community education leadership rural sociology

Remote engagement

Karsten Henriksen has held education leadership positions in several communities in rural and remote northern Canada, most recently Nunavat Arctic College and at Lambton College. There he has specialised in aligning programmes with the needs of communities. We talk about growing up in Vancouver, sociology, remote communities, storytelling, and indigenising curriculum and self-determination.

Was I really a person who deserved to be there?

Aligning programmes with the needs of communities

Complexity of challenges

Authentic relationships with rural and remote communities

Being authentic means focusing entirely on relationship – everything else will come from that.

Sustainable: We are stewards of the world in which we live. Our actions today will impact future generations – and we will be judged by that.

Activist: Facilitate improvements

Superpower: Lessons learned from others. Never ask someone to do something you are not prepared to do yourself. Being authentic.

Motivation: The challenge of the day – making life better for that one student. Creating an environment where people feel they belong.

Advice: Be kind to one another – think about global society and coming together collectively.

community education leadership youngleader

Passion for creating change

Ashleigh Smith is Co-founder and Board Chairperson of Sticks n Stones, New Zealand’s largest youth led bullying prevention organisation.   She is a Queen’s Young Leader and a student in both the Bachelor of Nursing and Bachelor of Leadership for Change.

Talking points:

If you are unhappy about something, do something about it!

I have such a passion for creating this change you know the things that are really important to you in your life you just have to make time for.

Last year I came to this awesome conclusion:  the most amazing feeling I’ve ever had in my life was standing actually just being kind to someone else

Sometimes we get so incredibly busy within our own lives that we miss all the opportunities to be kind to the people around us, and I actually think that realising and acting on that is the best way to change the world.

Sometimes in life you have to take a step back and look at the other persons perspective, and even though you think they may be wrong you have got ask yourself what value they can add to the situation, and just do you best to try and look through that.

If I could wave a magic wand I would make everyone more aware of how our choices as consumers can have an effect on the world.

Sometimes you have to realise that you are doing your best.

Connecting to your why.

design education leadership

Professional Disobedience

Welby Ings is Professor of Graphic Design at AUT.  His recent book Disobedient Teaching is causing big waves in the education community.  We ask Welby what drives him, and how professional disobedience can change the world.

Talking points

We need to play in the unknown

The terror of poverty

There is nothing beautiful about being poor

She doesn’t think I’m stupid…I loved her

There are people in dire environments who actually effect change.

You don’t need to tell someone that they’re awesome, show them that you understand that.  Ask their opinion of something, or ask their advice about something.

Often when we’re trying to repair someone who has been damaged and people say “what do I do, what do I do”, I say ask for their advice.  Ask their opinion.  Ask them to show you some stuff.  The crap detectors  are very good, they’re going to spot it when you are patronising.    But ask something you don’t know the answer to – hanging a gate, you say this isn’t working, do think there’s some other way we could try – when they realise that you are genuinely asking them, it makes a big change inside you.

When you are bit wounded you’re very sensitive to what’s false, so when you get something sincere, it has immense power.

It doesn’t have much to do with hierarchy, it seems to have to do with agency.

Cynicism is the death of hope and the death of agency.   If you live in your world cynically then you are not going to do anything to change what is there.  All you will do is accommodate and be witty about how negative it is.  But you have given away the agency to change because you have divorced yourself from the thing.

If you are a teacher and you are role modelling that then you are doing a very dangerous, very toxic thing to kids.

If you’re in an organisation where you are trying to grow the health of it, you’re doing bad things for people who admire you, because you are teaching them to become inactive.  You’re putting wit over the top of it so it sounds clever, but is actually the abdication of the power to change things.

A lot of people who do effect change have a mixture of optimism and common sense.   They do function with high levels of hope and high levels of belief and they refuse to relinquish that – even when an environment turns toxic they defiantly hold onto it.

Oftentimes those people who are effecting change are not necessarily in empowered positions on hierarchies, and they threaten people in them because their talent is more, and they are genuinely the true leaders.

