What attracted you to CSI?

What I really like about CSI is its collaborative model, and its commitment to capacity building across the sector.  I’m also really keen to learn more about venture philanthropy and new models of funding innovation to move the dial on some of New Zealand’s big issues.  I’ve had an extensive background in public health which has also been anchored in finding ways to create and sustain long-term community wide change which fits well with what I’m seeing of the work of the funders and organisations CSI is working with.  To that space that CSI works in, I bring experience of  having worked with and as a funder, and I’ve worked with and as a provider, so I’m very aware of the interests both sides have in working alongside each other.

What’s unique about the CSI  model?

The network that has grown around CSI is impressive. I have known some of the associates by reputation, and I know how highly regarded they are.  I’ve now met many of the people in the network and know the range of skills, experience, and networks they bring to CSI – and the values they share.  It’s a diverse group but what I’ve seen is a common passion for, and a commitment, to helping bring about positive change. That supports high levels of collaboration and engagement and allows us to be very nimble in our response to the needs of the organisations we work with. 

What has been a career highlight so far?

I’ve had so many different opportunities – but really, it’s all about the people.   When I moved to New Zealand, for example, and I was based in Dunedin, I worked with some amazing Māori practitioners and advocates in the health sector.  They gave me insight into the Māori world view, and I felt very privileged to be embraced in that way.  It was such a different way of working, a genuinely long-term, inter-generational and holistic view.  I think also too of the work I got to do on the cusp of public health and mental health.  It was so rewarding to see people get committed to projects of national significance, and to work alongside people like Prof Mason Durie and deliver projects such as Like Minds, Like Mine and the national Mental Health Promotion Strategy which had a strong kaupapa Māori framework.

At the YWCA you saw up close some of the challenges many community sector organisations face.  What made a difference for you in addressing those?

So much of our community sector struggles to get by day-to-day and I saw that when I became CEO of the Auckland YWCA.  It was in deficit, and that drove deficit thinking.  Managing the deficit was always front of mind.  What made a difference was some pro-bono help that Foundation North arranged for us through KPMG.  One of their partners, Justin Ensor, did some financial modelling for us and helped us look out over five years.  Justin said to us ‘you have three years to work out how you can become sustainable over the long-term.’ That was such a huge relief.  Justin’s work helped us adopt a different mindset.  It meant that we could stop worrying constantly about the deficit and we could start to think strategically.  We decided what we could let go, and focus on what we wanted to  keep. We were then lucky enough to have one of KPMG’s brilliant young women, Georgia  Ingram, agree to come on as treasurer as we piloted our way into the future.   

I understand strong communication helped keep the team focused as you all worked to turn the YWCA around.

In a voluntary organisation, good communication makes such a difference.  Shona McElroy of Akina Foundation, now at Foundation North, also helped us and delivered an infographic that made some complex information accessible to everyone in the organisation.  That helped keep us on track in our conversations over several years with regards to our economic engine which was a social enterprise  the commercial hostel operation.

So how are you feeling about joining CSI?

I’m looking forward to working with Alison and the network to identify new opportunities for us to support accelerating social impact for creating better outcomes for our communities.