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September 12, 2019

Wānanga observations

Observations from Robin Hapi, Chair of BERL Wānanga 2019.

I had the privilege of chairing the BERL Wānanga, centred on the word ‘value’.  The aim of the Wānanga was to question and challenge the way we view value, especially the way the market mechanisms have entrenched a status quo set of values.  

I understand that for status quo economists, ‘value’ is relatively straight-forward – it is what is paid in the market-place.  But is this market-determined perspective of value selling us short? For example, we know that the value of carers and others in low-paid jobs is not really captured, similarly the value of volunteers, as there is no marketplace for these.  Also, what about the values of manaakitanga and kaitiakitanga – there is no market-place for them. So how do we value all of these properly in our decision-making?

We had the honour of listening to three highly thoughtful, innovative and diverse views from our three panellists.  The Honourable Julie Anne Genter, Minister for Women; Traci Houpapa, Chair, Federation of Māori Authorities; and Murray Edridge, City Missioner, Wellington City Mission.

A brief glimpse into our Wānanga 2019

The Honourable Julie Anne Genter agreed that we should raise the question about what is value for money.  She stressed that it is important to insert this discussion into the political debate, to show that it is worthwhile to spend on projects that not only contribute to value for money but actually to other important outcomes such as the environment and society.  The Minister stated that it is a race to the bottom if we focus only on value for money, and that local and central government need to spend more on infrastructure and services.  Not just capital investment, but invest in services and education, as these do actually create jobs. She stated that we need to involve more people in the decision-making process, as making decisions as a community will truly reflect what we value.

Traci Houpapa, Chair, Federation of Māori Authorities eloquently described the importance of honouring where we come from, and respecting the land and the wisdom of our tīpuna in this case her kuia.  She reiterated that it is the right time for our country for we as a people to define what values are.  This includes incorporating Māori culture and values to assess and address some of the pressing issues we face as a country.

Murray Edridge, City Missioner of Wellington City Mission, stressed that especially in the not-for-profit sector you always try to do the best with what you have so there is always this tension.  Therefore, the gap in social services spending will also need an economic argument, as investing in the community does make economic sense. We need to ask the question, what is the right thing to do?  Making this shift will take time as we are facing various intergenerational challenges. Murray noted that each of us must take individual responsibility for our actions.

For me, the Wānanga challenged the limitations of the status quo as it has not delivered for many

The audience agreed with these statements.  Jo Miller, CEO of Hutt City Council, said that it should be “values equals value” and not “value equals cost”, supporting the introduction of the wellbeing framework as a good start.  She specified that we should use the purchasing power of individuals and our organisations to change this focus from value for money and include values as part of our decision-making.

Dr Ganesh Nana wrapped up by reiterating that the problem we have is that the value determined by the market is skewed by those who have the ability to engage in the market. Therefore, we have to be mindful that what comes out of the market does not reflect the entire market, and it is our responsibility to communicate that values are skewed by those who are engaged.

For me, the Wānanga challenged the limitations of the status quo, and as echoed by our panellists, it has not delivered for many.  We need to step outside our comfort zone to develop a new status quo that captures the real value of everyone in our society.