People endure because they have spirit and they set up relationships with other thinkers and they care for those other thinkers

Understanding how the system works – not in a bitter way – but fundamentally.  The worst thing you can do with someone who opposes you is give that oxygen.

As soon as someone sees themselves as binary to you, they can put aside the morals, the ethics of how they behave.


If you want to have influence, do not let people hate you, don’t give them that.

I don’t (have a definition of sustainability) because the idea is so important but the word is so polluted.  I have a sense, but I try not to use the word.

Success:  Been loved.

Superpower:  I don’t know, I don’t believe in heroes, what I do believe in is generosity and courage.   How I measure if what I’ve been doing is working is the amount of agency that gives to people, even to the point that they might disagree with me.  Heroic is a very dangerous thing, it dumbs things down and it turns people into role models and that’s not sustainable because it’s not sustainable – it’s not a true thing, we’re flawed, flawed human beings.

Activist: Yes.  Active.  Quite a long history.   The point where I wasn’t I think I’d’ve lost a sense of value in myself.

I see activism as a hugely affirming thing.   Affirming things that are not usually acknowledged.

Motivation:  I’m passionate.  A lot of my friends died of Aids, and you begin to understand what a life was, and you don’t waste it.  It’s an extraordinary thing to have you health and a society that has got relative freedom in it and your talents, those are extraordinary things.

Opportunities:  New feature film.  Painting.

Relentlessly optimistic?  Yes.

Miracle:  I don’t understand war. I don’t have a frame, but it’s wrong.  It it’s wrong to kill people for ideas.  So world peace.  But it’s not going to happen like that, it’s going to take a different kind of mind.  But it’s not a wish, it needs an alert, critical positive mind.




community leadership participation politics

Generating good

Georgie Ferrari is Chief Executive of the Wellington Community Trust.  Before that she Chief Executive Officer for the Youth Affairs Council of Victoria for 14 years and before that a variety of roles in the not for profit sector in Australia and New Zealand.  But before all that, she grew up in Dunedin.  Home for a brief visit we talked about making a difference through advocacy.

Talking points

I didn’t want to use my labour to turn a profit for someone else.

To use my power for good, not evil.  So that meant working in the not for profit sector – putting my energy into organisations that generated good in the world rather than money.   I’ve been true to that.   I’ve been driven by that.

Engaging the voice of young people…that’s powerful work

It’s easy to live in a bubble in activism world, we assume that all voices are heard.  And so we live in that bubble…an echo chamber, it’s important to remember that there’s a range of views out there.

We have to read conservative newspapers and engage in the conservative debate, otherwise we forget that a huge percentage of the population think like this.  And then we don’t understand what their arguments are or what their mindsets are and we can’t fight against them.

I’m not spouting some leftie Communist manifesto, I’m just making some pretty basic sense, if a child is traumatised in their lives…no one is looking after them, them trauma plays out, then we lock them up. that’s not working, I think that’s common sense.  If even a deeply conservative politician can go and spend a couple of hours at a youth justice facility and come out and see that, then we can change every heart and mind.

Energised by work I was doing.

Ethical investment: If we give money out in the environment space, but we’re invested in a company that’s degrading the Great Barrier Reef…I’m not interested in doing a little bit of renewal in a creek bed if over here we’re funding a corporation millions of dollars to degrade the Great Barrier Reef – it doesn’t make sense.

Or funding refugees and government bonds of governments creating those refugees – it doesn’t make sense.

And ethical investments strategies are doing no worse over the long term than broader investment strategies,  so the argument is going away.   We have to know that we’re not feeding the problem over here and trying to ameliorate it over here.


Sustainable: Living gently on the earth.

Success: Growing an organisation in Victoria that it is not only financially stable and productive, but also deeply harmonious and gentle and supportive of all the staff.

Superpower:  Collaborative leadership.   I’m not afraid to make decisions, but I’m very keen to engage everyone involved.

Kind corporate.   Efficient and effective, but care about each other.  We do need training in that.

