My (Pakeha) experience of navigating and experiencing co-governance

I am the General Manager of SociaLink, a peak body that aims to empower, connect and build the capability of for-purpose organisations and the overall social and community sector in the western Bay of Plenty.  In the same way Chambers of Commerce support businesses, SociaLink supports community organisations.

We have grown considerably since we started in 2012 from having one staff member one day a week to 14 staff members (mostly part time) providing the following services:

  • professional development and one-on-one advice on the operations of for-purpose organisations,
  • help for-purpose organisations to work together to achieve greater impact,
  • undertake research and help for-purpose organisations to better use their own data to inform decision making,
  • oversee the management of the largest co-working space for not for-purpose organisations in Aotearoa called The Kollective,
  • support kaupapa Māori providers,
  • undertake advocacy, and
  • volunteering services e.g. matching volunteers to volunteering opportunities.

When Tessa Mackenzie was appointed as SociaLink’s  Board Chair in 2018, , she indicated that one of her goals was to introduce a co-governance model, in partnership with Board Trustee Amohaere Tangitu.

While it was Tessa and Amohaere’s responsibility to identify models and discuss co-governance with the Board I mulled over what might this mean for me as the General Manager.

Being forever practical I wondered whether I would need to report to two Co-Chairs and the likely increased work this would involve and what would happen if the two Co-Chairs disagreed.

Tessa also challenged me to consider what a bicultural approach to the operations of SociaLink could look like.

I was surprised that it made me feel a bit uncomfortable, which made me wonder why this was. I trained as a social worker so was well aware of New Zealand’s colonial history and the impact of this on Māori, the discrepancies between Māori and non-Māori health, education and social outcomes, I was familiar with te Tiriti o Waitangi and supported a partnership approach.  My blood boils when I read some of the outright racist comments made in the local media and the talk of co-governance being regarded as apartheid and separatism.

So, why did I feel uncomfortable?  I suspect it came down to the prospect of relinquishing power and control, which surprised me as I don’t see myself as particularly power hungry.

Once I had a stern talk to myself about why sharing of power is necessary if we are ever to see equitable health, social and educational outcomes, I became more comfortable with the idea and it seemed a way off so not something I needed to concern myself too much with for now.

The SociaLink board moved to a co-governance model in 2020 to give expression to Te Tiriti o Waitangi,  in recognition of the inequitable education, social and health outcomes for Māori while also recognising the unique contribution a te Ao Māori perspective would bring to the governance table.

SociaLink has a Māori house and non-Māori house with respective Co-Chairs and three seats for local iwi. This has worked very well, largely due to the competence and effective working relationship between the Co-Chairs and the increased richness of knowledge, understanding, perspectives and relationships brought to the table for the benefit of all.

The issues I had worried about regarding having two bosses was addressed, I would nominally report to one of the Co-Chairs and that Co-Chair would keep the other Co-Chair up-to-date or involve them when required.  I have worked under two Co-Chair arrangements and it has worked fine for me and for the organisation.

I have learnt a lot about what a bicultural approach means and have much more to learn.  One of the aspects I have noticed is the increased valuing of whanaungatanga or relationship building.  For example, the importance of new Trustees introducing themselves when they join the board and the existing Trustees introducing themselves to the new Trustee and spending time to get to know one another.

It made me realise how transactional I was (not an uncommon trait of someone coming from a western perspective).  By that I mean I noticed how impatient I got when I couldn’t get on with the business on the agenda because of kōrero, discussion and whanaungatanga.  But I also recognised the importance and value of relationship building, it resulted in more meaningful discussions and if there were a range of opinions on an issue, they would be able to listen to all perspectives and agree on a way forward.

Part of the bicultural journey is the increasing use of te reo Māori in SociaLink communications, which mirrors an increased use of te reo Māori in communications from government and more generally in society.  I think the increased use of te reo Māori reflects a growing recognition of the value and beauty of the language.  However, because it is not my first language I have noticed, particularly when I am busy, that I don’t have the brain space or patience (you’ll see there is a trend here with my lack of patience ☹) to take the time to pronounce and understand the meaning of the kupu.  I eagerly search for the English version.  When I have the time, I do take the time to pronounce and use the Māori kupu.   The more I use te reo Māori in my day-to-day conversations, the more my pronunciation and understanding of te Ao Māori improves.

liz davies photo oct 2019 - My (Pakeha) experience of navigating and experiencing co-governanceSociaLink will be embarking on an investigation into bicultural models of delivering services in 2023 which I and SociaLink’s Māori engagement advisor, Irene Walker, will jointly undertake to present to the Board with the view that it will be rolled out from 2024 onwards.  In this way SociaLink operations will mirror the Board’s co-governance approach.  I have no idea what the report will come up with but I’m treating it as an ‘and, and’, not taking away from what SociaLink does but contributing and improving what we deliver.

Ask me in a years’ time how my bicultural journey is going, I’m sure I will have learnt more about te Ao Māori, it will have challenged my thinking and hopefully SociaLink will be well positioned to roll out a bicultural approach to the delivery of services.

Liz Davies

General Manager –      SociaLink Western Bay of Plenty – Tūhono Pāpori