Finding a tribe: How New Zealand builds welcoming communities holistically

, Finding a tribe: How New Zealand builds welcoming communities holistically

Photo description: A hui (gathering) for the local Welcoming Communities in Queenstown Lakes, New Zealand in June 2022. Credit: Welcoming Communities – Queenstown Lakes District Council

An interview with Alesano Schuster Nakhid, Senior Advisor of Welcoming Communities – Te Waharoa ki ngā Hapori, a program led by Immigration New Zealand in collaboration with the Ministry for Ethnic Communities and the Human Rights Commission. Welcoming Communities works towards healthier, happier and more productive communities by welcoming newcomers into the local community. Currently there are 26 councils (local governments) across 12 regions working with their communities on the program. Welcoming Communities is a partner in the Welcoming International Alliance.

Q: Tell us about yourself and what motivates you to work in the Welcoming Communities program?

I was born as a first generation Kiwi (resident of New Zealand). My dad is from the Pacific Island of Samoa, Polynesia, and my mum is from Trinidad and Tobago. Even though I was born in Aotearoa New Zealand, my experiences were still of an ethnic and Pasifika person (people of Pacific groups who are now living in Aotearoa New Zealand). I heard stories from my parents about connecting to their new country, cultivating a sense of belonging and building their own tribe. Following my studies and travel, I did an internship with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees in Malaysia working in child protection with refugees from Myanmar which led me to work in the refugee space in Aotearoa New Zealand. Through my work and lived experiences, I eventually found a new home with
Welcoming Communities.

Our motivation and inspiration come from those who have been working in this sector before. Connecting with Welcoming Communities coordinators who are resourceful, innovative, and passionate about their work is a real driver for me. Being able to see and share positive outcomes of this program is a huge benefit of this job.

Q: Which areas of the Welcoming Communities program are you involved in?

My primary role is to manage the expansion of the Welcoming Communities program, both the number of councils (local governments) that come on board, but also raising the profile and the visibility of the program. We went through a two-year pilot in 2017 with nine participating councils. Positive findings and outcomes from that pilot led our central government to fund an expansion of the program. I’m now focused on building partnerships with mana whenua, the people of the land who are the indigenous Māori communities, with the program at the local and national levels. Welcoming Communities also contributes to whole-of-government strategies, such as the Refugee Resettlement and Migrant Settlement and Integration strategies and the Social Cohesion strategy.

The last two years were exciting, because we started with nine councils and now have 26. There are approximately 70 local councils in New Zealand, so by mid-2023, we hope that around a third of our population and half our local governments will be intentionally welcoming communities. 

Q: What are the main goals Welcoming Communities aims to achieve through the program?

We encourage newcomers to actively contribute and participate in the social, economic, and cultural life in New Zealand, becoming part of our community. We want to see councils embedding and progressing welcoming practices. We want to see communities continue to focus on welcoming newcomers. We want to see that businesses and employers have access to the people and the skills that they need. And we want to see our towns and cities thrive on diversity.

Next year, our plan is to start a refresh of the whole program and of the Welcoming Communities Standard to make sure it is fit for purpose and meets current aspirations and needs. We invest our efforts in strengthening and building more relationships and partnerships, so we can lay ground for meaningful consultations and co-designing of the new program.

“We hope by mid 2023, around a third of our population will live in welcoming communities.”

Q: What gap does your work fill?

Right now, we’re engaging with selected iwi (tribes) in New Zealand around what iwi-led  welcoming programs might look like and work to bridge the gap between local iwi and newcomers. In the past, we had not explicitly articulated how the program would benefit Māori, although we have identified and addressed quite early how to create genuine partnerships with Māori both at the local and national level. 

New Zealand is also not immune to damaging perceptions around migration, so we are also focusing on mobilizing and engaging other residents in the welcoming process. It is very different to previous government-led settlement initiatives that focused mostly on newcomers’ support. The program really aims to fill that gap between organizing and direct services.

, Finding a tribe: How New Zealand builds welcoming communities holistically

Photo description: A hui (gathering) for the local Welcoming Communities in Queenstown Lakes, New Zealand in June 2022. Credit: Welcoming Communities – Queenstown Lakes District Council

As indigenous people of Aotearoa New Zealand, Māori should be one of the first welcomers of any newcomer into the community. There’s ample evidence that newcomers in New Zealand want to build a relationship with Māori.” 

Q: How did you inspire new members to join Welcoming Communities?

We realized that to really strengthen this program, we needed extra support at the national level. We hired Hend Zaki, who is focused on supporting coordinators and building their capability, which has allowed me to focus on engaging with potential councils, expanding the program, and ensuring its sustainability. 

