Te Ohu Whakawhanaunga is a community alliance rising to the challenge of growing voice and power in Aotearoa NZ. Funded for three years by the Peter McKenzie Project (PMP), the alliance is currently drawing together sponsoring organisations to map out the first phase of its development.
“We want a whole new public consensus on what we are prepared to accept as the quality of life for our children and those who are currently impoverished,” says Rev. Dr. Susan Adams, St Matthew-in-the City (one of the sponsoring groups).
“The Peter McKenzie Project Committee is excited by what this movement could achieve. It works at the grassroots and can strengthen the voices of families and whānau affected by hardship – voices which are not privileged generally in the way society works,” says Iain Hines, PMP Director.
“The Peter McKenzie Project wants to play its part in creating a society where all children, young people and families thrive. It wants to support initiatives that can create positive, enduring changes to the ways in which systems work. Structures which enable people who are facing great challenges and dealing with associated stresses to have a voice in how these systems work, represent a big step towards a more equitable society.”
Built on a broad-based community organising model, Te Ohu Whakawhanaunga will be comprised of community, union, faith and other relevant groupings from across civil society. The doors are open wide as the alliance seeks to ensure it is diverse, powerful and self-sustaining.
The Maori Women’s Welfare League, a sponsoring organisation, gifted a name, which reflects the values that will underpin the work of the alliance as it builds from grassroots community need to national systemic and structural change. The name Te Ohu Whakawhanaunga speaks of a collective of groups working together for the whole, while maintaining the integrity of each member organisation. It captures tautoko (support), awhi (embrace, assist), manaakitanga (care), utu (reciprocity), aroha (love), and mahitahi (working together for the common good).
“Communities know what is wrong, they know what has to change, but to fix the way things currently work, requires a breadth of leadership and organisational commitment that gives voice to these issues, and it requires disciplined organisation to ensure these voices are heard,” says Annie Newman from E tū, another sponsoring organisation.
The methodology is grounded in the work of Saul Alinsky and the Industrial Areas Foundation. Diverse groups come together and, through a process of listening and collectively defining and shaping the issues, they develop a programme of work that represents the interests of local people committed to growing the power and effectiveness of their own communities.
“Through building relationships with people, who are part of civil society organisations, we understand what matters to them. Through education of leaders within those civil society organisations, we build the capacity of leaders to work together, describe the challenges, articulate the solutions and act together to influence structural change. Broad-based organising closes the gap between our communities and society’s decision-makers enabling people to influence their own future and the systems and structures that define their world,” says Sr Maribeth Larkin.
“The idea is huge but really exciting – and possible, if enough people are involved. Everyone knows something is wrong, but they don’t have the language to describe it. This is putting language to the problem,” says Dave Tims, from sponsoring organisation, Urban Neighbourhoods of Hope in Randwick Park.
Other current sponsoring organisations are: Sisters of Mercy, Wiri, E tū, Anglican Diocese of Auckland, St Matthew-in-the-City, Catholic Justice and Peace Commission Auckland, Methodist Mission Northern, Living Wage Movement Aotearoa NZ, Salvation Army, Urban Neighbourhoods of Hope, Pacific Women’s Watch, Maori Women’s Welfare League, and the Auckland Women’s Centre.