Creating a bright future with the rangatahi of Southland

Thriving in Murihiku

With Te Rourou, Vodafone Aotearoa Foundation, Murihiku

“Nāu te rourou, nāku te rourou, ka ora te iwi
With your food basket and mine, the people will thrive” Whakatauki (proverb), speaking to the power of the collective, sharing what we each can bring to the table for the good of the community.

In 2021, Innovation Unit had the great privilege of being part of an exciting new initiative of Te Rourou, the Vodafone Aotearoa Foundation, alongside the team at Toi Āria: Design for Public Good. The ‘Invercargill Initiative’ is a first for the Foundation, piloting a new model of community-driven, place-based investment to foster a brighter future for the young people of Waihōpai (Invercargill), Awarua (Bluff), and the wider Murihiku (Southland) region in partnership with the local community.

The Vodafone Aotearoa Foundation has an ambitious goal to halve the number of young people experiencing exclusion and disadvantage by 2027. Across Aotearoa New Zealand, 23% of young people fall into this group; across Southland it’s closer to 30% (Thriving Rangatahi Population Explorer, 2021). Recognising that powerful work is already underway to support young people in the region, Lani Evans, Head of the Foundation, embarked on a journey to learn from and build relationships with the community, particularly those working with rangatahi (young people) and whānau (families).

“We knew that the community was already doing incredible work, so the question was how might we awhi and support them? Was there a role for what we could bring to the table and, if so, what might that look like and how could we centre the voices of young people in that conversation?” Lani Evans, Head of Foundation.

Centreing the voices of rangatahi with lived experience of exclusion and disadvantage was essential in order to understand the realities of life for young people in Murihiku, and what it would take for them to truly thrive. The team from Toi Āria spoke with a diverse group of rangatahi about their experiences, aspirations, dreams, and challenges and reflected their stories in a set of insights and opportunities for change. These proved to be a powerful tool in stimulating conversation across the community and mobilising the system to come together around the kaupapa (project). In a hui (workshop) run by the Innovation Unit team, community leaders and representatives from a wide range of organisations and groups involved in the youth system came together around these insights to co-create a vision for thriving and explore what it would take to get there.

“We understand that we are young and we don't know everything and we don't have a whole lot of experience, but with what experience we do have we do know what's going on.” Rangatahi contributor

The community leaders, changemakers, and advocates who participated in the community hui brought a wealth of experience, expertise, and perspectives, along with a real passion for enabling rangatahi and whānau to thrive. Together we reflected on the rangatahi stories and explored some big questions including:

  • What does thriving actually mean to the rangatahi of this community?
  • What would it take to achieve that vision?
  • What is already happening that can be continued, built upon, amplified?
  • What’s happening now that gets in the way of achieving this vision?
  • What more could be done than isn’t already underway?

The themes, insights, and potential solutions arising from this discussion with community stakeholders were examined alongside the rangatahi insights and quantitative data (made accessible to the community through the Foundation’s Thriving Rangatahi Population Explorer Tool). The holistic picture which formed was then considered against the key attributes or ‘superpowers’ that the Foundation could contribute. Applying these lenses brought into focus four key areas which we believed might be powerful places to focus the Foundation’s investment. Once validated with the community through a series of walkthrough activities, these focus areas were presented to the Foundation’s Board of Directors and agreed for the team’s work in the region.

Focus areas

  1. Supercharge the sector: the youth sector in Murihiku is made up of passionate people doing great work. When we met with them, they told us they wanted to connect and collaborate so they could achieve even greater impact but lacked the time, support, and resourcing to do so. We are exploring how we might overcome these obstacles and supercharge the sector. This will include employing community catalysts to lead the mahi.
  2. Build future pathways: the rangatahi of Murihiku aspire to meaningful careers. However jobs can be hard to find, and difficult to retain. Together with our partners, we are exploring how we might catalyse inspiring career opportunities for Murihiku young people. We want to help rangatahi explore career pathways which feel meaningful to them and build skills which can unlock their aspirations.
  3. Support Māori aspirations: rangatahi and community leaders told us that connecting young people with their whakapapa (genealogy), identity, and culture helps them thrive. However, many young people can’t access these opportunities. We’re exploring how we might support those who guide young people on journeys of cultural reconnection. We have also established a Rangatahi Māori Fund. This fund will see rangatahi make decisions about where funding goes – creating better outcomes for young people just like them.
  4. Create connection: physical and digital connection helps rangatahi participate in work and education, access opportunities, and stay in touch with their whānau and wider support networks. We’ll be taking a proactive approach in this area – establishing our own digital equity programmes in addition to funding community initiatives. We want to remove the barriers that stand in the way of connection and participation, and improve young people’s access to the digital world.

You can read more about The Invercargill Initiative on the Foundation website.

In the roughly six months since we completed our part of this project, the team at the Vodafone Aotearoa Foundation have taken decisive action to deliver on the opportunities identified and honour the stories shared. This includes:

  • Awarding a scholarship to Bailey Ives, an outstanding young woman who intends to use the $10,000 to gain more knowledge, understanding, and experience in the youth justice area.
  • Piloting a device equity programme with local schools through which laptops are provided to senior students to support their learning at home and at school.
  • Launching a contestable fund, focused on providing financial support to organisations creating positive outcomes for rangatahi in the region, with a particular focus on the areas identified through this process.
  • Committing to a Rangatahi Māori Fund, a fund that will be shaped and decided by rangatahi Māori from the region.
  • Recruiting for key roles to support, amplify, and ‘supercharge’ the sector through providing space for connection and collaboration and supporting evaluation, learning, and sharing across organisations.

The Foundation has committed to invest significantly in the region over the next six years and its work will continue to develop and evolve over this time, in deep partnership with the community, and guided by the voices of rangatahi. We are excited to see what is next for this innovative partnership and for the rangatahi of Murihiku, as well as what future partnerships which follow this pilot might look like.

“The ultimate component of any strategy for success is to make rangatahi the leader in designing their own future. Keep their voices alive in any future mahi in Invercargill. Make a place for them at the table when formulating ideas and solutions. Involve them at the beginning of the process and honour their role in creating the success they all want for themselves.” Lani Evans, Head of Foundation.