Flourishing Diversity; Thriving New Zealand

Over the past 5 months I have had the privilege of meeting a wide range of people from ethnic communities, ethnic community leaders, NGOs and government agencies. You have all shared with me your passion and commitment for supporting strong ethnic communities and realising the benefits of ethnic diversity for New Zealand. You have talked to me about the many ways in which you are working to support ethnic communities, and the ways in which you would like the Office for Ethnic Communities to support this work, advise government about the important issues for ethnic communities, deliver services like Language Line, and fund community initiatives that support ethnic communities and build social cohesion.

Our job in the Office of Ethnic Communities is to support you in your efforts - so that ethnic diversity can flourish in New Zealand and that as a country we will thrive as a result. To be effective in doing this we need to be clear about what we are here to do, what we are going to focus on, and how we are going to go about our business. The Office for Ethnic Communities is a pretty small government agency with less than 30 staff. We have big ambitions to help support strong, connected ethnic communities and promote ethnic diversity in New Zealand, and as a government agency our aim is to be government’s authoritative advisor on issues of ethnic diversity. Our big ambitions need to be supported by a compelling vision, clear outcomes, and clarity about where the Office will focus its resources in order to be as effective as possible. As an Office we have been working over the past few months to review our vision, outcomes and focus areas in order to shape the work we will do over the next four years.

Flourishing Diversity; Thriving New Zealand. This is the vision for the Office of Ethnic Communities, and drives our operating model which is the strategic framework for what we do, why we do it, and how we go about our work. You can check out Flourishing Diversity; Thriving New Zealand on our website. It sets out the strategic direction and intent for the Office of Ethnic Communities from 2016 to 2020.

To achieve our vision we have identified two outcomes that we will work towards: ‘Ethnic communities are strong and connected’, and ‘The benefits of ethnic diversity for New Zealand are realised’. Connected communities, means that people in ethnic communities are connected to each other as well as their local and geographical communities and with government. As our country becomes more diverse the connections between people at the individual and local level are important to building social cohesion and providing a platform for a thriving nation. Most communities work hard to establish intra-community relationships and our role as the Office of Ethnic Communities is to support this but also to help build connections between and across communities. Having strong and connected communities is a foundation stone for realising the benefits of diversity – whether these are social, cultural or economic benefits.

The Office of Ethnic Communities has developed four Focus Areas which provide an anchor for our work towards ensuring connected communities and realising the benefits of diversity.  The first Focus Area is Growing our knowledge and understanding of ethnic diversity and inclusion in New Zealand. Our knowledge and understanding provides the foundation for our ability to provide authoritative advice to government on matters of ethnic diversity. The second Focus Area is Connecting people in ethnic communities to each other, wider society and to government. It is important that people in ethnic communities can build strong connections to their own community, and that their community in turn can connect to the wider NZ community and to government. Our work in this area includes delivering Language Line which ensures that non English speaking people can access essential services, as well as funding of community building initiatives. Our third Focus Area is Increasing active citizenship of people in ethnic communities. This is about supporting people in ethnic communities to participate fully in their communities for example through voting, standing for election for Boards, local and national government, as well as opportunities for volunteering in their communities. The fourth Focus Area is about Valuing diverse cultures and ethnicities within communities, wider society, and the nation. This focus area speaks to our wider New Zealand society and how we can move beyond tolerance or acceptance of diversity to a positive celebration and valuing of the diversity of the communities that make up New Zealand.

Together these four Focus Areas will help shape and drive the annual work programmes for the Office of Ethnic Communities over the coming four years 2016-2020. The work programme for 2016/17 is included in the Strategic Direction and Intent document as an appendix. Our work programme will be reviewed and updated annually.

Community engagement remains at the heart of what the Office of Ethnic Communities does – we connect with ethnic communities both large and small, and give voice to the needs of ethnic communities in our advice to government. Our services, including administering the Ethnic Communities Development Fund (ECDF), responds to the needs of ethnic communities. In this sense our objectives are very similar to our sister organisation the Victorian Multicultural Commission which released its 2015/16 annual report recently. The Chairperson of the Commission, Helen Kapalos said “community engagement is a key focus for the Commission and a critical part of identifying issues and solutions, and strengthening social cohesion. We are here to listen and learn from our communities. Multiculturalism is not an add on. It is the binding force of ensuring a socially cohesive society as our cultural diversity grows.”

I encourage you to take a look through Flourishing Diversity: Thriving New Zealand – the Strategic Direction and Intent for the Office of Ethnic Communities. I hope that the Vision, Outcomes, and Focus Areas capture the things you have told me are important to supporting strong ethnic communities and enabling New Zealand to realise the benefits of ethnic diversity, and that the Office is putting its focus in the right place to be effective in supporting you to in the important work that you do.

If you would like to give me your feedback – I’d be pleased to get your email.

Maarten Quivooy