Keith Newman talks to Megan Rose, who’s championing a new web portal to directly connect philanthropists and community volunteers with each other and Hawke’s Bay’s needy.

Mountains of paperwork, duplication of resources, over-stretched volunteers and a lack of coordination are undermining the efforts of more than a thousand charities to make Hawke’s Bay a better place to live.

The region’s 1,098 registered charities spend more than half a billion dollars a year and clock up 64,000 volunteer hours assisting with welfare, health, housing, animal welfare, culture and heritage and sports programmes.

However, Megan Rose, project manager of the recently launched CommUnity Solutions web portal, reckons we’re not getting full value for the $657 million charity funding, because community groups don’t collaborate, and spend half their time on administrivia.

Megan Rose

To justify public sector funding they have to submit complex applications and detailed accountability reporting. “On average voluntary organisations spend 50% of their time seeking funding just to exist.”

Short-term funding doesn’t promote long-term thinking, says Rose, and the highly competitive battle for funding also discourages collaboration. Central government’s description of volunteers as the ‘third sector’ doesn’t help, she says.

“It just legitimises the volunteer sector as a dumping ground for social problems as if it was part of an active mechanism, when it’s not.”

In the end, volunteers wanting to make a difference often end up burning out because they’re doing everything from the paperwork to running sausage sizzles.

Rose believes communities hold the key to their own social problems and the web site can be the catalyst to improve relationships between volunteer groups, the people they serve and financial supporters.

She describes the CommUnity Solutions hub as a “home for philanthropy” and a place where community services from Porangahau to Mahia can have a voice.

Inspired networker

The former Napier Daily Telegraph journo, Egg Marketing Board member, breakfast show host and now management facilitator, was won over to community development while coordinating the Healthy Homes Coalition for Hawke’s Bay Regional Council in 2009.

She built links between industry, community groups and the public sector and by the time the plug was pulled in 2010 had established a strong network and a growing awareness of unmet needs.

Over the past three years, her unpaid passion has been to better understand what is and isn’t working for communities. She’s impressed with the resilience and creativity of some of the most disadvantaged groups, but frustrated at the difficulties faced by those who simply want to get on with making a difference.

Rose recalls a community meeting discussing a family in desperate need where some immediately offered food items, while the two local government representatives discussed “why one of them hadn’t been invited to a follow-up meeting and who was going to be the lead agency.”

On presenting to a group of inner-city Napier churches she found duplication and leaders with different agendas. The problem, she suggests, is that we’re focused on the wrong things and in some cases desensitised to poverty.

Rather than being turned away people approaching an agency for help or seeking funding should be given other options. She began advocating for a more altruistic and transparent approach to community-based services, with professional systems to keep everything on track.

Rose found the ideal partner in the Napier City Pilot Trust, which had run community-led crime prevention models, including neighbourhood watch and prisoner re-integration since the 1980s.

She found chairman Martin Williams and founder Pat McGill there shared her aspirations, including the desire to establish a community web portal. In September they merged and created Whakakotahitanga CommUnity Solutions Trust with Williams as chairman and Rose as a trustee.

Just get on with it

As the term ‘whakakotahitanga’ suggests, it’s about making unity happen by “rolling up your sleeves and doing the hard yards based on the vision and the sheer determination of those involved,” says Rose.

An initial quote of $80,000 to build the portal was quickly rejected, so Rose rolled up her sleeves, designed the site and began creating content, while community-minded iSystems agreed to build a scaleable platform within the $5,000 start-up fund.

Core functions include a social services directory, a noticeboard with up-to-date eligibility and application forms, a referral programme for community workers and service providers, professional support systems and a focus on community-based employment and learning.

Rather than having to go to a caseworker, the CommUnity Solutions hub provides direct access via computers or smartphones.

Ideally every community group would have their own page, whether it’s health and social services group Taiwhenua o Heretaunga, the Women’s Refuge or the Rainbow Umbrella Trust. She invites local authorities to step up with sponsorship and put their resources online. Everyone has something to gain and something to offer, she says.

The new model being championed by CommUnity Solutions aims to be self-sustaining and ultimately employ a full-time coordinator. The website will be initially funded by a mix of $100-a-year member pages, rotating banner ads and whatever philanthropic goodwill Rose can drum up.

Breaking dependency mode

In an earlier life Rose was reliant on the DPB and social welfare, where she saw first hand that central and local government solutions have too many ‘dog legs’.

“Instead of going from A to B the individual has to go with all their pride, to air their dirty laundry to one person who then facilitates their trip to another queue or to budgeting.” This approach is “very tiring”, humiliating and self-perpetuating.

It can be the same for a community group, for example when rival gangs in Maraenui agreed to send their children off to a camp and to have courses run for women. “There were many hoops to jump through so the community did it themselves and achieved something other groups could learn from.”

Rose says Flaxmere is really advanced in its community-led approaches and has inter-generational buy-in because people of vision drove things forward. “It’s about opportunity, the removal of barriers and encouraging leadership from within.”

She applauds the Hawke’s Bay Foundation, which will grow to assist many good causes, and Volunteers for Hawke’s Bay, which matches people and needs, but says there needs to be much more coordination to connect groups, facilitate the involvement of businesses and industry groups, and ensure the best use of the region’s vast resources.

For example the Hawke’s Bay branch of Rural Women New Zealand, an offshoot of Federated Farmers, wants to teach cooking skills; and a Red Cross community van, available to take people to hospital or other appointments, is being under-utilised.

CommUnity Solutions already supports a re-integration programme with Arohata Women’s Prison and a community garden and is looking at linking people with opportunities to cook breakfast for schools, donate to Dress For Success (where clothing is provided for people trying to get back into the workforce), or make automatic payments to a charity of choice.

Redistributing resources

The site is also a centre for redistribution of resources so groups can find a bike, a bed or a fridge for a client or assistance with home, health, family or finances.

People may be referred to wood, food or curtain banks, Healthy Homes, Mobility Services or Disability Hawke’s Bay, which in the past have had little to do with each other.

If businesses upgrade their office systems, old photocopiers, whiteboards, computers, phones or storage units could be invaluable to a community group.

Rose says breaking down artificial walls and creating a collaborative environment where everyone is sharing information in the same metaphorical ‘room’ opens up endless possibilities.

What you find, she suggests is that complex problems are often easier and less expensive to resolve than many assume. As more groups take ownership of the new site, she believes there’ll be less duplication, better use of resources and funding, and a pronounced shift from survival mode, freeing volunteer groups to get on with what they’re there for.

A preview of:
CommunitySolutions.org.nz
is viewable now. However, the site officially launches on 6 April.

Contact:
team@communitysolutions.org.nz
for more details and to sign-up for a
‘Grand Opening’ reminder.

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