Being Human, Systems-focused, and Learning.

There are no quick fixes to complex issues such as reducing inequality or responding to the long-term social and economic effects of Covid-19; areas where the Todd Foundation aims to make an impact.

How do we embrace complexity, learn from it, and continually improve the way we serve the leaders in our communities who are driving change? How can we best work collaboratively to catalyse and support longer-term social change in Aotearoa?

These are questions Todd Foundation staff and trustees continue to reflect on, alongside our community partners and other funders. To help with the answers, last year we began formally capturing what we are learning as a foundation and using it to improve the way we work.

To guide our reflections and discussions, we’ve developed a learning framework, using insights from researchers at Newcastle University Business School and Collaborate in their 2019 report, Exploring the new world: Practical insights for funding, commissioning, and managing in complexity.

In this report, Toby Lowe and Dawn Plimmer identified three common features of funding and commissioning work that embraces the complexity of social change: Working in a way that is human, prioritises learning, and takes a systems approach.  

Each month, our Todd Foundation team asks: To what extent are we being human, using learning to improve, and looking after the health of systems? And what are we learning about how to do this well? We’ve also added another question specific to our foundation: Do we have adequate resource to do these things well?  And at each Foundation Board meeting, our trustees contribute their reflections.

Todd Foundation Learning Framework.

Being human

Over many years we’ve learned that; when our relationships are trusting and honest; when our processes are simple; and when we can provide multi-year, flexible funding, the groups that we fund can focus their energy on achieving their vision rather than filling out application forms, writing accountability reports, or competing with others for our funding.  We trust the groups we fund to know how best to use our funding and to adapt their activities as their needs change.  A key challenge for Todd Foundation staff has been having the capacity to dedicate enough time to build and maintain quality high-trust relationships. We are working on how to resolve this.


Peoples’ lives are complex and the issues that we’re concerned with, such as homelessness, food insecurity, health, and systemic racism are interconnected.  We cannot expect individual programmes or interventions to be the ‘silver bullets’ that will fix these issues. Delivering better outcomes for people takes whole networks of people and organisations.

As a result, we have taken the pressure off individual organisations to prove their impact. Rather, we believe that creating cultures which encourage reflection and learning will drive adaption and result in better outcomes.

To reflect on our own funding practice, we hold regular learning sessions with colleagues at Inspiring Communities and upskill ourselves alongside other funders such as J R McKenzie’s Peter McKenzie Project and the Vodafone New Zealand Foundation.  We also learn about how to contribute more effectively to social change while participating in communities of practice and the networks we support, such as The Driving Change Network.  Having open and honest conversations about our challenges and what we are learning, helps us to do better together. 

In 2020, starting in lockdown, we invited our community partners to join us for fortnightly Zoom hui to share what we were learning and noticing about food insecurity and how that was playing out during the Covid-19 pandemic. We learned the critical role that relationships played in getting food to where it was needed, tailored specifically to different family needs and circumstances. The group shared a common desire to move beyond a crisis response, ensuring that we paid attention to supporting whānau to access healthy, nutritious food in the long-term: To have access to land, to have enough income, to grow their own food and enterprises, and to build resilient local food systems.  We continue to learn and work together.

We have identified the need to share what we and our community partners are learning more widely and more often, to shine a light on what is working and to be upfront about the challenges involved in transforming our systems and communities for the better.  


At the Todd Foundation, we’ve been reflecting on our role in supporting longer-term social change.  Where we’ve landed is that our role is to work alongside others to set the conditions for healthier social systems so that they produce better outcomes for tamariki, rangatahi, whānau and communities. Systems we’re currently trying to influence include housing; digital equity; youth employment; food security; diversity, racism and inclusion.  Rather than fund individual programmes, the foundation invests in networks that bring change-makers together, support the capacity and skills of people who work in these systems, and invest in Māori and community-led solutions for change. We aim to be effective influencers, convenors and advocates. 

We’ve found that investing in relationships within social systems helps build momentum and sustains our collective work over time.  We have also found that it’s critical to keep learning about the complexities of each system, and to use this information to make better collaborative decisions.

In 2020, we found that taking a human, learning and systems approach was invaluable, not just in responding flexibly to the immediate challenges of a global pandemic, but also as we invest in longer term change through our Fairer Futures systems change project and other collaborative work.

We’d like to thank all our community partners and philanthropy colleagues for the learning journey we are taking together.

Ngā mihi ki a koutou.

