Navigating the Future of Community Services in New Zealand

28 Apr 2023

The provision of community services has been a vital part of New Zealand’s social fabric for many years, providing essential and timely support to those in need.

As the community sector continues to evolve and grow in response to changing need it’s important to explore what the future holds for this essential sector. To gain insights we had the opportunity to speak with Sally Dalhousie, the Chief Operating Officer at The Fono.

The Fono is an organisation committed to reducing the health inequalities of communities across Auckland and Northland by delivering culturally appropriate services and finding innovative ways to provide support to those in need.

What are some of the biggest challenges and/or opportunities facing the community sector in Aotearoa New Zealand today as you see it?

The health and social services sector in New Zealand is currently undergoing significant transformations, and with a national election taking place this year, it’s unclear what the future holds for these changes, especially if a new government is elected. On top of this, the global recession is causing significant hardship for Pacific and lower-income populations, with more job cuts expected, increasing housing needs, and higher interest rates leading to an increase in the cost of living. However, within this context, there are also opportunities for larger community organizations with a proven track record of high performance.

Given that context, how does The Fono stay ahead of the curve to ensure it is meeting the changing needs of the Pasifika community?

In the face of ongoing changes and challenges, it’s crucial that organizations are able to stay ahead of the curve and meet the evolving needs of the Pasifika community. To achieve this, The Fono has a number of strategies in place. Firstly, the Chief Executive maintains active relationships with senior government officials to ensure that the organization is informed about changes and strategic direction of the current government, as well as the priorities of the opposition. Additionally, staff members maintain close working relationships with the communities we serve, ensuring that they are informed about the levels of need and areas for strengthening. The Fono also works hard to enhance and maintain the trusted partnerships it has with Pacific leaders, and to champion the needs and aspirations of Pacific peoples. By taking these steps, The Fono is well-positioned to continue delivering culturally appropriate services and support to the Pasifika community.

What qualities and skills are essential for today’s leaders in the community sector?

In today’s ever-changing community sector, leaders need to possess a range of qualities and skills to be effective. Firstly, they must maintain a strategic focus on government priorities while also understanding the specific needs of their communities. This enables them to provide a community voice that generates the greatest impact with key decision makers. Having trusted Pacific leaders who can advocate and voice the challenges and aspirations of Pacific families is essential. These leaders need to understand and demonstrate Courageous Leadership, which involves taking risks and making difficult decisions that prioritize the well-being of the community. They also need to understand the importance of Collective Leadership for Pacific, which involves working collaboratively with others to achieve shared goals. By possessing these qualities and skills, leaders in the community sector can make a meaningful difference in the lives of those they serve.

For tomorrow’s leaders, why is the community sector such a great place to consider as a career?

For tomorrow’s leaders, the community sector is a great place to consider as a career for several reasons. Firstly, the solutions for tomorrow exist within community spaces. It is within these spaces where effective change occurs, and where the voices of the people are able to be responded to. This means that working within the community sector is incredibly rewarding because this is where local solutions for local issues can be developed and implemented. Additionally, organisations working in the community sector can address equity issues and make a real difference for those with the highest needs.

Secondly, the biggest impact starts in the community, whether it’s in terms of cost, wellbeing, or other factors. This means that working in the community sector allows tomorrow’s leaders to make a meaningful difference in the lives of individuals and families, and to contribute to building stronger, more resilient communities for the future.