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Finalist in Sustainable Business Network's Awards 2012

Te Whangai Trust finalist in 2012 Sustainable Business Network’s Social Innovation Awards

Te Whangai Charitable Trust’s experience in giving long-term unemployed a chance to rebuild their lives has been recognised again with a finalist spot in the 2012 Sustainable Business Network’s Social Innovation Awards.

The Trust, which was a finalist in the 2009 Trailblazer Not for Profit Awards and won the Waikato not for profit and Trail blazer Awards in 2010, runs an eco-nursery growing native New Zealand trees, shrubs and other plants, staffed by people who find it difficult to get into the labour market.

It offers jobs and skills training to people in the South Auckland, Waikato and Thames-Coromandel areas who have been unemployed for more than a year or disadvantaged in the workforce through illness or circumstances.

Te Whangai is Maori for “to nurture, adopt or nourish,” with nurturing the basis of the training and support interwoven into its Employment Placement and Flexi-Wage schemes.

“Our society has failed to provide opportunities for those caught in a poverty trap,” says Adrienne Dalton who with her husband Gary developed the Trust from scratch on their dairy farm five years ago, initially securing funding from the Social Development Ministry as well as using their own money.

She says the Trust is swamped at Employment Expos by people wanting a chance to get on the Taskforce schemes, which pay $100 a week more than the unemployment benefit for 30 hours work a week. Unfortunately this scheme has been replaced by Flexi-Wage with reduced assistance.

“Their day starts at 7.30am and finishes at 3.30pm four days a week, on the fifth day we offer training for job hunting, personal skills or anything else that helps our workers, and we hire specialist trainers for this.”

At the moment the Trust needs workers for a new nursery and environmental mitigation partnership with a large corporate in Waiuku, but is struggling to find enough drug-free workers for its first team.

“All our new workers are drug and alcohol-tested before they begin their placements,” says John Walter, Environmental Advisor and Enterprise Development Manager. “And we work with CADs (Community Alcohol & Drug Services) to evaluate their needs for education and counselling.”

“But for our new Waiuku Corporate partnership we need workers who are drug-free from day one.”

The Waiuku development is an enormous opportunity for the Trust to expand its services throughout the Auckland and Waikato areas where it knows there is a huge need amongst the long-term unemployed as well as those with criminal records.

“So many of our youth are disenfranchised,” says Gary Dalton. “ We need to be able to understand the real issues of poverty and the depression it often brings, what we do here works because we walk alongside them, it’s hand-ups, not handouts,” says Gary.

"It is about people, not money, it's about changing our community. People complain about welfare payments but nobody is prepared to do anything about it.”

“The people here have designed and built our facilities, they've used skills that haven't been recognised. It's not their disadvantages that are the problem, it's our inability to harness their abilities."

These skills include mathematics, science, communications and organizational process.

“We tell our workers you write your own reference here. Every job is a project that someone has to perform, it’s a self-evaluation of your own leadership skills when you take a job on.”

He says team leaders are rotated weekly so everyone gets to learn to mesh individual skills and to communicate well to get the job done.

Vegetable gardens cared for by the workers also flourish on the site and are harvested daily for their communal breakfasts and lunches, which they take turns preparing, supplemented with milk from the Dalton’s ”Fonterra Champions Tight Five” dairy herd with additional rations purchased daily.

“Our guys take a huge sense of achievement in what they do,” says John. “They want to be able to show their mokopuna in 50 years time what they’ve raised and planted, to be able watch plants come up from seed into big trees.”

Stephen Matthews says that after years of unemployment his previously strong work ethic was reignited at Te Whangai where he has been on the Flexi-Wage placement and is about to graduate. He was made redundant from DoC in the late 1990s and later from a job at a local Freezing Works.

“I feel my age (53) is a barrier, but what being here has taught me is to roll with the punches, to get up and try again. I’ve learnt good things here that I know will make a difference to my life.”

Max Challie, also graduating, agrees saying “the best thing about working here has been connecting with the other people and our supervisors, sharing our kai, and being with each other.”

Both men had some experience of plant growing but say they’ve learnt much more alongside valuable life skills, and would choose to stay on if they could.

The Trust extends benefits that are community and generational: Thames police reported a 70 percent reduction in the area’s petty crime re-offences when it began taking unemployed from the area; workers’ children visit the Trust for meals and celebrations where they see their parents employed and taking leadership roles.

“By working at Te Whangai, they re-connect with their cultural values and their links with the earth. Young Maori have a huge affinity for their environment,” says Adrienne. “They lead and we follow and that’s empowering for them.”

Te Whangai does not compete on the retail market so it sells to ratepayer and taxpayer funded environmental projects, mainly through industries, farmers, schools and others planting for compliance or conservation on a not-for-profit basis. John says it would like to provide for local and councils requirements using taxpayer monies more strategically, and so the Trust is advocating for the four well-beings – environmental, social, economic, and cultural – to be demonstrated in any project tenders, as every tree sold and planted is a contribution to their communities’ social, cultural , environmental and economic wellbeing.

He says it’s rare to see this in a tender bid even though the Local Government Act 2002 requires councils to make sustainably-based decisions, which balance the social, economic, and cultural well-being of people and communities in ways that will enhance the quality of the environment and the needs of future generations.

New Zealand Post Group is sponsoring the Social Innovation Award in the 2012 NZI National Sustainable Business Network Awards.

The Award is open to outstanding social enterprises, innovations or businesses that use new strategies and ideas to meet social needs of all kinds through research, collaboration, creating new ventures or working with community groups or public agencies.

The Trust has people from 17 to 63 years of age with this wide age range, from diverse cultures though predominantly Maori, mirroring the local community. Older employees see themselves and the errors of their past reflected in the youth: they mentor them and share their experiences and lost dreams, as they create new ones. It also acts as an agency for Hauraki and Pukekohe Corrections Department, with at-risk youth and probationary prisoners on site at times.

As of June this year 250 of its employees had found full time employment in the community while participating in the Te Whangai Programme. And its major environmental projects include: the planting of 15,000 trees on steep farm land at Te Mata, Coromandel Peninsula, 25,000 trees in the Hunua Reserve, 7,000 trees for the Clean Stream Initiatives in the Waikato and 35,000 trees for Glenbrook in South Auckland.

The Awards ceremony takes place on Thursday 22 November 2012 at The Cloud, Queens Wharf, Auckland, where it will be part of ‘pop-up’ Sustainable City exploring handpicked sustainable solutions from travel and business to lifestyle and fashion.


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