Minister Turia’s speech

Thank you, Martyn (‘Bomber’ Bradbury), for your introduction.

I was told that the Listener once described you as a political provocateur, a “stinger”, and possibly New Zealand’s most opinionated man. I’ve met quite a few men in my time that might have challenged you for that description so I must admit it was one of the reasons I’ve been looking forward to tonight.

They say that diversity is the spice of life – and if we know anything about community it is that the two go hand in hand. If I could put it another way, diversity is the one thing that we all have in common. And yet so often it seems the diverse realities across our communities become a reason for destruction rather than a reason for growth and for celebration.

I recall the writings of black activist and poet, Audre Lorde “it is not our differences that divide us. It is our inability to recognize, accept and celebrate those differences”.

This conference then is an opportunity to give voice to communities – to bring together the practitioners and the prophets of community enterprises to share their stories about community economic development.

It is about celebrating your diverse strengths, your varied experiences. It is a perfect occasion to pay tribute to the talents of our social entrepreneurs – who create places in our communities which are invigorating, enabling and inspiring to us all.

I have always been an advocate for communities – long before I was given the warrant of the Minister for the Community and Voluntary Sector. It is a sector I came from myself. I remember in the 70s and 80s, two community champions who had a profound influence on my thinking – the late Father John Curnow, from the Catholic Commission for Evangelisation, Justice and Peace, and Fernando Yusingco who was a Filipino community development worker.

They worked with a group of women in Whanganui – training us in structural analysis, helping us to understand how the system worked – or more to the point didn’t work in the interests of the people.

Our conversations of that time were rich and passionate. We talked about the power of the people; we debated how to move from aid to development; we plotted a course of organising for liberation.

But most importantly of us, we changed the paradigm from asking “what is wrong” to instead creating the context for developing a vision for our future.

In all of these discussions we realized, powerfully, that community was the fundamental framework for our own empowerment. We moved from environments where communities were seen as incidental to our real life, to a journey where the community was essential. We got together, and agreed to set up our organization.

We would go to our own people and ask them for their money to empower us to get going. We called it the Whanganui Regional Development Trust and before long our people were giving anything between two dollars to twenty dollars a week – whatever they could afford – and miraculously they expected nothing in return.

They were making an investment in optimism; a down-payment in the prosperity of their own futures.

When I think back to those times it was one of the most exciting periods in my own history – being part of a group of people who had the self-belief that we could do for ourselves, that we didn’t need the State to do for us.

We set up the board, we established a numbers of small businesses, we founded a kura kaupapa Maori and then in 1993 established our first health centre – employing our own doctors, nurses and midwives. We got all of our young people together to paint the buildings for nothing; the Trust brought three buildings and allowed us to use them for free for two years.

And best of all we were collectively owned; the community had invested in our own development.

We made it happen – from possibility to profitability – and we never looked back.

I wanted to set the scene for my korero from my own experience, because I truly believe that the agenda for building strong, resilient communities is a journey in which we must reflect the power of the people at its very core.

This is not a journey which can be run via remote control from an office in Lambton Quay.

This is about the community ownership of assets; it is about collaborative action; communities having the wherewithal to solve their own local issues and challenges.

And crucially, Government cannot be the only investor.

At last year’s inaugural conference, Glenn Saunders, the Chair of Prometheus Finance, launched a report, a New Funding Paradigm, which drew the link between a strong social enterprise sector and a strong community of social lenders.

The momentum created by this report was taken to new levels by the 2010 Fulbright Public Policy Fellow, Laura Benedict. Her report, Social Lending : a tool for grantmakers and opportunity for communities – and her subsequent work with the Office for the Community and Voluntary Sector has been vital in generating an awareness of social lending within both government and amongst philanthropic funders.

I was privileged to meet with Laura and to hear of her experiences as a community banker, helping marginalized communities in North Carolina to build sustainable businesses and employment where neither existed before.

She challenged us not to grab the space for Government as a social lender – but instead to investigate how Government could play a facilitative role to allow social enterprise and social lending to help achieve government and community goals.

Her caution about Government’s role resonated with me, when thinking back to our experience in Whanganui with the Regional Development Trust.

Because I think the fatal mistake we made, was that in our heyday the Government was promoting what was known as the Mana loans and they offered us money to the development board in this context. It completely changed the whole philosophical base upon which we’d established ourselves.

One of the stories Laura shared was that of the Native Angels, a holistic, home-grown healthcare business owned by the Lumbee tribe of North Carolina – the present day descendants of the Cheraw Tribe.

GE Capital, and the Social Lender, Self-Help; partnered in providing a small business loan to help the business construct a new building called the Angel Exchange. That building now houses an urgent care service, hospice, pharmacy, spa, cafeteria, chapel and even a gift shop.

Native Angels also believes strongly in giving back to the community, by supporting and sponsoring numerous events and activities, with a special interest in the youth through their Angel Elite Sports Programme. So in addition to the health care facilities, it also includes an 110,000 square foot sports complex run by the Angel Elite Sports Foundation.

What is really exciting to me is to reflect on the Native Angels success – and to consider our own homegrown achievements here in Aotearoa.

In Invercargill, the Community Trust of Southland provided a loan to Nga Hau e Wha marae to purchase a property to set up a childcare facility. After being turned down by all the trading banks, the marae repaid the loan of $45,000 at five years – half the time required under the ten year repayment period.

Over in Rotorua, the AWHI Credit Union entered into partnership with the Housing Corporation of New Zealand and Habitat for Humanity to provide local families with loans on 21 houses, interest free for three years, with repayments that include insurance cover. Not one loan has been defaulted.

The AWHI Credit Union is a wonderful example of supporting communities to support themselves. Based on the successful experience of the Torere Bank, AWHI is literally an acronym for Altogether We Have Independence – while in the true sense of the word meaning to embrace, and to nurture.

I hope that this conference will provide a ripe environment to do just that – to embrace and nurture new ways of thinking about community based business models.

The calibre of some of the international investors who will speak at this conference is outstanding – and I welcome in particular, Hugh Rolo the Head of Assets and Investments for the Development Trusts Association in the UK; and Steve Lawrence the Chief Executive of the Australian Social Innovation Exchange.

I want to assure you of the government’s interest in supporting a localism agenda that enables the building of strong resilient communities through the development of community enterprises.

I am particularly keen to support a strong social lending sector in New Zealand. I see the relationship between social enterprises and social lending as intertwined – social enterprises are businesses with a social cause and social lenders need those businesses so that they can invest in social causes.

I am very pleased that Prometheus Finance is taking the lead in strengthening the Social Lending Sector.

The greatest risk we run is in unknowingly giving birth to a proliferation of social lenders, poorly informed and short of skills and experience, to support an embryonic non-profit borrower community.

If there is one thing I learnt from our experience in Whanganui, social lenders also need to be ready to say no to a loan and to be ready to foreclose. We need to respect the discipline required for a stable cashflow; to embrace better and stronger collaboration and to insist on a focus on outcomes and robust business practice.

And on that note, I saw Vivian Hutchinson here tonight who played a very important role in our Whanganui community. I have never had the opportunity to thank you publicly for all the good you have done in our community teaching others social enterprise skills.

Finally, I am grateful for the honour of joining with Auckland City’s Deputy Mayor Penny Hulse, in presenting the first Dragons Den awards to budding social entrepreneurs.

Tonight’s awards demonstrate to all of us here – and the nation at large – what can be achieved with passion, with good business practice and with someone willing to invest in that cause.