Positive change is normal, we need more of it, and it’s coming to your board room

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Here are some reflections prompted by the Philanthropy NZ conference earlier this month:

1. Positive change is normal and happens all the time:

When I was growing up, way back in the 1970s, these things were true:

  • Smoking was everywhere, even in planes and restaurants.
  • Children were regularly smacked, strapped and caned in homes and schools.
  • Te Reo Māori was not an official language, and Te Tiriti o Waitangi was rarely mentioned in mainstream media and conversations.
  • Family violence and sexual harassment were commonplace, and authorities frequently failed to act when cases were reported.
  • Homosexuality was illegal and gay marriage almost unimaginable.

All these things have changed considerably and are mostly taken for granted now, but each of these changes was hard-fought, and sometimes seemed impossible.

Thank you to Action Station’s Kassie Hartendorp, whose workshop on ‘The Power of Advocacy’ reminded us that positive change is normal and happens all the time – if we work together to make it happen.  She inspired us to play our part as funders and individuals to build a world where no-one is in the “too hard basket” and there is no need for that ambulance at the bottom of the cliff.

2.  We urgently need more positive change:

In her keynote speech, my friend and colleague Erin Matariki Carr highlighted two areas where more positive change is desperately needed; addressing the impacts of colonisation and repairing our relationship to our planet.

The solutions to these two key challenges of our time are related.  For example, in Te Ao Māori and other indigenous world views, Earth is our Mother – a biological relative whom we relate to and care for as a child to a mother.  This is very different from the typical western worldview, where we sit apart from and above the natural world, and where land is seen as property to be owned and traded, or a ‘natural resource’ from which to extract economic benefits.  Matariki quoted Arturo Escobar – “It is easier to imagine the end of the world than the end of modernity.”  But things might be different if we learn from Te Ao Māori [the Māori World] and shift our world views.

This shift also requires those of us who are not Māori to rethink how we relate to Te Tiriti o Waitangi and Te Ao Māori.   Moana Jackson said “The Treaty to me has never been about Treaty Rights, it has always been about the rightness that comes from people accepting their obligations to each other.  And that was a profound, and I think visionary base upon which to build a country.”  When we accept these obligations, we can push back against colonial imposition and allow space for Māori to restore Te Ao Māori.  And this restoration, this renaissance in the Māori world, is good for us all, because Te Tiriti provides a framework for all of us to truly belong here.

Matariki ended with three calls to action:

  • Past: Learn & support the conscientisation of our shared history.
  • Present: Support the restoration of te ao Māori towards constitutional transformation.
  • Future: Make mokopuna [intergenerational] decisions to create abundance for generations to come.

3. Board rooms are changing too:

As funders, supporting positive change requires boards which understand and reflect our communities, which work together well, and which harness collective wisdom to make brave, intergenerational decisions.  But often our boards are a bit joyless, risk averse, and old-fashioned.

It doesn’t need to be that way.  As a simple example, the common practice of making decisions by moving and seconding motions is usually entirely unnecessary, according to this article from the NZ Institute of Directors.  Nice to know!

Here are some governance musings from the conference workshop ‘Governance for a Unique Aotearoa’, which I presented at, alongside Mele Wendt, Katie Cherrington and Guy Beatson.

Two things which make philanthropic governance in Aotearoa unique:

    • We are not commercial businesses; we are here to support communities. Therefore I think we need to modify the central duty of a board to act in the best interest of our organisation, and recognise that we also need to act in the best interest of our communities and our purpose.
    • We are located here in Aotearoa NZ, not the UK or the USA.  This means that we are settled here under Te Tiriti o Waitangi and our wealth is built at least partially from the dispossession of Māori, therefore our governance and our grantmaking needs reflect this.

Finally, here are three tips for making our board rooms more joyful, effective and unique:

    • Think facilitation rather than chairing.  For example, use breakout groups for exploring issues in depth, and always make decisions by consensus.
    • Equity of voice: in a group of 7 we should be talking about 1/7th of the time and listening for 6/7ths.  This is a useful groundrule, especially when a board includes people who talk too much or too little – which seems to be the case in most boards!  There is more detail about equity of voice in this previous blog.
    • Equity of opinion: all of us are smarter than any of us, and we all have a piece of the puzzle.  So we need to listen respectfully and deeply, and to ensure that everyone’s opinion is taken into account.

Thank you Philanthropy NZ for your thought-provoking conference.  Let’s celebrate positive change, let’s make more of it, and let’s equip our funder board rooms to better enable positive change.

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    1. Thank you Melissa – very glad you found it uplifting. that’s sort of how I felt in Kassie’s workshop – oh wow – actually look how far we’ve come! Which is not to say there isn’t a long road and big challenges and tumultous times ahead…

  1. Thank you, Kate. There are lots of good ideas and good way of expressing these in this blog. I am indebted to you.

  2. As always, I enjpy reading your reflections. They give me food for thought. I see how living in NZ and gaining the (limited) knowledge I did of Te Tiriti and Te Ao Māori influences my thinking now that I am living in Ireland again. The western world would do well to learn from NZ.

  3. Fa’afetai Kate! Your thoughts mirror much of what I believe as a Quaker and a Samoan who has sat on many boards in Aotearoa and most if not all needed one big shake up! I concur with your musings on equity, concensus and ‘future gains in positive change’! Malo and Keep up the good mahi. Kia ora mo tou whakaaro. Thanks for your thoughts.

  4. When I was growing up, way back in the 1950s, these things were ALSO true:
    > young attractive women were treated as sex-objects and if they didn’t like it they were told they lacked a sense of humour;
    > married women were expected to sideline their career paths in favour of becoming suburban housewives prioritising the needs/wants of their husbands and children;
    > men were expected to work their way up the ladder in an occupation for life while looking forward to a gold watch reward for loyalty.

    As a Design Thinker I recognise the value and means of generating continuous improvement – it is the homo sapiens’ process of evolution. The alternative is complacency and stagnation. The challenge is in understanding what constitutes genuine improvement. The Western capitalist approach is too focused on economic growth within a belief that social and cultural growth, and environmental sustainability, are competing forces. I welcome the trend towards holistic win-win-win thinking. Te ao Maori has much to teach those whose forebears arrived with ‘the enlightenment’.

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