Activist: Yes.  (in my new job I have to manage that a bit differently) there are causes to champion, how I need to be an activist is to be provide evidence that these are things we need to fund.   Back room diplomacy rather than in your face advocacy.

Motivation: Knowing that there is far more good done in the world than bad, and wanting to contribute to that good.

Challenges:  Reintegrating back into New Zealand that’s different to what I left.   My responsibility as a Pakeha woman.   Philanthropy across New Zealand can be more effective by working smarter and together to make it easier for our grant seekers.

Miracle: Elimination of all forms of violence.  (smallest thing that would make a difference) Live peacefully ourselves.

Advice: Be kind to your mother.  Ring your Mum.


education leadership

Designing learning that makes a difference






If we’re looking at repetitive consistent outcomes of people doing the right thing at the right time, then there probably is a place for that traditional role. Everyone wants people to actually make a difference to the world and be creative and do things that haven’t been done before in ways that haven’t been done before, then we can’t tell them how to do that because we don’t know. It’s a change to meet the needs of today and the rate of change that we’re experiencing now in all areas of our life, you can’t have a didactic way this is how you do it.


SL: Tonight we’re joined by Ray O’Brien, and he’s a learning designer at Otago Polytechnic. Welcome to the show, Ray. How are you doing?


Ray: Good evening.


SL: Obviously, that accent isn’t from around here, although this studio is full of accents that aren’t from around here. Where are you from there, Ray?


Ray: Originally from the West Coast of Scotland.


SL: What part of West Coast.


Ray: The original Helensburgh. Still a little bit uncanny here in Dunedin seeing the transplanted Helensburgh in the buses.


SL: What was it like growing up in Helensburgh on the West Coast?


Ray: Other than windy and wet.


SL: Yes.


Ray: It was actually a great place to live. Some was referring to pure adventurers there. That’s certainly something that moulded the early part of my life getting up into the mountains and it’s right on the boundary line between the Lowlands and the Highlands, so to escape up into the hills in Helensburgh was great.


SL: Fantastic. You went to school there. What were your favourite subjects at school?


Ray: Probably physics and if I look back a dream if there was outdoor ed, but there wasn’t, but I’ll count it as a subject I did anyway I missed enough days of school to go up into the mountains that I can count it as a subject.


SL: Do you obviously decided to go to college at some point, so what did you do there?


Ray: It wasn’t physics. It wasn’t physics. It definitely wasn’t physics, no. I actually cards on the table confession time, I went to university to become an accountant and then during my recess at the end of the first term, I realised that that probably wasn’t the life for me and I switched over to human resource management.


SL: All right. Where did you study? Where were you studying?


Ray: The University of Sterling. Again, the choice of university was more about getting into the mountains than it was about any academic concerns.


SL: Exactly. Sterling is quite a small town and so you had … How big is that? How big is the University of Sterling?


Ray: Oh, I’m not sure the figures now. It’s grown a lot since I was there but when I shifted from high school, a very large school, to university, I think there’s only 500 more undergrads there than there was number of students in my high school.


SL: Of course, Sterling is a very famous place and it’s a beautiful little castle and it’s kind of like a miniature Edinburgh, really. You studied human resource management and you graduated with that.


Ray: Yeah. With that and then started working in the outdoors but trying to combine the two, looking at development training. Did a little bit of work with the oil industry doing team building for people that worked out on the rigs and working for companies like Outward Bound and taking a development angle on adventure and the outdoors.


SL: Fantastic. That was you’re based out of Aberdeen, was it?


Ray: That was where the oil industry stuff was, yeah.


SL: Okay, cool. You did that and decided what’s next on your adventure. What happened next? You’re out in the oil industry, decided what to do next.


Ray: Yeah. I was delivering development training for the oil industry guys. I was never managed to get on a rig myself. I’m not sure I would have been able to handle that.


SL: Going out on the helicopters at the North Sea.


Ray: Yeah. The dunk tank test would have got me, I think. Then after university, like I said, I moved north and I started working at Adventure Training Centre run by the Sports Council. It was much more performance coaching rather than developmental, and that led on to a job working for the military for eight years developing leaders and guides for their adventure training activities.


