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Maharey Speech: Conference On Volunteering

23 March 2002 Speech Notes

The relationship between government and volunteering

Address to the the National Conference on Volunteering. Christchurch Centra Hotel.

Introduction

Thank you for the invitation to address the national volunteering conference ¡¥Inspiring Volunteering¡¦.

I want to congratulate volunteering New Zealand for putting together such an exciting programme over the two days of the conference. It¡¦s not often that the broader voluntary sector comes together in such numbers to discuss its shared vision for volunteering.

It is wonderful to see such a range of people from across the voluntary sector gathered here today.

You¡¦ve asked me to talk to you today about the relationship between government and volunteering. Before I do that I want to:
„h reflect on the importance of volunteering in our society; and
„h talk about some of the work we¡¦ve done over the past year to strengthen volunteering in New Zealand.

I firmly believe that a strong and vibrant voluntary sector is fundamental to our nation¡¦s well being.

Volunteers perform so many essential roles, from volunteer fire fighters to ambulance drivers to mountain safety officers, right through to sports coaches and caregivers - volunteers are an integral part of our social fabric.

Volunteering helps to promote a healthy, giving society ¡V where the idea of service to others is a part of how we live our lives.

I think most people here today would agree that one of the reasons for supporting the volunteering ¡¥movement¡¦ is that it contributes to a more giving and caring society.

International Year of Volunteers

I note that one of the themes of this conference is ¡¥Setting the scene for the future of volunteering in New Zealand¡¦. Thanks to the work of many of the people here today, a lot has been achieved, and now is a good time for mapping out our future direction.

The International Year of Volunteers helped to raise the profile of volunteering and has sparked a sector-wide conversation on the role of volunteers in civil society.

The work that has been done over the past year has generated a lot of positive energy and an enormous amount of good will - and that is certainly evident here today.

People like Nick Toonen and the International Year of Volunteers reference group, Dorothy Wilson and the Community Steering Group and Allison Marshall and the members of Volunteering New Zealand have already begun some great work - work which will help to define and focus the future of the volunteering movement.

This government recognises that New Zealand needs a strong, independent and vibrant voluntary sector. That¡¦s why we supported the International Year of Volunteers and that¡¦s why we are investing in a number of initiatives aimed at strengthening volunteering in New Zealand.

Last year over $1 million in grants was distributed through Lotteries and the Community Organisation Grants Scheme specifically so that groups could support the aims of the International Year of Volunteers.

The Year of Volunteers created serious momentum for volunteering. We would like to see that momentum continue. That is why we paid for this conference. It is also is why we are investing $3 million over the next four years to:
„h grow and develop volunteering New Zealand and the network of volunteer centres;
„h support on-line volunteering resources; and
„h fund work by the Ministry of Social Development to remove the barriers to volunteering in government legislation and policy

This year we also injected an additional $31 million dollars into strengthening the broader community sector.

The Relationship Between Government and the Voluntary Sector

Over the past two years we have worked with communities, businesses and local government to build partnerships and restore the trust many New Zealanders had lost in government during the 1990s.

One of the relationships we have given special attention to is the relationship with the community/ voluntary sector. And this is central to the topic you have asked me to talk about today: the government and volunteering.

Volunteering cuts across all aspects of government activity - health, education, immigration and justice to name a few.

Many government agencies have funding arrangements with voluntary organisations ¡V organisations that provide essential services to the community.

For Example:

„h the Senior Citizens Unit of the Ministry of Social Development has a network of 36 Volunteer Community Coordinators and hundreds of volunteers throughout the country; and,

„h the Department of Conservation involves thousands of volunteers in the job of conserving our natural heritage.

There are many examples of government and volunteers working together. We often have mutual goals and, to an extent, we rely on each other to achieve these goals.

Community Steering Group

Many of you will be familiar with the report of the community and voluntary sector working party.

This report laid the foundations for the work we are doing now to create a genuine and lasting relationship with the community/ voluntary sector.

While the report deals with the ¡¥sector¡¦ rather than the movement we call ¡¥volunteering¡¦, I believe it is highly relevant to volunteering and in particular to the work government does with volunteers.

I want to recap briefly on the working party report, before I talk about what we¡¦ve been doing to implement its recommendations.

When the Labour Alliance government came in to power in 1999 we found a community/ voluntary sector that was under considerable strain. The relationship with government was at a low point, and many people had lost confidence in government¡¦s ability to relate to community organisations.

The Working Party was set up to look at this issue and they delivered a strong message that the relationship needed to improve if our shared goals were to be realised.

The Government largely agreed with the Working Party¡¦s recommendations and we are now acting to implement them.

I have asked for a joint community and government work program to look at three key areas identified in the working party report:
„h improving community involvement in the development of policies
„h improving funding and accountability arrangements - so groups have more certainty about their funding; and
„h strengthening the community sector overall.

A Steering Group has been set up to lead this phase of work. Dorothy Wilson, who was an excellent chair of the Community and Voluntary Sector Working Party, is chairing the group - they will report in June this year.

As a result of the Steering Group¡¦s work, I expect to see real and tangible improvements in the relationship between government and community.

Statement of Government Intentions for an Improved Community ¡V Government relationship

A significant step in the journey towards creating a genuine partnership with community was the ¡¥statement of government intentions for an improved community government relationship¡¦ that the Prime Minister and I signed last December.

We agreed with the Working Party that the time is not yet right for a formal two-way agreement between government and the community sector.

However, there was an urgent need for us to signal our commitment to a new way of working.

The statement sets out a vision for strong and respectful relationships between government and community. We are firmly committed to achieving this vision.

I will be meeting with a range of departmental chief executives over the next few months to discuss how departments can improve their interaction with the community sector - in line with the statement of intentions.