Funding for Change in Ōtepoti

To be able to do their mahi, the community sector relies on funding. During the first lockdown, Mātāwai Consultancy and Dunedin Community Builders surveyed the Ōtepoti Community sector to find out more about challenges and strengths related to their funding.
This report is hoping to contribute to meaningful conversations about funding for the community sector regionally and nationally.

Improving intergenerational outcomes

When social and economic development meet.

Local wisdom and leadership are fundamental to achieving sustainable development regionally and nationally. But how do we achieve this in reality? 

Barbara MacLennan, a founding member of the Inspiring Communities team, has been actively involved in Eastern Bay of Plenty locally-led social and economic development initiatives for well over a decade.  

“It’s been clear for a long time that these must be closely linked, and that transformational and sustainable development depends upon leadership from Iwi and all sectors in our communities. Covid-19 has starkly illustrated the capability and strength of local communities where we live, work, play, and care for our most vulnerable.  There’s an urgent requirement for central government agencies to shift from the conventional settings, and radically rework the “reins” in ways that empower, resource and enable local and regional leadership and innovation. This shift, to work more “in service” to communities, will increase the chances that Aotearoa’s recovery can progress to transformational and sustainable

We need to use frameworks that are developmental, minimise silos, enable collaboration and improve productivity change.

Shaping the Future

The Covid-19 Crisis has again sparked discussion about doing things differently so that our communities and country are more resilient. Harvesting and sharing community-led knowledge is a core function of Inspiring Communities. During May and June, we are talking to a selection of CLD and sector leaders with an interest in CLD.

Community-led development (CLD) strengthens communities by activating and weaving the wisdom and contribution of everyone connected to a place/whenua.

From this, we will frame a Community-Led Insights Report with key recommendations, and practical suggestions for how our local, regional and national systems can more effectively support and enable community wellbeing.

As a heads up, here are our key planks that should be prioritised to nudge the layers – shifting the system towards transformation. Of course, community-led change is not a quick fix, it’s a long-term game!

The change required to enable CLD in post-Covid Aotearoa

People first. Value and invest in effective relationships. It is people, connections and trust that make things happen.

  • Invest. Fund locally-led action. Support processes and capability building that grows local capacity.
  • Decentralise. Provide flexible funding and decision-making processes at regional and local government levels where iwi and communities are at the table not just being consulted.
  • Embed and evaluate. Include the 4 wellbeings (social, economic, environmental and cultural) in all recovery-focused initiatives. Report their outcomes. What we focus on grows.
  • Build Social Capital. Understand the power and potential of relationships, leadership and action at an individual, neighbourhood, and rural scale.
  • Be courageous. Mandate innovation and learning. Complex challenges require creative responses to see what works. Be responsive to change, test and adapt.
  • Collaborate. Partner with others, maximise resource and reduce risk.

Three initiatives Inspiring Communities put forward for government consideration

  • A Community Resilience Fund to invest in locally-led community resilience planning and action. The fund leverages contributions from local government, other philanthropic funders, iwi, local businesses and local communities. Explore relationships with existing Provincial Growth Partnership and other Government investments.
  • Decentralised Innovation Seed Funding to catalyse community enterprise and resilience activities. Enable regional managers of relevant government agencies (DIA, MPI, MSD, MoE, OT) to make immediate small investment calls (up to $5k) to support promising, early-stage, local initiatives focused on building social capital, community enterprise, and resilience activities.
  • A cross-agency CLD training and support programme. Provide officials across central and local government agencies with the know-how to support community-led action.

These initiatives integrate community wellbeing and facilitate Government to work more effectively with communities. The principles of Te Whakawhanake ā-Hapori ki Aotearoa, Community-led Development in Aotearoa help navigate how this can be achieved.

Creating Magic – Margaret Jefferies

On January 13th, 2020, Margaret Jefferies died and NZ lost one of its community-led development legends. Margaret played a key role as Chair of Project Lyttleton and in introducing Timebanks to NZ and other ‘local living economies’ like Savings Pools. She was passionate about engaging everyone’s strengths and diverse voices. She used approaches like Open Space and Appreciative Inquiry to facilitate community conversations around shared community vision and fun, collective action.

“We need to stand taller. We need to ask bigger. We need to be bolder.” – Margaret Jefferies

Late last year, Inspiring Communities worked with Margaret, Leadership in Communities (LinC) in Christchurch and some of Margarets’ Project Lyttleton friends to make a film with Margaret about her wisdom, journey, and legacy. We are grateful for all those who made this possible and all the insights Margaret has shared with us about her way of leading in communities. She encourages us to step into our own magnificence and power, to be bolder, to observe and ‘fan’ where the energy is, and to embrace life’s fun, chaos and adventures. But mostly she encourages us to put love at the centre of our mahi. Such timely wisdom for our current situation!