SL: How do you train for leadership? How do you do that? People say you’re a natural born leader or not. How do you train people to lead? What are the key requirements?


SL: Take them up a mountain and lead from there. If they lead their way down, then you’re a leader.


SL: Yeah.


Ray: It’s an interesting question and I think can you teach leadership or can you develop leadership. I think it all comes down to what opportunities you can offer people and how you can help them to relate it to their everyday context. With the military, my job was to work mainly with senior NCOs and officers and find adventure situations that let them practise the skills of their organisational skills, their communication skills, real situations that didn’t have the consequences of them being in theatre, and yeah, and much, much bigger risks.


SL: What is leadership? What is that as a concept?


Ray: How long is this talk?


SL: If you give a brief description of what leadership looks like.


Ray: Yeah.


SL: Is it telling somebody what to do?


Ray: No. I think it has been viewed as that in a traditional sense of leadership. Actually, when it comes down to it, it’s the people who earn the respect and that respect is usually earned through some form of service to the people that you are leading. I think that’s morphing now and that leadership is not as commonly seen as a one person leading and more about the collective leadership and people taking leadership roles within a more equal group.


SL: You’re going from kind of a hierarchical system to kind of a team, more team egalitarian system. Have there been major shifts in society that have driven that or is that just yeah, this seems to be more effective role or is it both those things?


Ray: I think it’s situational. I think it depends what we are valuing or wanting in society. If we’re looking at repetitive consistent outcomes of people doing the right thing at the right time, then there probably is a place for that traditional role. Everyone wants people to actually make a difference to the world and be creative and do things that haven’t been done before in ways that haven’t been done before, then we can’t tell them how to do that because we don’t know. It’s a change to meet the needs of today and the rate of change that we’re experiencing now in all areas of our life, you can’t have a didactic way this is how you do it.


SL: Was this exclusively with the British Armed Force or did you work with other militaries, as well?


Ray: It was a Joint Service Mountain Training Centre, so yeah, it was all the British ones.


SL: Okay. What happened after that? That was obviously a major adventure.


Ray: It was a learning, it was a great adventure and it had me on expeditions all around the world for five or six months a year, but then I had a daughter and I didn’t want to be away from home for five or six months a year and it was time for a change, and that change took the form of a year’s leave of absence where we all came across to live in New Zealand for a short time to try it out, and here we are 13 years later.


SL: Ah. You came to New Zealand and where did you land, first of all, or where did you arrive?


Ray: We tested it out in the classic Brits in the camper van around the ski areas for a winter. Then went back and organised our work and packed up our house and moved to Hawea, just outside Wanaka.


SL: You just fell in love with the place yeah, this is where we want to be, this is where we want to bring our daughter up. Yeah. Fantastic. Are you still based in Hawea?


Ray: No. Moved down to Dunedin two and a half, three years ago.


SL: All right, wow. Fantastic. Now, you’re teaching, you’re a learning designer. Describe for me what a learning designer is.


Ray: I work in a team of amazing people who do a combination of facility learning design where lecture staff and teaching staff take the courses they’re already teaching or take new programmes and look at different ways to bundle up, reshape it, modernise it, change the way that it’s taught, and align it with more strategic frameworks, so it really meets the need of today’s learners. The other half of the team work on how can we build assets, such as online learning, all of the different resources are required to support that, and also how can we help the staff. Because a lot of the changes are quite significant. How can we make sure that they’re fully supported to be successful?


SL: How does this modern teaching environment, how is it different from the traditional lecture setting, talk to class, give them the lecture, students taking the notes, and then asking questions in tutorials? How is the modern classroom different now for people who haven’t been in there for a while?


Ray: Yeah. I think the main thing, the main myth to bust is that we’re going from a modern classroom to, from a traditional classroom to a modern classroom, and I don’t think that new model exists. I think it is much more varied than, perhaps, a traditional here’s a lecture hall. Typically, when you look at some of the things that polytech does across trades and different work contexts, what we really need to find is a blend in that learning environment. That blend can be a workplace, a real workplace or a simulated it. It could be classroom-taught sessions. It could be online resources and it’s finding the optimum blend of those things for that group of students and that topic to make sure that they are the people that are getting employed at the end of it are the first choice of people to be employed at the end of it.


