Minority communities gaining equitable access

Snap, Crackle and Pop breakfast for MPs and the community sector

25 September 2019, focus: Supporting minority communities to gain equitable access to meet community need

Read the following commentary from Vanisa Dhiru, President, National Council of Women NZ

New Zealand is now home to more than 230 different ethnic groups speaking in excess of 160 different languages. To service and engage with such diversity is a challenge – not only for the public sector but the community sector as well. This was the back drop for the ComVoices Parliamentary breakfast held last week in Wellington where supporting minority communities to gain equitable access to meet community need was the focus.

Post the terrorist attacks of 15 March, racism, social inclusion and the diversity of New Zealand has been very much in the public discussion; and how we can all adequately deal with such issues. The lack of capability to understand and effectively respond is one of the many areas community representatives have highlighted in the past months.

Panel member Tayo Agunlejika, Executive Director of Multicultural New Zealand underlined the absence of ethnic diversity in governance roles in NGO’s, local councils and leadership roles in the public service. Even when such representation is sought, there can be resistance – such as recent racist letters that have been sent to ethnic women running in local body elections, defacing of campaign collateral, and bias appointment processes.

Inspector Rakesh Naidoo from Police National Headquarters shared his experience of an organisation building the necessary language and cultural skills to reflect the communities they serve. Without such essential skills, organisations such as the NZ Police would not be able to professionally service their communities and retain trust and confidence. He spoke of our nation’s connection with the Asia Pacific region, and our close cultural and economic connections with this part of the world. He shared the need to think globally when we act locally.

Equitable recruitment, diversity of boards, governance succession planning and partnering with tangata whenua were highlighted as some immediate solutions that could be implemented to address access.

Attendees observed the lack of representation around the discussion tables, given the broad services they provide to our diverse communities. I reflected on my own journey of being a manager and leader in the NGO sector and how few ethnic leaders there are.

The saying “nothing about us, without us” is important to reflect on when we are developing service provision, and have an inclusive workforce that reflects the communities we serve.

NZ born Indian Vanisa Dhiru lives in Wellington and has held a number of paid and volunteer national leadership roles across the community sector. She is a member of the AsiaNZ Leadership Network and Global Women NZ.