“I’m on the mission to reclaiming the word love.” – Margaret Jefferies

Thank you, Margaret, for inspiring community-led development locally, nationally, and internationally. Your legacy is an extraordinary gift to our work – past, present, and future.

1944 – 2020

Evolving our Systems

What role does community innovation play?

“Programmatic interventions help people beat the odds. Systemic interventions can help change their odds.”

US-based Forum for Youth Investment CEO, Karen Pittman.

Despite how appealing the old normal appears to many now, we know that it wasn’t sustainable, and this crisis created the conditions for evolving our systems.


We need to think about what we value and what we want to keep.

While we affirm what we want to keep – we have to opportunity to decide what we can let go.

The COVID-19 catchphrase “we’re all in this together” is one we need to strongly adopt as we collectively work through the big decisions we need to make.

This notion directly aligns with community-led development (CLD). A ‘shared vision’ is one of CLD’s core principles, and we’ve always viewed CLD as an essential asset that must be activated to ensure Aotearoa is a thriving, inclusive and resilient place.

We need to focus our attention on HOW we do things and WHO matters.

An outstanding element of New Zealand’s affective response to COVID 19 has been the community’s response. The cumulation of leadership exercised at all levels, from our Prime Minister, government officials, academics, business leaders, and scientists – to people in streets and within their household bubbles.

We are seeing and experiencing hundreds of instances across the country where people have mobilised and driven the support required in their place, shaped by the guidelines provided by such leadership. The local community has become a critical setting.

But is the value of this critical community-led approach fully understood?

Let’s take the example of Meremere locals, who quickly came to terms with the consequences of level 4 lockdown in their town, providing essential provisions – food and sanitation parcels – while also looking ahead to what’s next.

Meremere is self-organising, using opportunities and their connections between one another and into Government, philanthropy and other support organisations to both respond and plan ahead.

This is often the case – local knowledge and wisdom about what’s needed and what works ‘at ground zero’ leads in crisis response. However, the risk is that at some point ‘the outside system’ may take over and that valuable local leadership, foresight and capacity are lost.

Our once in a generation opportunity.

The COVID-19 crisis has forced us all to be courageous and innovative. To take risks and share more power with local communities. This can be harnessed to make the necessary fundamental changes to the political, economic, social, cultural and environmental systems for the health of our planet. Entrenched systems which for so long have hampered our best efforts to tackle big issues like child poverty, climate change, youth unemployment and family violence – they need to adapt!

Localism, participatory democracy, authentic cross-sector engagement and collaboration, citizen empowerment, and strengths-based ways of working are just some of the approaches that need to become front and centre.

Long-term regional restoration will require more than a focus on a limited view of the economy and big investments in ‘shovel ready’ physical infrastructure projects. Retaining and further embedding a holistic wellbeing lens into policy, planning, and investment is essential!

This eco or adaptive cycle is a very useful framing for thinking about these opportunities ahead of us.

While central government clearly has a significant influence on resources, policy and regulation, the choices, actions, and decisions we make as individuals, families, businesses, iwi, councils, churches and communities also determine the outcomes that will follow.

Inspiring Communities has our part to play. We want to ensure that locally-led insights, evidence and intelligence around what works – and what Aotearoa should do differently – is gathered and amplified at this critical time of transition.

We are all part of the ‘system’

Thoughts and perspectives from Inspiring Communities’ Strategic Lead, Rachel Roberts and National Coordinator, David Hanna.

Kindness and Manaakitanga – Donna Provoost

Pulling together to strengthen our communities and improve child wellbeing.

Wellbeing research has documented the importance of family and key trusted adults in children’s lives to support building their sense of belonging and identity.

We want children and young people to be accepted, respected and connected.

This is a vital part of their sense of identity and belonging that builds strong protective factors, helping children deal more effectively with stressful events and supporting their wellbeing. In fact, it is one of the six outcome areas of the New Zealand Child and Youth Wellbeing Strategy.

Researchers have spent a lot of effort looking at why children don’t develop a sense of identity and belonging. One aspect is the community and social environment that children experience every day. Micro-aggressions are brief andcommon, daily verbal, behavioural and environmental communications that transmit hostile, derogatory or negative messages to exclude and marginalise others.

This phenomenon has been widely studied in its contribution to racism and socialexclusion, where many small hostile acts build a sense of exclusion and hate. Could a different community and social environment, one where many small acts of kindness, respect and care are directed at children and young people, build their sense of belonging, inclusion and love?