SL: How do you assess that? How do you decide, okay, for this group of students, this mix for them and for this other group of students, this is the mix for those students and those two learning environments might be quite different. How would you assess which students, what models to which students?


Ray: Yeah. The core of our design process is human-centered design, so we spend a lot of time looking at who are the learners. That’s not necessarily who the learners sat in the classroom today are. It may be looking at what new groups of learners might be coming in, how we could change it to allow access to other groups of learners. I guess to give you an example of that, some of the new business courses that we’ve developed, there are campus-based courses, predominantly those groups are school leaders. We also have predominantly online courses, which most of the people on those courses are actually in work, perhaps even in management positions and the two different blends their needs differently and that’s taken into account right at the start, so what do these people need?


SL: Can you teach the same course to different groups of students? Like for instance, ones who prefer the more traditional method and another group, for instance, work or maybe have families and stuff and can’t make the same time commitments. Is it possible to create courses like that or?


Ray: Yeah. With those specific examples of business courses, there are different delivery modes for the same course.


SL: You get the same educational outcomes and because you’re delivering it in different ways…


Ray: Yeah. In terms of the learning outcomes that they match up to and it’s the same qualification. Yeah. The bar is set at the same height. Yeah. In terms of what they gain from themselves, I think if we have rich enough experience in there, then it’s not a cookie cutter experience and people can make their own meaning from what they experience, so yes, the bar is at the same height but how they interpret that and make meaning from it in their own life’s context, that will be different.


SL: How do you sit down with, thinking about students’ perspective, but how from the teachers’ perspective that the lecturer or the instructor, how do you sit down with them and maybe guide them through a process that might be quite unfamiliar to them or challenging the way they’ve done things for many years and how do you guide them through this process?


Ray: You’re absolutely right. It can be very challenging. Yeah. Particularly given we have some very good outcomes and data to say that we are getting it right, so here’s some learning design coming in telling me to change it all. There is a risk. Yeah. There is a risk. I think if we look at innovations anywhere, the risk I think is more with not looking at the future and changing more so than staying with the old model of knocking a blockbuster, whichever you want to compare it to. I think most people recognise there’s a need to change and it’s not just for the set of students that are in the class with you right now. It’s looking forward, and that’s important leverage to make people happy to take the steps and designing something different.


SL: Is there an actual cultural change in the kind of students that are coming through and our expectations compared to 10, 20 years ago? Is that an actual thing or is that something we kinda made up or is it a mixture of oh, we just got the new technology. Let’s just do it in a different way.


Ray: I guess my understanding of that in terms of the New Zealand context is, to some extent, secondhand, because I wasn’t here to witness that. I can certainly see people are being more demanding in terms of students have been more demanding in terms of a return on investment. They’re coming out of education with some hefty debts and I think it’s ethically right that as institutions, we should be designing to make sure that they get value for their money. Yeah. They are demanding that education makes a big difference for them and their lives and they’re quite right to do that, so that’s a slightly different culture from it’s all paid for and just going to study to access cheap beer and have a party.


SL: If you are designing a new course, how do you actually practically go about that? If you come to a course, say, I’ve got this course we’ve been teaching it for ages. How do you come in and go, okay, what do we need to do here? What’s your approach?


Ray: I think the first part is evaluating how the courses go already. It needs to be strengths-based. It’d be very easy to pick sticks out of any particular way we have designed in a course, but you have to look at the strength and what is going right and make sure that those things are not lost in the design. You also have to look at the student and you also have to triangulate those things with what does industry want. Where are these students going after their qualification? To be honest, that’s the real tricky one just now because how sure are we about the industry they’re going into?


