Putting relationships first: A new funding approach to support community aspirations

What if funders took the time to connect with communities and find out their needs and aspirations before deciding which initiatives to support?

The Todd Foundation and other funders have been trialling a new “relationships before resources approach” with communities from Ngāti Porou and Te Whānau-ā-Āpanui near East Cape. Based on Tikanga Māori principles, it involved marae-based visits to learn about each other and find alignment, before mutually agreeing initiatives to work on.

Project Hoake, an initiative to support whānau-led businesses on East Cape, is the first project supported, with collaborative funding provided over three years by the Todd Foundation, the J R McKenzie Trust, Te Muka Rau, The Tindall Foundation and Trust Tairāwhiti. Led by Te Aroha Kanarahi Trust, with a vision of “grassroots to global” and using a “locals supporting locals” approach, Project Hoake has already helped 10 new businesses to get started in this remote, high-unemployment region.  The services they provide include delivering healthy meals to homes and schools, whakairo (carving), video editing, apparel production and silver-smithing. 

Together, community leaders and the five funders have developed a funding model based on reciprocity, high-trust relationships, mutual accountability and shared learning.

“Because we took the time to develop relationships and trust, we were able to have free and frank discussions – and to do things differently,” says Project Hoake Director Ani Pahuru-Huriwai.

For example, legalistic funding agreements were replaced with a collaborative “relationship agreement,” which covers the mutual commitments made between funders and Project Hoake.

“We’re grateful to have the space to just get on with the mahi – and it’s really exciting seeing the confidence and independence this mahi is delivering for our whānau” says Ani.