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Taking stock of New Zealand NGOs

Anya_ComVoices (1)Anya Satyanand

Executive Officer | Ara Taiohi

I’m currently in the middle of a complicated process of leaving and arriving. I’m leaving Ara Taiohi, the peak body for youth development, and preparing to arrive at the Prince’s Trust New Zealand, an organisation with the potential to make amazing things happen for young people. Laying it down, this is a difficult time and I’m having profoundly mixed feelings: I’m simultaneously full of sadness of leaving a job which I have wholeheartedly loved, while at the same time feeling full of hope about my new job, the future and what we can collectively accomplish in Aotearoa. For me, young people are at the centre of a more participatory, inclusive, just and peaceful future, and I’m really excited at the prospect of working on this kaupapa in a different way.

Over the last 3 years I’ve gained massive respect for the tenacity, courage, purpose and entrepreneurialism of people in the community sector. This blog is an attempt to take stock of some of the awesome things about NGOs in Aotearoa, and New Zealand more generally.

Firstly, we have some incredible champions and changemakers in our midst. Their voices, once you find them, are a great source of inspiration and I feel like we’re hearing more of them right now in Aotearoa. I’m talking about Leonie Hayden, Andrew Becroft, Laura O’Connell Rapira, Tania Sawicki Mead, Max Harris. I want more of these voices in my world, not to soundproof my filter bubble against the Mike Hoskings of the world but because these people give shape and further dimensions to my dreamings about a better future for my children and their peers.

Secondly, our NGO sector are the envy of the world. Here in Aotearoa we often hold up Finland as the paragon of good social policy and educational design, oblivious to the fact that much of the rest of the world talk about New Zealand in similarly breathless terms. That’s thanks, in no small part, to our civil society organisations who do incredible work in support of New Zealanders every day.

Thirdly, the NGO sector is an amazing space to work in, and great things are happening. In the youth development sector, young people are at the centre of our work, and increasingly this means they’re taking their place at board tables and participating in the big decisions. People and organisations are eager to collaborate, are open, driven by kaupapa not brand. I remember arriving three years ago in the community sector and experiencing a distinct and unnerving feeling of untetheredness. I felt Ara Taiohi’s lightness, and how we were anchored to our organisational reality by a far less heavy set of forcefields than the planetary weight of the school I had just left, with its buildings, collective contracts, assessment systems, timetable. The flip side of this was the liminality of the community sector- inconstancy, impermanence, the everpresent risk of evaporating or slipping off the edge of the world.  I’m really proud of how Ara Taiohi has built upon our strong foundations, and I look with great pride at the whare we have built with our sector, for the benefit of all young New Zealanders.

I’ve spent three years this week as the Executive Officer at Ara Taiohi, the peak body for youth development. Three years of explaining, endlessly, what a peak body is, explaining the value of advocacy and having a collective voice. Explaining the transformational promise of a vibrant youth development ecosystem. Explaining why working with young people matters, not just to young people, or their families, but to all of us as a nation. I’m looking forward to shifting gears and getting back to doing the work, but I will ALWAYS believe in the value of our peak bodies, in having a collective voice, in thinking about our participation in ecosystems not markets, and in the value of work with young people.

This blog has been contributed by a member of the ComVoices network

ComVoices is a Wellington based network of national community and voluntary sector organisations. It was established so that sector organisations would have a more powerful voice at Government level and in the community.

Click here for our websitehttp://comvoices.org.nz/