There is a real gap that the Welcoming Communities program can meet as we emerge from the worst of the COVID pandemic. Councils realize the critical need to invest in rebuilding local resilience and reinvigorate the economic and social life of the community, encouraging genuine connections again. Local governments see Welcoming Communities as a tool for economic development.

Like much of the world, we are experiencing a labor shortage, with workers increasingly mobile, seeking opportunities overseas or elsewhere in the country. Local communities need leverage to not only attract people, but to retain them. Welcoming Communities creates that competitive advantage for both communities and local businesses to attract the skills and the talents that they need. 

Q: Are there any other forms of support that you offer to your local members? 

We provide NZ$50,000 a year for three years towards the salary of the council-employed Welcoming Communities coordinator. This really helps the program to establish itself. We also provide resources, such as capability building workshops, knowledge sharing, and a space to exchange best practices. Every year we hold a national hui (gathering) to bring together all the local coordinators from all the participating councils, so they can learn from and support one another. 

We also provide the Welcoming Communities Standard and support councils with the development of their welcoming action plans. We guide councils to pursue formal accreditation and ensure that we are highlighting the work being done by communities across the welcoming network.

Q: The Welcoming Communities program is led by the national government. What advantages does this provide?

The main benefits are tangible and visible acknowledgment from the government that the success of our country is only guaranteed if everyone, whether they have been here a while or they are newcomers, feel that they own a stake in its future. We work with a whole-of-government approach by partnering with other ministries who have the resources, expertise, and skills to contribute to the outcomes of the program. 

The central government also acknowledges that of all tiers of government, local councils know their communities best and communities know their local needs best. The government provides a framework and support, but it’s really councils and their communities that develop, deliver and own the programme. Knowledge generated at the local level also then influences national priorities and investment.

Q: What are the local or national successes in your welcoming program that others can learn from?

Increasingly, more ministries and groups within the government have a good knowledge of the Welcoming Communities program and seek out input from the program for their own strategies and priorities.

Locally, we’ve seen great successes across the whole of New Zealand. For example, Central Otago District Council invested in integrating horticultural seasonal workers into the community. They come predominantly from the Pacific and can become quite isolated. The local Welcoming Coordinator engaged with the employers, the pastoral carers, and other local residents to collectively explore ways of connecting workers with their communities. 

As a result, newcomers are now being welcomed to cultural and sports events, and starting to feel a greater sense of belonging, while their employers make sure that the wellbeing of their workforce is taken care of. It is a huge shift from where they were a year ago.  

Hamilton City Council has taken an active partnership approach in the Welcoming Communities program co-designing it in partnership with local Māori. For the 2022 Welcoming Week, the Council partnered with local iwi, inviting newcomers to a pōwhiri, which is a Māori welcoming ceremony. It introduced contemporary Māori culture to the newcomers, while the participants were also able to share their values and traditions.

, Finding a tribe: How New Zealand builds welcoming communities holistically

Photo description: a Powhiri (welcoming ceremony) on July 16, 2022 held for newcomers to Palmerston North, New Zealand, delivered in partnership with Rangitāne and members of the Welcoming Communities Advisory Group. Credit: Welcoming Communities.

We have observed an exciting shift in local attitudes in Ashburton, South Island. Their public spaces became more inclusive and they are supporting newcomers, like the Pasifika community and former refugees, to become more visible and active locally. 

To learn more about local success stories, read about inclusive emergency response in Palmerston North or visit the Welcoming Communities page.  

Q: What impact do the Welcoming Communities Standard and the accreditation process have in communities?

Our outcomes-based standard allows councils and communities to create their own initiatives or system changes. Prior to the Welcoming Communities program there was no articulation of what a welcoming and inclusive community looked like. The Standard gave councils direction of where they could go, ensuring that welcoming activities are done in a more collaborative and coordinated way. 

Accreditation allowed councils to assess and reflect on their progress over time and to build their welcoming practices. There are also economic benefits. It makes councils more attractive locations for foreign students or skilled migrants.

How does participating in the Welcoming International Alliance impact your work in New Zealand? 

We have access to incredibly useful resources. In addition, the Alliance has done some heavy lifting which has supported work here in Aotearoa New Zealand. A good example was the Welcoming Week toolkits from the US and Canada which helped inspire our own resources during Aotearoa New Zealand’s Welcoming Week – Te Wiki o Manaaki. 

The connections with the Alliance partners have been really valuable. We have the refresh of a new Standard coming up, so experiences from Welcoming Australia and Welcoming America, who are also going through a refresh, will be helpful in our journey.

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