By: Rochelle Stewart-Allen, New Zealand Senior Manager

As we draw to the close of January 2019, it seems the perfect time to look back over HOST International’s first year working in New Zealand.

First up, we began 2018 as a completely unknown brand in New Zealand. With HOST International’s work overseas, specifically in Australia and Nauru, the year began with launching new offices in both New Zealand and Malaysia.

It was a whizz bang start to our New Zealand programme, where we’ve achieved so much with, at times, very limited resources. It’s amazing what 1.2 people can accomplish with dedication, passion and some serious know-how. Of course, we were also helpfully supported by our colleagues from our partner HOST organisation in Australia.

HOST NZ’s first formal partnership - Multicultural NZ
HOST NZ’s first formal partnership – Multicultural NZ

Finding our ‘tribe’ – people who understood and shared our vision – was the first step. Along the way we formed very genuine and committed partnerships across the country.

Our overarching approach has been to bring innovation into the refugee resettlement space and start to resolve some of the gaps. Outside of the sector, the journey of someone resettling into the New Zealand landscape is virtually unknown. Despite the media focus on the refugee journey itself, little is known about what it takes to rebuild a life in New Zealand on arrival.

Some of our accomplishments have included issuing our first microfinance loan to an inspiring intrepreneur working hard to build his NZ business.

Celebrating World Refugee Day 2018 in Wellington
Celebrating World Refugee Day 2018 in Wellington

We celebrated World Refugee Day with our friends and colleagues in Wellington. We were a sponsor of the Diverse Thinking Report for New Zealand Boardrooms released by the Superdiversity Institute.

We welcomed British economist and writer, Philippe Legrain, to New Zealand in August. We provided Phillipe with a very full schedule of speaking events around the country. This included the Minister of Finance, Grant Robertson, hosting a Parliamentary Breakfast. Philippe’s public talks started to make in-roads into how mainstream media tells the resettlement story and opened doors with employers interested in learning more about this untapped talent pool.

British Economist, Philippe Legrain (centre) vsitied Wellington in 2018
British Economist, Philippe Legrain (centre) vsitied Wellington in 2018

As the year progressed, we worked hard to build a bridge between refugee background job seekers and employers looking to fill skill shortages. This ongoing work is about more than finding and filling jobs. Having employment that matches your skills and qualifications provides financial independence, self-esteem and social connection – all things that contribute to a fulfilling life.

Over the year we, and mostly me(!), had many, many conversations with people and a great deal of travel around the country. I have to say, by majority, I was impressed by people’s open ears and interest in opportunities to contribute. That’s not to say we didn’t have to pry open a few closed doors!

Celebrating the first year of Christchurch City Council’s Multicultural Strategy with Cnr Jimmy Chen
Celebrating the first year of Christchurch City Council’s Multicultural Strategy with Cnr Jimmy Chen

I spent a lot of time speaking with people from a refugee background – those who deliver front-line services and those who receive them. Their clear knowledge and understanding about what’s needed and what’s missing was, as always, enlightening. There is certainly much work to be done.

Someone asked me recently why I worked in this sector. I had to think for a moment but then I found a simple reply. I’ve been in relationship with, been friends with, and worked with many people from a refugee background over the past 25 years. I’ve watched the ‘lived’ resettlement experience from their perspective which has left me with an overarching belief that we can do better.

HOST celebrating a successful end to 2018
HOST celebrating a successful end to 2018

What I’ve learnt along the way is that we can’t do this on our own as either individuals or independent organisations. We need multiple players, multiple organisations and many individuals and communities all committed to bringing their expertise and hands-on assistance into this space. And most importantly, we all need an ability to both listen and hear from others about what needs to change.