Wellbeing research has documented the importance of family and key trusted adults in children’s lives to support building their sense of belonging and identity. The limited research on the broader environment suggests that casual interactions with others in their communities does send powerful messages to children.

Community development research also points in this direction. The Inspiring Communities ‘quadrants of change’ tool suggests four dimensions of change to consider — personal, relational, structural and cultural. The personal attitudes, behaviours and actions of individuals are important on their own, and can also influence the ties, connections and trust in the community (relational) and the culture of the community.

The research and evidence from these different disciplines all points us toward small acts of kindness, respect and care for others — brief and common daily verbal, behavioural and environmental communications that transmit kindness, inclusive and positive messages to others.

Kindness, respect and care for others is central to the Maori concept of manaakitanga. This also aligns with English concepts of benevolence, and is part of what is needed for children and young people to feel accepted, respected and connected in the New Zealand Child and Youth Wellbeing Strategy.

Kindness, respect and acceptance from many people can send re-enforcing positive messages in our communities. When these positive messages are targeted at children and young people, this will help demonstrate our value in children as taonga (treasures with inherent value), and support them to feel manaakitanga (kindness, respect and care) for others.

Community kindness is an action we can all take to build this sense of belonging and more inclusive communities. This moves beyond ‘random acts of kindness’ — non premeditated, inconsistent actions designed to offer kindness towards others. Community kindness is premeditated, consistent and targeted to those who are most likely to have weak sense of belonging — including children and young people.

Reflecting on our current verbal, behavioural and environmental communicationswith children and young people will be a start. From there, we can set community-wide goals to transmit kindness, inclusive and positive messages to children each day.

We want children and young people to have a strong sense of belonging and connection — these are important protective factors that supports their wellbeing. And the power is in each of us, through our causal interactions with children and young people everyday, to demonstrate our care and acceptance, and welcome them in our community and society.

Community kindness is a solution to improving child wellbeing that we all can participate in, every day.

Donna Provoost is Director of Strategy, Rights & Advice with the NZ Children’s Commissioner, and Chair of Inspiring Communities. Donna is currently in the USA on a Harkness Fellowship, investigating ways to improve child wellbeing by promoting their sense of belonging and identity.

I’ve been thinking…

A blog from Inspiring Communities’ Megan Courtney – August 2019

Last year I was invited to join a small group of courageous leaders to convene a community conversation that asked – “what went wrong and what did we learn, so that other communities might benefit from our experience.” I use the word courageous deliberately because this is a brave thing to do.

In my decade of supporting CLD nationally, this was the first time I’d heard of or been part of a such an intentional learning process. Promoting and sharing what’s working is easy. Trying to respectfully mine and harvest from multiple truths, perspectives and deep hurt isn’t.

Not everyone invited came but those who did had the chance to share their observations on the great and the not so, as well as reflect on what Taita’s experience might mean for CLD more broadly. One of the outcomes from the day was Great Start – Reflections and Learnings from a Final Kitchen Conversation. The longer paper is well worth a read. While it provides no simple reasons or answers, helping craft it really got me thinking.

One thing that stood out from reflecting on Great Start’s Journey was how outdated our model of community governance really is – especially when it’s applied narrowly to CLD. We typically see effective community governance as the small group of people mandated to meet monthly and give approval for what’s happening in an organisation or community project. They’re there to give legitimacy and keep things safe. Handing the Great Start initiative ‘back’ to the community (local residents) to manage and govern was seen as the right thing to do – but was it?

If CLD is all about maximising community participation, reaching out to voices not normally heard, recognising everyone as a potential leader, enabling local expression of Te Tiriti principles, valuing distributed leadership, encouraging new collaborations, changing power dynamics and bravely innovating in real time, why do we still see that a small group of elected (or appointed) local resident leaders as the right form of governance for CLD? I don’t think it is. It’s time to generate and trial some new approaches and we don’t have to start from scratch. We can lean on learning and experience from:

If you’ve been thinking about this I’d love to hear from you too!

Megan Courtney is a founding member of the core team and a co-director of Inspiring Communities.

Reflections and Learning from Great Start Taita: A Final Kitchen Table Conversation

While often raising more questions than answers, the report highlights some useful flags and reality checks for everyone working in CLD.

The report was curated by Great Start Champions Karen Clifford, Jenny Blagdon, Thalia Wright and Megan Courtney, with the support of Inspiring Communities.

Click here if you want a short overview of the Great Start report.

Click here to see the full report.

Our Top Ten Tips

Here are our Top tips for getting started in community-led development.