people.
“They were so down to earth and accepting. They saw me for me, not me as an African or a South Sudanese. Just me as a person, and that was so powerful.”
Mabior discovered a rich sense of community and connection he had not experienced for many years. It brought him back to his childhood in the refugee camp, where connections and relationships were not just a way to survive, but thrive.
“No matter who I spoke to, whether a member of the executive leadership team or one of our Client Services Officers, Information Officers, Conciliation Officers or staff in supporting roles, it was so easy to have a conversation with them. That meant a lot to me. It told me there’s something special here, and I should try to grow as much as possible at this amazing organisation.”
Today, as Project Manager, Mabior is key to driving WIC’s growth. He’s helping to take the organisation’s proud legacy to the next level as it expands its services to help even more Victorians find a way forward.
John Brennan says Mabior has an infectious combination of enthusiasm, optimism and achievement orientation - meaning “he gets stuff done”.
“Mabior has such a rich back story connected with leaving South Sudan as a kid and eventually settling in Australia. It is a story of resilience and determination, which helps me understand where his drive comes from. Within 12 months, he’s become an important part of our organisation. In many ways, he represents the best of what is an outstanding People & Culture team and an organisation that enables people to belong.”
It’s a sentiment shared by Megan Doherty, WIC’s People and Culture Business Partner, who says Mabior’s natural curiosity, intuition and empathy are invaluable assets to his role.
“Mabior is an active listener who’s able to really unpack what he is hearing to get to the core of an issue and bring it forward. He brings such a calming energy to the projects he works on. He is patient and respectful of people’s opinions, but also able to guide discussions with people of varying work styles and personalities to extract what’s needed to keep a project moving forward.”
Mabior’s proud of what he’s achieved at WIC and the respectful, supportive relationships he’s built.
“I have grown so much in my time at WIC. John and the team have empowered me to push myself and use my capabilities to make a difference. It means a lot to know that my contribution matters and leads to someone in the community being helped.”
Yet, what Mabior cherishes the most about WIC is the life-changing impact it’s having on his children. At the time of writing, Mabior and his wife, Adut, have two sons, aged four and seven, and are about to welcome a little girl into the world.
“I like to take my kids to the places I work and explain what I do. As Africans, there are so many stereotypes of what we can and can’t achieve; I want to break down those barriers. When I brought my seven-year-old son, Juuk, to WIC, he was so happy to see that I work in this fantastic office. One of my colleagues asked him, ‘What do you want to do when you grow up?’ And he said, ‘I want to be the CEO.’”
Mabior pauses for a moment, smiling at the memory.
“That made me so proud as a dad. My son understood what I was trying to teach him: that you can be whoever you want to be and do whatever you want to do - you’re only limited by your imagination, your passion, and the effort you put in. I wanted my son to know that you can’t let others’ reality define who you are as a person because you are more than that. And he was able to articulate that so clearly.”
A heartfelt mission
Mabior has big plans for the future. His longer-term goal is to return to East Africa with his family and start a consultancy firm that provides tailored support and solutions for businesses, governments and organisations in that region. It’s a mission that WIC respects and wholeheartedly supports.
“The mindset I developed growing up and the experiences I’ve had working in Australia give me a good balance of the African way of life and the Western way of life. I believe I can incorporate these two approaches to provide maximum benefit to organisations in East Africa, which will trickle down to improving the lives of citizens in that part of the world. I have been open with WIC about my goal, and they understand and respect that it’s something close to my heart.”
Until then, Mabior and Adut’s focus is on their growing family. Mabior is ecstatic to be the father of two sons and, soon, a daughter. To be their teacher, to champion them as they discover and expand their potential, free of limitations, and guided by the spirit of Ubuntu.
“For me as a father, it is so important to instil some lessons in my children and say, ‘Look, the world is your oyster.’ I have so much faith in my children, born and unborn. Even though my daughter’s not here yet, I believe in her; I see what an amazing person she will be. Yes, as parents, we must guide our kids and make sure they’re set up for success, but I have so much faith that my children are going to be fine. I’m positive that Adut and I will continue to impart key lessons from our life experiences to our children, with the hope they will learn from our experiences and cherish the opportunity life provides.
“I’m grateful for the experiences I’ve had and the journey I’m on. The principles of Ubuntu are important to me, as it's not only about continuously improving myself but also the life of others. My experiences have made me more resilient, adaptable, stronger and emphatic, both as a family man and a business person. I live and breathe the values of Ubuntu every day; I apply them in my role as a person, family man, business professional and community-minded global citizen.”
About the Author
When Lauren Forcey isn’t writing compelling content that amplifies an organisation’s employer brand, you’ll either find her running stupidly long distances or eating snacks. Actually, she’s usually doing both, at once. She’s also a mum, wife, journalist and former small business owner ... and still wrestles with the fame that came with winning the healthy cake baking competition at the Royal Darwin Show one year. As Senior Storyteller at EBA, Lauren uses the power of storytelling to give an authentic insight into the people, values and culture of an organisation, touching hearts and inspiring people to act!
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