SociaLink moves to bi-cultural governance

SociaLink, the umbrella organisation for the Western Bay of Plenty’s social agencies and charities, started moving to a bicultural governance model in 2019.

The partnership approach is designed to build trust through sharing power, acknowledging individual strengths, knowledge and experience and reaching compromise.

SociaLink’s board increases from a maximum of nine to a maximum of 11, made up of four non-Māori seats and four Māori seats, with an additional three seats permanently allocated for local iwi Ngāti Ranginui, Ngaiterangi and Ngāti Pukenga.

Co-chair Tessa Mackenzie says this allows for greater flexibility within the ‘two houses’ (Māori and non- Māori) while maintaining the ability for iwi representation at the table.

It is often a challenge to engage Māori onto governance boards of predominantly  Pākehā organisations, she says.

“Establishing trusting, equitable relationships is fundamental to shared understanding of the cultural richness held within te Ao Māori that usurps process-only driven practice, and models a bi-cultural partnership approach to decision making within the social sector.

“The reality of what a Te Tiriti o Waitangi policy looks like in a predominantly tau iwi organisation can be challenging for both Māori and non Māori, as it is policy based on a world view that is relational, ancestral and acknowledges the unseen forces of lore, rather than being purely process driven,” she says.

To honour an authentic partnership approach, a willingness to learn, engage and participate in this kaupapa is key to achieving outcomes that work for both Māori and non-Māori.

Potential nominated board members, both Māori and non-Māori, are discussed by the full board based on what skills, experience and networks they would bring.

Mana whenua for the area SociaLink is located – Ngāi Tamarāwaho – is represented by a cultural advisor, who can be part of the Māori House, an iwi representative or an external cultural advisor as they are at present.

“Bi-culturalism ensures Te Ao Māori is legitimised, welcomed and appreciated for its unique contribution to the development of the community as a whole, while honouring promises made on the rights of tangata whenua,” Co-Chair Amohaere Tangitu says.

Prior to the implementation of the bi-cultural model, time was spent with mana whenua kaumātua Peri Kohu to learn about the cultural history of the area. Training to increase understanding of the Treaty/Te Tiriti, as well as learning more about the intergenerational impacts of colonisation help to reach a more equitable place of shared understanding.

The board looked at models used in Whakatāne and the Bay of Plenty District Health Board in developing the new structure.

Bi-culturalism, with development of parallel decision making, allows for the three articles of Te Tiriti to be addressed within an organisation.

“Those working in the social sector have known for a long time that non-relational process-driven models are less effective in terms of client and whānau engagement towards changing future outcomes,” Ms Tangitu says.

The timing of SociaLink’s change aligns with the District Health Board’s new Māori Health Strategy Te Toi Ahorangi.

“The key principle is establishing trusting relationships, which allow a layer of autonomous decision-making with the social sector and community service at its heart.

Each “house” brings values and practices from differing world views using a strengths-based approach that taps into the specialised skills individuals bring to influence consensus decision making.

Where there is a skills gap the board can co-opt people to attend board meetings, without voting rights, but to influence, advise and action initiatives.

The Co-chairs, Amohaere Tangitu and Tessa Mackenzie will be speaking about the partnership journey so far at SociaLink’s upcoming AGM on 23rd September which will be held at Huria Marae (pending lockdown status) and is open to anyone in the sector to attend.  To register please go to