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Can We Fix It – Poverty Week: How The Southern Initiative is helping South Auckland families thrive

Throughout history, blockades have been overcome by new ways of thinking and experimentation – try, try and try again, as the saying goes. This faith in the human ability to find solutions has led to everything from penicillin to electricity to flying machines and it continues to push society forward. So, in a pop-up week called Can We Fix It? Idealog and Kiwibank will look at one of New Zealand's problems – poverty and inequality – and the homegrown businesses doing their bit to tackle it. Here's how the Southern Initiative is helping South Auckland families, creating new jobs, and supporting new businesses. 

Bringing central government, local government, community organisations, private companies, entrepreneurs, community leaders and families together to problem solve sounds, well, stressful.

But for South Auckland, this mashup is proving its worth in tackling the area’s most pressing social and economic issues, on the basis that if South Auckland doesn’t thrive, neither does New Zealand.

On average, South Aucklanders earn 30 percent less than the rest of Auckland, with that number higher for Maori and Pasifika families, and families face more challenges finding suitable housing and accessing healthcare.

But alongside the challenges are great assets like the youthful population, vibrant churches, sports clubs, community facilities, and a great sense of pride and cultural diversity, The Southern Initiative (TSI) director Gael Surgenor says.

“South Auckland is sick of being seen as a problem to be fixed. There’s been thirty years of programmes and initiatives and things to ‘fix the problems’, what people have said is they want opportunities to be part of the solution.”

Born from the Auckland Plan and funded by the council, TSI is bringing together people from all walks of life in South Auckland to champion, stimulate and enable community and social innovation targeting three priorities: shared prosperity, resilience, and thriving children and whanau.

TSI has started a Maori and Pasifika trades training programme, created jobs through social procurement, supported new businesses, and increased healthy food options all using a social innovation approach and working closely with community members.

Collaborating with parents and the Auckland Co-Design Lab, set up in 2015 by Auckland Council and various government agencies to explore what a human-centred, design-led approach could offer public services, they recently undertook the Early Childhood Challenge to explore the challenges faced by South Auckland families.

Research shows the first 1000 days of a child’s life are critical to their social and economic success later in life. It also shows 0 to 3-year-olds in South Auckland are significantly worse off than those in other parts of the city.

Having parents involved throughout the process resulted in the most authentic outcomes, Auckland Co-Design Lab director Alastair Child says, as those closest to issues are crucial in creating solutions.

The project found parents in South Auckland are facing high levels of cumulative stress affecting their children’s wellbeing, and outcomes around housing, income, food and making services more accessible were identified. TSI and the Auckland Co-Design Lab have fed this back to the appropriate local and central government agencies to make changes. Already, local boards are prioritising making council spaces more family friendly.

Although collaboration can be tricky, Surgenor says challenges around poverty and inequality are too big for any one sector to really make a difference on their own. Community, government, business and iwi all have to keep working together and “finding the sweet spots and the opportunities”.

The 'Can We Fix It?' series, which looks at how we're using innovation and ingenuity to try and solve some of our thorniest problems, is brought to you by KiwibankKiwibank is passionate about the future of New Zealand, and about making Kiwis better off. They’re 100% Kiwi-owned, which means their profits stay right here in New Zealand.

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