“Probably the one thing that springs first to mind was how well the organisation responded to the Christchurch earthquakes and how quickly it was able to get back into a position where it was helping people. The response of WesleyCare staff was amazing; people whose own homes were in terrible conditions came in, whether they were on duty or not, to help look after residents during that time. Other staff worked out of their cars while the Mission was without a base,” he says.
“Flexibility has been the hallmark of the Mission, rather than being driven by “this is what we are funded to do” or a narrow view of what a professional service is. We take a broad view and focus on the person.”
After four years as board chair, Garth has stepped down but will stay on as a board member. He is unassuming about his contribution to CMM, pointing instead to the impact of staff and management on the organisation.
He highlights the benefit of “remarkable” executive directors in his time with CMM and was impressed that the CMM board was happy to stick its neck out and invest in housing by using its reserves after the earthquake. “They said, “If reserves are for a rainy day and it’s not raining now then we don’t know when it will.” While prudent, the board is also overwhelmingly happy to take calculated risks when needed. That certainly is something that sticks in my mind.”
Garth admires the ability of CMM to respond to whatever is needed and to marry compassion with social justice; not to lose sight of individual needs but to place them within the systemic changes that are required for a fairer society. CMM is here for the long haul. “We’ve been around for 80 years and have changed quite a bit in terms of what is most helpful to people. The funding might come and go and things go in and out of fashion but the mission’s commitment to stand alongside people will outlast those. That’s what impresses me.”
Garth has devoted his working life to non-profits. One change he would like to see would be the “wholehearted” implementation of the recommendations of the government’s Welfare Expert Advisory Group, which called for a substantial overhaul of our welfare systems. This includes reinstating cuts in benefits in place since Ruth Richardson‘s 1991 ‘mother of all budgets’.
New Zealand also needs a change of attitude toward beneficiaries. “Restoring dignity to our social security is just as important as financial support. People deserve dignity and respect.” It is an indictment on society that Work and Income has had to employ security guards. “Any agency that has to trespass its own clients and put in place enforcement procedures so staff are not harmed is a symptom of an enormous failure in its culture.”
He would like to see safe, warm and affordable housing for all, saying it needs to be the right of every citizen and that New Zealand demonstrates its greatness as a nation by including everyone.
CMM Executive Director Jill Hawkey says Garth has a deep commitment to social justice and a strong understanding of Methodism. “He has an incredible ability to analyse social policy and the wider environment in which the Mission works, thus enabling the Mission to respond to the most important social issues. Under his leadership, he has encouraged the Mission to be radical and brave in our work for social transformation.”
Garth Nowland-Foreman is stepping down as CMM chair but retaining a seat on the board.