Volunteers and Volunteering Policy Project

One example of how we are putting the Statement of Intentions into practice is the work we are doing to remove the barriers to volunteering.

Some conference participants may have attended a workshop about the Volunteers and Volunteering Policy Project, facilitated by Ministry of Social Development staff - this was an International Year of Volunteers initiative.

This project is unique. This is the first time in New Zealand that government agencies have come together in this way to focus on policy issues that affect volunteers and organisations working with volunteers.

The project team includes three community representatives ¡V to ensure there is a community perspective.

A consultation process over three months last year highlighted a broad range of issues for volunteers and their organisations.

For instance, many people indicated that the expenses of volunteering can be a barrier to participating. Travel, paying for childcare, lunch, and photocopying are some of the costs which volunteers are concerned about. The project will be looking at how volunteers can be reimbursed for their out of pocket expenses.

Many volunteers are also uncertain about issues such as ACC, legal liability and taxation.

Issues were also raised about recruitment, training and management practices. Organisations like Volunteering New Zealand play an important role in assisting good practice, with support from government.

The Volunteering Policy Project is now looking into solutions to the issues that have been raised.

The solutions to some issues may lie in better information from government about the impact of legislation and policy on volunteering. For other matters it may be that changes in policy or legislation are required.

Growing an Innovative New Zealand

I want to talk now about a broader government strategy and why it is relevant to the voluntary sector - and it¡¦s a strategy I hope you will want to share in as we move forward towards a genuine and active partnership.

Over the past year we have involved hundreds of people from the business and community sectors in discussions about how we can build a more vibrant economy and a more cohesive society.

We¡¦ve had the Knowledge Wave conference, Business-Government forums, a social forum, and a Social Entrepreneur conference.

This work contributes to a broader strategy of encouraging innovation and growth in both the business and community sectors.

And all of the work we¡¦ve done confirms the need to transform our economy so we can be more innovative, flexible and competitive in an increasingly tough global environment.

Last month the Prime Minister released the government¡¦s strategy for Growing an Innovative New Zealand.

As Helen may have told you yesterday, it provides a framework for creating the innovation we need to achieve our social and economic goals.

I would encourage you to read the Growing an Innovative New Zealand document - you will see that it talks a lot about economic growth, enhanced innovation and increasing global connectedness.

Growing and Innovative New Zealand and the importance of social development

Many people in the community/ voluntary sector will look at the strategy and say ¡¥so what? That¡¦s the economy, that¡¦s business? How can macroeconomic policy be relevant to me, or the community I serve?¡¦

Previous governments have argued that economic growth was the paramount concern, and that other aspects of social development (such as the elimination of poverty and exclusion) would either take care of themselves or were a luxury that we could only afford once the economy had grown sufficiently.

The evidence today does not support this. Our relative ranking has been consistently falling in the OECD league table of economic growth.

The overall effect of this decline has been a reduction in the well being of New Zealanders relative to that of others on the OECD. At the same time we have witnessed a widening gap between rich and poor.

While there are a range of reasons for this, I believe a key factor has been our failure to recognise the importance of social development in growing a strong economy.

The heart of a social development approach is making an intelligent, planned investment in people and their communities.

The aim of a social development approach is to back people to take leadership in activities that lead to economic and social independence. And this requires new ways of thinking and working ¡V it requires smart social investment.

The Innovation strategy argues that if we are to transform our economy and society then this next era in our development needs to be characterised by innovation.

We must build an effective innovation culture that permeates the whole economy.

And innovation is not something that is confined to IT companies and creative accountants. Some of the best examples of innovation are driven by the voluntary sector and they are happening in our communities right now.

Earlier I mentioned social entrepreneurs as an example of how we can strengthen the community sector.

Social entrepreneurs are people who take the same approach to risk, opportunity and innovation as business entrepreneurs. But what sets them apart is that they do it in pursuit of social rather than commercial objectives.

There are many individuals involved in the voluntary sector who demonstrate an entrepreneurial approach to their work.

Ekara Lewis, who is a member of the committee that organised this conference, is an excellent example of social entrepreneur. Ekara provides highly successful violence prevention programmes for boys throughout the South Island.

Ekara recently sold his business as a tourist shuttle operator so he could work full time on the violence prevention programme. On top of this he is:
working closely with Volunteering New Zealand; and
working on the Ministry of Social Development¡¦s volunteers policy project

And all of this is on a voluntary basis. I am told his partner is a very dedicated and supportive person.

When I heard about Ekara¡¦s workload, I was worried he might not have enough to do, so I recently appointed him to the Lottery Youth distribution committee.

Ekara embodies the characteristics of a social entrepreneur. He challenges conventional ways of doing things and he is actively promoting long-term solutions to age-old problems. And I am told he always turns up to Wellington in a pair of shorts, which is challenging at the best of times.

We have made funding available this financial year so we can back social entrepreneurs. Through this strategy, we are tapping into the talent, character and idealism of people who are able to make a real difference in their community.

I want to give you some examples of social entrepreneurs we are supporting right here in Christchurch:

Losa Tamati is a Pacific Social Entrepreneur. Under the guidance of Te Amorangi Richmond Ltd in Christchurch, Losa works with young Pacific peoples who are identified by their peers as Pacific Island leaders of the future.

Maria McEntyre is a Christchurch Social Entrepreneur reinventing public approaches to community problems. Maria has been working within the Christchurch social services sector to find new ways of changing the social circumstances of young people and their families.

Social entrepreneurs are helping to transform their communities and build our stock of social capital. I think this conference is truly entrepreneurial in its approach and I am really looking forward to seeing the ideas and thoughts that are generated over the three days.

Thank you for inviting me here today. I wish you all the best for the remainder of the conference. And I look forward to continuing to work with you to strengthen volunteering in New Zealand.

Ends

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