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Building communities

Building communities

Tariana Turia Speech to national conference of Community Organisations Grants Scheme and Department of Internal Affairs staff, Brentwood Hotel, Kilbirnie, 6.00pm.

E nga mana o tenei rohe, e nga reo, tena koutou. E nga iwi e huihui nei, tena koutou katoa.

You know, having an hour to chat with you all this evening is a real pleasure. It is nice to move a bit beyond the usual formal relationship between Minister and officials, especially when the kaupapa is community development.

One of the risks of being in Parliament is that you can lose touch with your roots. So it’s also very nice to be able to catch up with COGS committee members, who have their toes among the grass roots and their fingers on the pulse, and to hear about your issues in your communities.

I wonder how many organisations around the country have received support or funding from COGS? I wonder how many established local and national organisations got under way using COGS funding?

Over 16 years, COGS has become almost a landmark, a reference point for people who are active in the community and voluntary sector. I’m quite sure that the key to COGS’ success is the in-depth knowledge that committee members have of their local community, and the public processes of applying, reporting and accountability to the community.

COGS is the one scheme that exemplifies the community and the government working in partnership. It is very important that COGS committees are balanced and represent the diversity of their communities.

So I would like to pay tribute to the Community Development Group for creating and maintaining an excellent model of local control, and also to the community leaders whose time and effort give the scheme credibility with community organisations. It is good to see you together here at this hui.

It is also good to learn a bit about the community broker training scheme as well, and to see some cross-over between the programmes. Both support and strengthen communities in different but complementary ways.

When it comes to community development, no-one has all the answers. Everyone has a contribution, and we can all learn from each other.

If all parties are to offer their best, the relationships between them need to be kept in balance. There needs to be a balance between clear strategic direction, and responsiveness to local circumstances. Decisive leadership should enhance local autonomy. Unity is greatest when diversity is recognised.

These are particular challenges when a powerful, centralised government is working with a huge variety of community groups who are mostly small and poor, who lack infrastructure, and whose top priority is to serve the immediate needs of their communities.

In this scenario, it is so easy to assume that the government is in the best position to make decisions and carry them out. But in reality, such an approach further disempowers local people, and helps to entrench the very problems that governments cannot solve on their own.

People trust community groups in ways they will never trust the government. Community groups have passion and commitment for local issues, and knowledge of individuals and families, that central government cannot match. Communities can mobilise and support each other most effectively.

I see the role of government as creating an environment in which community groups can best do what they do best. The way I see it, there must be constructive engagement between community leaders and government officials at every level, right from the word go. And the goal of every government intervention must be to strengthen the community.

This is relevant to the work of community brokers. I’m sure you’ve all heard it said that if you give a man a fish, you feed him for a day; but if you teach him how to fish, you feed him for a lifetime.

Sometimes the intervention of a broker can provide a struggling organisation with a lifeline. But the lifeline can become a leash, unless members of the community are themselves trained in how to support their own organisations. Your work should leave the community in a stronger position – that is what community development is all about.

The same goes for policy development. Community people have special insights into what are the real needs of communities, what approaches will work and what won’t, and ways the community can keep their organisations accountable.

Government policy analysts can learn from this; and in return, you can enhance the skills of community people to develop their own policy frameworks. We have recently seen a number of community organisations challenged publicly to account for government funding. It is important that there are sound processes in place.

The revised governance framework for COGS gives clearer responsibility and authority to the Minister and the National COGS Committee. This enables the national organisation to provide better protection to the work of the committees in the regions.

However I strongly support the emphasis on outcomes that should follow from the revised definition for COGS. This is the thrust of all government funding. Instead of worrying about how much an organisation spends on electricity, for instance, we must look at how their communities are better off.

It does raise issues of evaluation – how do you measure community outcomes? How do you define criteria for community well-being?

This takes us back to the principles of community development, or whanau development, or whanau ora – it is the community with the most at stake, so they should define the outcomes they seek.

It is a contradiction in terms for the government to define what community development is, and how you do it. Where the government contributes resources, however, it is entitled to assurance that those resources are being used properly on agreed terms.

It is agreement between the parties on outcomes, and trust in the relationship, that underpins sustainable community development.

This brings me to my final point. I note that you have a Treaty training workshop on the agenda for tomorrow. Our history is important to inform us as we build nationhood based on the Treaty, our founding document.

A lack of agreement and trust between the Treaty partners is an impediment to political unity, and local and national development. The parties view many issues from different perspectives, and customary rights to the seabed and foreshore is just the most recent example. The voice of tangata whenua, their reo, is not being heard properly.

Conflict can easily be avoided, if both sides make a real effort to engage with each other and understand the issues, instead of shouting slogans. This is a critical task of nation-building.

In the spirit of partnership and community development, and during Te Wa o te Reo Maori, I wonder if Treaty training might be provided to organisations that receive COGS funding. I see this as a way of promoting unity in diversity, and enhancing the strength and resilience of the communities we are aiming to develop! Kia ora tatou katoa.

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