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Brian Donnelly

New Zealand Housing Foundation

The New Zealand Housing Foundation (NZHF) seeks to relieve poverty and build communities by providing affordable housing for low-income households in New Zealand. Through a range of innovative co-ownership options, NZHF helps Kiwis achieve their aspiration of living independently, affordably and sustainably in a stable home environment within their community.

1. Why do you do what you do?

I have a fundamental belief that good quality and affordable housing makes a huge difference to people’s lives and families — their wellbeing, health and stability. It basically gives them a place they can call ‘home’ and a sense of belonging in their community.

2. What drives you to work for the good of the community/environment?

I believe the best way for me to make a difference is by initiating and demonstrating, in a real way, what can be done on the ground to assist families, and on a larger scale to have an impact on creating good neighbourhoods and communities.

So often I have seen poor corporate and political decisions that have lasting, detrimental impacts on people. Over the years I have found the best way to shift and influence direction is by actively working up and down the ‘food chain’— testing, piloting, innovating and informing key decision makers.

3. Have you always been interested in making a difference?

I worked in public service roles during the early stages of my career and experienced the bureaucracy and constraints on achieving the best housing outcomes for people. Then I experienced the private sector where the drivers were solely for commercial gain, irrespective of the impacts.

I couldn’t easily see who was holding the mantra in the housing sector to provide good social-versus-commercial balanced outcomes. Housing is hugely capital intensive and needs to operate in a business-like manner, yet it has a significant impact on people’s lives and broader social issues. The social and affordable housing system in New Zealand was broken. There were significant gaps and something needed to be done.

4. Did you come from a family where giving to the community/environment was important or encouraged?

No, but from a family with a strong set of values that balanced social justice with commercial reality.

5. What does giving mean to you and why is it important?

We have adopted the philosophy of ‘a hand up not hand out’. We assist people that fall into the profile of being the ‘working poor’ or ‘can work, can’t buy’, and act like a passive mum and dad to help, guide and support them with their housing needs.

When they get stable housing tenure people’s behaviours usually change and they start contributing more to their community and society as a whole. Realising some of their aspirations provides them with greater confidence and a level of independence for themselves and their children.

When they get stable housing tenure people’s behaviours usually change and they start contributing more to their community and society as a whole. Realising some of their aspirations provides them with greater confidence and a level of independence for themselves and their children.

The potential flow-on effect to future generations of this family-by-family approach is enormous. It also has significant impacts downstream for the family itself, and on a national scale for the overall welfare liability for the country. Seeing the results of this is compelling and keeps getting you up in the mornings — early!

6. Who inspires you?

My kids, because they represent some of the best of the next generation and I see the issues and challenges they and their mates are facing. We need to leave a better place for them and their children than what is currently on offer.

7. Who have you learned from and what is one key thing they have taught you?

I have been fortunate to be guided in my working career by a couple of CEOs that I really respect and learned a lot from. Their common thread was to apply common sense and logic, to follow my instincts, be transparent and authentic, collaborate, and realise I can’t do it on my own. Most importantly, they taught me to stick my neck out if I truly believed in what I was doing. It has been good advice and a solid set of values to operate with.

8. What challenges have you faced along the way?

Although New Zealand is a relatively small country, our housing needs are very diverse and for sure ‘one size does not fit all’. It has been extremely difficult to get acceptance that the tools and solutions required to address housing needs are very different across the country. This has stymied the opportunity for innovation with different solutions in different market segments at the community level. There are a lot of naysayers and bureaucrats that struggle with diversity and an inability to let go. They are often driven by their own ends rather than those people that they ultimately serve.

9. And what keeps you going?

A passion that says housing outcomes in a well-resourced country like New Zealand should be leading edge and far better for low income, less fortunate people than what we collectively provide at present.

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