Claire: “Where we stand in the world right now, there’s a huge opportunity for change and it could go in either direction.
For Leadership Network member Claire Achmad, it feels like the world is at a tipping point.
Especially with everything that’s gone on in the past year.
She reels off the headlines: Covid 19, racial injustice coming to a head in spots across the globe, some of the worst bushfires in Australia ever, and the persistent crises of family poverty and poor mental health in Aotearoa.
Which way it goes, depends on the values of those charged with decision-making, she says.
“Where we stand in the world right now, there’s a huge opportunity for change and it could go in either direction.
“We have to, as leaders, commit to pushing things in a positive direction.”
Claire is two weeks’ deep into a new full-time role as chief executive of Social Service Providers Aotearoa (SSPA).
She’s heading a small, passionate team of staff working to support non-government organisations working with some of the country’s most vulnerable people, at a time when plenty of Kiwis are doing it tough.
Its mahi focuses on the practical: Claire’s team advocates for the sector to be fairly and sustainably funded, and helps ensure the kaimahi (staff) of its member organisations are skilled and upskilled to be effective in their roles.
Then there’s big-picture stuff: championing the kaupapa SSPA’s member organisations are working on - advocating for systems-level change around hefty challenges like family poverty, for example.
For Claire, it’s a shift from a much bigger organisation. For the past four years she’s worked at a national children’s charity – Barnardos –where she led its advocacy for the rights and needs of children and tamariki in Aotearoa.
She says at her new gig, it’s a privilege (and a novelty) as a leader to call a meeting and have the entire organisation in one room.
Claire at Borobudur temple in Indonesia
Claire grew up in West Auckland, a pupil of Avondale College, where she was head prefect in her final year.
“I think we had over 100 nationalities represented among our student body. Multiculturalism was always a part of my life.”
Claire’s dad is from Central Java in Indonesia, her mum, a Kiwi.
In 2016, Claire travelled to Indonesia with the Asia New Zealand Foundation – part of its 15+15 Dialogue pairing 15 New Zealand-based young leaders with 15 of their Indonesian counterparts.
“That was just an incredible experience.
“I was suddenly amongst this group of other New Zealand leaders and going together with them to visit and engage with the place I am also from, given my mixed heritage.
“The week of dialogue we had was incredibly rich and meaningful, traversing all sorts of topics, from community development to human rights to economics to politics to technological innovation, and we got to see the many faces of Indonesian society.”
Her dad’s family still lives in Indonesia, and it wasn’t her first visit, but to go in her own right, with this rōpū (group), and to make new connections of her own was life-changing.
“It really helped to continue to strengthen my own sense of identity as someone who is proud to be a New Zealander, but who has Asian heritage. To own that and treasure that as something to be proud of. And that it brings something different to the table sometimes.”
In 2018, in the lead-up to national elections in Indonesia, Claire, now a member of the Leadership Network, worked with the Foundation on a series of videos shared on social media to give Kiwi audiences something of a 101 on Indonesia.
“Indonesia isn’t a country that New Zealanders know a lot about. Sometime Kiwis can think that Bali is the only part of Indonesia or they might not even know that Bali is part of Indonesia.”
She relished the chance to help “demystify” the country for Kiwis.
“It is one of our biggest Asian neighbours and will continue to become more and more important geopolitically in our region.”
Claire says New Zealanders tend to have a one dimensional view of Indonesia
Last year, Claire represented the Leadership Network at the Foundation’s first meeting with the new Minister of Foreign Affairs Nanaia Mahuta.
“It was great to see that Minister Mahuta was genuinely interested in what we have achieved as a network. I enjoyed being able to kōrero with her about the strengths we have among our young leaders in the network and the opportunities that opens up for New Zealand and our relationship with Asia and where that could go in the future. I could see that she was really excited by that space."
Another conversation topic: the mahi both the Foundation and the Leadership Network has done to engage much more deeply in te ao Māori.
For Claire, it’s a no-brainer.
“I really do believe that before we can go and engage in Asia as leaders from New Zealand, we must first know and understand the indigenous world of our own country here in New Zealand, in Aotearoa.”
At high school, Claire started learning te reo Māori. As a member of the Leadership Network she attended the Te Ao Māori Hui, which included noho marae (staying at a marae) at Waitangi.
“I’m certainly still, and will always be, myself on a journey when it comes to te ao Māori. I will always have much more to learn.
“I think sometimes you have to be brave to show up and step into those spaces in a way that is respectful, that is looking to continually learn, and that is also looking to make a contribution.”
Leaders have a social responsibility, she says.
“Through our actions and through our words and the way that we interact with other we can really model the change that we need to see in this country.”
Working day in and out in a sector grappling with situations that can feel utterly hopeless, Claire remains hopeful.
“It gives me great hope to see the next generation of rangatahi and young people coming through who seem to have a very strong sense of social justice, a strong sense of what is right for Papatūānuku, for our natural world, our earth, when it comes to things like climate justice, and also a sense of commitment to Te Tiriti o Waitangi.
“I think for me, as a leader, those are also some of the things I try to model in my leadership, which I aim to ensure is courageous, kind and purposeful. Aroha atu, aroha mai – I believe living by this approach is how we will achieve the change in the world that we need to see in our lifetime.”