Whānau Ora is our vehicle for making real and positive change to families and individuals who often have nothing apart from dreams.

When the great Dr Martin Luther King made his famous "I have a dream" speech in 1963, to 250,000 civil rights supporters from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington DC, it galvanised a nation. Those words were immortalised and continue to inspire and motivate us all to this day.

The power of declaring "the dream" moved hopelessness from the darkness of the mind into the light of reality. Words are powerful – perhaps the most powerful vehicle for change in all humanity.

This is why I firmly believe Whānau Ora is our vehicle for making real and positive change to families and individuals who often have nothing apart from dreams.

Whānau Ora – which means family wellbeing - has been a Government policy since 2009 and came about as a coalition agreement between National and its coalition partners – the Maori Party, Act and United Future. It is pleasing to note the present government will announce a wellbeing-based budget this year. It is hoped that the learnings from Whānau Ora will be applied and not destroyed in the name of typical government silo delivery.

For 50 years we have increased funding into crown agencies to ultimately fix failing families and failing communities. We have grown huge bureaucracies that live off the failings rather than fixing the difficulty. So when individuals and families fail, no one looks at the significant investment in multiple government agencies because it far easier to blame the failing family, or community.

We must measure the short, medium and long term quality of services in health, welfare, education, justice, and housing. Only then can performance be attributed.

Initially administered by Te Puni Kokiri (Ministry of Maori Development), it's fair to state that after five years of this type of the initial government delivery model, Whānau Ora did not have a clear focus, clear measures or even a clear definition.

But in 2014 a new model of delivering services was called for and the National Urban Maori Authority (NUMA) utilised the Waipareira back-office support and ultimately won the contract to deliver Whānau Ora services into the North Island.

Te Pou Matakana – the Whānau Ora Commissioning Agency for the North Island – was born and for the past five years has been changing the lives of thousands of families and individuals.


The change to commissioning measured outcomes defined by each of the Whānau Ora Lead Providers across the North Island. Those outcomes were defined by families – not the suits in offices.

Whānau Ora commissioning is a simple concept because it is not tightly regulative and doesn't require legions of bureaucrats to administer.

But any new policy requires monitoring through research, evaluation and reportage that either confirms the practice is a good bang for the taxpayer buck and is achieving an outcome, or that the resources must be redeployed.

Whānau Ora money for commissioning is the most audited of any government funding. But for that type of approach to fix families – and not continue to fund failure -money in health, welfare, education and justice should be deployed in a cooperative way.

The current system is not community-controlled and as a consequence too many people are paid handsomely to cover the cracks.

Regardless of your race, colour or creed, we cannot have individuals or families being managed by police, courts, corrections, CYFs, WINZ, school counsellors and others because these agencies have not collaborated successfully.

Whānau Ora requires accountability from all agencies.

The present way of managing vulnerable individuals and families is and Whānau Ora promises to ensure multiple investments centred on lifting the performance that most middle-class families take for granted.

But Whānau Ora cannot work unless mainstream agencies become more accountable, more transparent and perform.

Whānau Ora is about restoring confidence, mana and belief in self, family and community - to be self-sustaining and self-reliant. Most importantly, whānau are viewed as assets to be developed and not problems to be fixed and managed

Families must be at the centre of the process. They are the decision-makers who identify what they need to build on their abilities and achieve their aspirations. Whānau Ora works with the collective strength and ability of whānau to enact positive change in areas like health, education, housing, employment and cultural identity.

Delivering Whānau Ora through non-government organisations using Whānau Ora partners means decision-making happens free from the overly risk-averse and micro-management of government. Because partners are based in the communities they serve, they can meet the needs of their communities directly. The ability to leverage off local knowledge and adapt to local issues means innovative and adaptive ideas and solutions can grow.

The whānau-centred (not service-centred) design of Whānau Ora allows for integrated care and support when multiple and complex obstacles stand in the way of whānau developing further. Because solutions are co-designed by families, sustained change is more likely as they have a self-identified stake in success.

The powerful call by Martin Luther King to value children - not on the colour of their skin - but on the exhibition of their character, still rings true. All Kiwi kids have a right to a fair go, whether they live in a decile 10 or a decile 1 suburb. They are all our kids. They all count and we cannot surrender ourselves to the present failing status quo.

We all have a dream, and for many of us, it includes a world where children do not suffer, where people are treated with fairness and dignity, and where everyone has a real chance to improve their lives. With this, I see Whānau Ora as a catalyst for change and a vehicle that moves us all that bit closer to realising the dream.

26 February 2019

John Tamihere

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