The inclusion solution

It was true of Southland’s pioneers and it’s no less true now.

Anybody brave enough to leave their own country and everything they knew back home, uproot their families or leave them behind, and come to Southland has something to add to our community.

Anna Stevens says so quietly, but emphatically.

Raised in rural Southland and now an associate with the law firm Cruickshank Pryde, she chairs the Southland Regional Development Strategy (SoRDS) inclusive communities team.

Its goal is to ensure newcomers are welcomed and accepted into the region, and quickly make the social connections that are so important for them to stay here happily.

Not just for their benefit. Southland’s static population, an increasingly shrinking proportion of New Zealand’s, needs to grow. The strategy’s goal is 10,000 during the next 10 years.

It can’t be achieved via the post-natal ward at Southland Hospital.

Whether the migrants come to enter the workforce directly, or to study, they bring with them not just cultural diversity but sorely needed contributions “to grow Southland’s population and to grow Southland’s economy,” she says.

At the same time, each stands ready to make their own contributions to the south’s social fabric, bringing diversity in food, sport, religion and general ways of living.

Nationwide, the cry still issues that migrants are taking our jobs.

“We have to get over that,” says Stevens. Southland’s unemployment rate is still comparatively low at 4.1 per cent for the most recent quarter.

The strategy’s emphasis on attracting more people into the region’s workforce, and marketplace, is in line with the emphatic message from employers struggling to attract the staff they need to grow their businesses.

What’s more, says SoRDS programme director Sarah Hannan, there are real benefits to having a culturally diverse workforce.

“Southland’s is an export-driven economy, so we’re exporting to pretty much global markets and it’s important, to grow in that space, to understand those markets.”

Whether is a product or a service you’re selling, it’s increasingly important to be able to market to different cultures.

Not that our need for migrants is exclusively focused on the sub-continent. Whether the new arrivals are , or western countries, or deepest Auckland, or even Southlanders returning to the fold, the essential feedback that Stevens’ team has been getting from focus groups is the same.

They want to be fully accepted into the community. To find and retain jobs. To have suitable housing. And it’s not all about them - they want their families to be happy.

“When we attract somebody to work, often their family comes with them and it’s important they have that connection too,” Stevens says.

“That’s where schooling can play a big part.”

So, too, does employer awareness. Their new staff member’s partner might be at home, dealing with isolating issues even more pronounced because they don’t have a connection with workmates. Those bosses who expect their employees’ families to fend for themselves might find that approach a recipe for unhappiness and instability.

The neighbourhoods migrant families arrive into might not be the cohesive units they once were. Farms are bigger, but rural populations more sparse.

Migrants living in comparative isolation in those communities may also have limited transport options of their own.

To help them there are rural commmunity workers, a settlement support programme run through the Citizens’ Advice Bureau and various agencies volunteer organisations.

But organisations seeking to be supportive do face challenges getting their helpful information to a not-so-mobile audience.

“It can be harder to share that message in a big rural community,” Stevens says.

The broad solution to all this is for agencies and communities to form, together, what’s nowadays being called “wrap-around” support. The devil’s in the detail, to some extent … and that’s another thing.

What’s this talk of the devil? Just a little idiom that a native Southlander would understand immediately, but might disconcert someone who still has something to learn about our hard-case language.

Hard-case? Would you know what that phrase meant if you’d only recently arrived?

It takes goodwill, patience, and arguably a sense of humour to get past potential problems.

Stevens: “It’s not entirely incumbent on the migrant employee to make all of the adjustments or changes. It’s part of the duty of the employer to recognise what they don’t know about the culture of their new employee.”

Someone might respond to instructions with a string of “yes, yes, yes …” assurances because that’s what they think they’re supposed to say. It’s a mere politeness on their part.

“They mightn’t understand what they’re being told to do, so go off and do something completely different.”

Rather than defaulting to anger, an employer needs to understand the root source of the problem and how to frame what he’s saying so he can be sure it’s clearly understood..

And let’s face it; migrants may have accents, but a lot of people out there do seem to think that Southlanders in particular, and New Zealanders in general, have them as well. So it can be a double-sided puzzlement.

We might smile at the famous examples of confusion, like the newcomer showing up at a function with an empty dish because they were asked “can you bring a plate?”

But nobody can pretend the problems that arise will only ever be the result of unintended neglect and mild misunderstanding.

Migrants might encounter the minority among us - the ones who might roar out abuse from passing cars, or be captured on a smart-phone delivering a xenophobic rant to a taxi driver.

Pockets fearful ignorance can exist anywhere, but that’s scant comfort to those who might at times have to endure it it.

What does matter, says Hannan, is that the overwhelming majority go the extra mile to help negate the occasional negative.

Stevens agrees. If the rest of the community is wrapped around, and supportive, of the migrant, a one-off incident can at least be put in the right context.

The Southland Regional Development strategy’s inclusive communities team is:

Anna Stevens, Cruickshank Pryde (Team Leader)

Brendon McDermott, Sport Southland

Robyn Kohler, Community Trust of Southland

Lynley Henderson, Southland Kindergarten Association

Jessie McKenzie, Dairy Farmer

Andrew Leys, Hospice Southland

Rebecca Amundsen, Invercargill City Council

Renata Davis, Ngai Tahu