For VSA CEO Steve Goodman, the urgency and effect of the pandemic on the organisation’s operations has been profound but has also offered some opportunities. “One of the things about Covid is it brought into sharp and immediate focus the need for changes to the way we do things. Changes that were, in retrospect, inevitable.
“The changes in the way the world connects, demographic change, climate change - all of these issues were, over the next five to ten years, going to force us to reassess how we do things and what good outcomes look like.”
In its 59 year history VSA has evolved to meet the changing needs of its partners, and this change has long been part of the organisation’s internal conversations. VSA Chair Hōne McGregor says the pandemic has been an opportunity to look at VSA’s work through a new lens. “We’ve had ongoing discussions with our partners, with our volunteers, with our key stakeholders. There’s no silver bullet but we have this mosaic of modalities and approaches that reflect a new best practice that we were already reaching toward before the pandemic.”
One of the questions in that conversation has been “what does a good development outcome look like?”. “Localisation is the big shift,” says Steve, “it’s a global shift, and I think it’s part of the maturing of the development sector. It’s the understanding that enduring capacity building and enduring change has to be driven locally.
And VSA’s work doesn’t just have to be joined up at a local level. There’s also a recognition that there has to be greater coherence within the sector in New Zealand. Hōne describes this in terms of a platform, “We’ve looked internationally as part of our review process and we’ve picked up a gap in New Zealand’s strategy around aid and development - we need a national volunteering strategy that we can launch from.”
Steve says a key component of establishing that joined up strategy is the work VSA does with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade (MFAT). “With our partnership with MFAT there’s a lot we can do in that space to build something that’s quite succinct but operates as a framework for what we do.”
“It’s been a tough year and we’ve had to make some tough decisions like the decision to, for the first time in our history, bring all of our volunteers back home. And I think what we’ve learned is that the work that we do is needed and has a place, but it needs to work differently so we’ve been reconfiguring ourselves to meet the challenges of this new environment.
“This is something that a lot of organisations in this space are realising now. That to work in a dynamic space, you have to be able to work dynamically within your organisation. I’m really proud of how VSA and our people have adapted to this, and I’m looking forward to our future and the change it will bring.”