The Next Generation of Aotearoa’s Community Sector: Our Changing Face

Aotearoa’s community and voluntary sector is changing. We have new diverse ways of working, new generations arriving as kaimahi and tūao, and new solutions ready to tackle age-old problems. COVID and the recent Auckland Floods are just two examples where our community sector rolled-out immediate and innovative solutions to support grassroots communities in need, even before the official ‘system providers’ stepped up.

Here are four changes already underway. How can you personally help these changes happen?

Change 1: Broadening the seats at the table

Franky, there’s no excuse for Māori or tangata whenua not to be represented at any decision-making tables.  Government has made a legal obligation to do so in their commitments to Te Tiriti o Waitangi, so nobody steps back from that.  But it’s still up to all of us to point out if those obligations are not being met.

A couple of years ago I worked with a government advisor for a group I co-chaired. We worked on refreshing the membership to include substantially more diverse voices around the table. We ended up changing nearly half the group members.  Because, if we’re inviting new people to the table, we need to ensure we’ve created spaces and places for Māori, Pacific, Ethnic, disability, queer and other under-represented voices to be heard. Also, a note that you need acknowledge and resource their valuable time and contribution in a practical way – yes, $$$!

“[We need to ensure] system shifts that happened during COVID aren’t totally lost and that central and local government organisations remain proactively open to changing how they work with communities and what/how they invest and work as enablers.”

Community participant [1]

We also need to remember that the people from diverse communities can have many competing priorities that are driving them.  I was working with a group where a Pacific woman shared how she was late arriving as she had prioritised her other community needs first.  Only when those priorities were done was she able to come to our hui. This was really helpful to hear and gain greater understanding.  Because, of course, it makes total sense.

Change 2: Doing the mahi (not just talking about doing the mahi)

One of the sticking points, always, is that the people we’re inviting simply get invited to too many tables.  Particularly if I’m reaching out to Māori or tangata whenua leaders, I’m aware that they are very busy with a lot of asks and these kinds of discussions are not always a priority for them.   Sure, bringing expertise to systems-level discussions is important, but not as much when you have an immediate community need to meet right now or a longer-term priorities list of where to spend your energy. 

It’s that idea of a kind of ecosystem that everything fits in together, and often the community sector is not seen in that system and it’s not necessarily funded in that way, as a core part of the service delivery.

Community participant [1]

Getting the right people in the room can be challenging because they may have participated in many ineffective talk sessions before. Everyone has the right to prioritize their own goals, which may not align with yours. It’s crucial to keep this in mind.

For some of us in the sector, we’d rather take action than just talk about it.

Change 3: Shifting to true partnership

The need for true partnerships has never been greater as New Zealand faces complex community challenges. For change to occur, government, business and funders must work in partnership with communities. They simply cannot do it alone. They cannot succeed alone as they lack the knowledge, resources, and networks to make a real impact.

While funders hold the pūtea, the community and voluntary sector hold the people (thanks Gina!). We each hold a different kind of power and one if not better than the other.  The money on its own won’t provide any solutions without the people.  But, when we come together, we can do really amazing things.  The solutions require everybody to work together in the right circumstance. 

[W]e don’t see competition as the way forward. You know, the way forward is collectively for us to work together, to have a collaborative voice, to work on these systemic problems together and start to position ourselves in a different way, and as more of an equal partner to government and business.

Community participant [1]

What we’re trying to say is that the our sector wants to partner, meaningfully, and work together across community, business and government. It’s the only way forward to solve some of the complex problems our communities face.

Change 4: The emergence of new ways of working

I don’t think that 10 years ago I could have done a role like this.  I wouldn’t have had as much courage and drive for change as I do now.  But, once you know the rules and you understand the systems, it’s much easier to challenge and change them. I’m lucky to have had the opportunity to learn the rules in order to challenge and break them. Not everyone has those same opportunities.

The Baby Boomers (and even some of the Gen Xers) are now retiring which is causing a real generational shift for the whole sector.  With new generations come new ways of working – the old hierarchical structures of the 1990s just don’t cut it anymore.  We’re seeing more people using Te Ao Māori models of working which is exciting and gives me hope for our complex future.

When the right people are in the room and the right model is used, we can start to see a collaborative long-term vision. There’s a shared spirit among us that connects and motivates us to move forward.

[1] Quoted in ‘COVID-19 Hauora Wellbeing Survey of the tangata whenua, community & voluntary sector

—>Read The Next Generation of Aotearoa’s Community Sector: Tech as an enabler