As Sam referred to earlier, there’s as a huge amount of unknown in the future of the jobs market, so trying to triangulate that with what we’re getting right just now and who the learner is and what they need. That’s a challenge. From there, we’re looking at what do we want the graduate to work to look like, what do they have to be able to do, what capabilities do they need, and from there, it’s almost like a cascade down that’s getting down to finer and finer learning outcomes and what experiences can we put together to allow them to show those things in an authentic way.


SL: One of the, of course, the key outcomes for any Otago Polytechnic student coming out is that they’re a sustainable practitioner. What’s your role in helping to integrate those high-level goals and outcomes for the students like good citizens and good contributory members to society? How do you integrate those into, for instance, being a car mechanic. How do you integrate this very high-level things into something that’s very practical, cookery course for a chef?


Ray: Yes. There’s two parts to it. One is integrating into the course and then the other part is integrating it with the graduate capabilities framework. I’ll deal with the course first. It may well appear at that highest level at the what we call the graduate profile outcome, the big picture stuff, but it might actually, it can appear in two different ways. Some of it can be quite implicit in the way that the course is taught. The fact that things are role modelled, it could be the car mechanic because you see the workshop is organised and the materials are being disposed of appropriately, and that in every decision that’s made, there is a sustainability aspect to the decision about how things are done. It’s implicit in the environment in which you’re being taught.


The other part of it could be explicit, so it could be they have a project and it could be to tune up an engine to reduce emissions or how do you tweak this system for reduced emissions. Those are two different layers. The other side with the graduate capabilities framework is that every student will look at when they graduate, they’ll have a profile of capabilities across all sorts of areas that are not subject-specific. It’s about you and your employability and sustainability and being a sustainable practitioner is one strand of the capabilities there. The student could be looking for opportunities and it could be not necessarily a structured opportunity but a pure chance thing that comes up and it’s a learning moment that they can record and provide evidence against that capabilities framework to say, “Here’s an example of me making a sustainable choice in my working life.”


SL: Other than, because we talk about how you role model behaviour, then you make it explicit, so the implicit and the explicit instructions about, okay, think about how to do this. With those high-level goals being, for instance, a good team or whatever, a lot of those skills learned outside the classroom. How would you integrate or how would you encourage students to learn those skills outside the direct learning environment?


Ray: I think the key there is to try and break down that barrier where we have the learning environment and outside of the learning environment, that’s the first thing we need to break down. Really, it’s more of a continuum where you get slightly distant from the institution or you get closer within the walls of it, but the learning, the geography of it doesn’t really impact whether you’re learning or not. Again, it’s one of those myths to bust. If you’re not in the class being spoken to, you’re not learning. That’s not the case at all. Some of your base learning will actually happen as your voluntary job at the weekend, is it the club that you do stuff with.


Is it within your family? It’s drawing all that in and including that big picture that rich learning from your whole context, not just when you happen to be on a seat in front of a lecture.


SL: When you’re doing learning design, and when you talk about geography has prompted me to think about this, is that the way the polytechnic now is set up is stepped away from the lecture theatre as being the centre to being having a lot of very diverse learning spaces. Does part of designing a learning environment look at physicality of how you’re learning? Is that part of what you look at?


Ray: It certainly impinges on our design decisions. There’s no point when I was designing a great learning exercise or module. We don’t have the facilities to deliver that. As we publicised last week, we’ve got some major reinvestment going on at the polytech and I think the new learning spaces and changes to pedagogy and how people are learning and the options available to us, those two things ride hand in hand and yes, one has an implication for the other. I heard a great little tale of from the University of Technology in Sydney where they have just gone through I guess 1.2 billion of investment on their campus and the vice chancellor, who is accountable for the spend, was trying to prove the worth and going around and showing the president of the institution exactly what had been done.


He managed to find a group of students working in a learning pod with a screen around the table exactly as it has been done working independently on their project and she went up, introduced, and said, “I’d like to hear what you do and what do you think of the new spaces.” All the students smiled and looked around and said, “Great. We really wish our university had stuff like this.” While it justified the pedagogy and the environmental link, it didn’t necessarily justify the spending. The two things happen hand in hand. From that same example, she had one space, this is Shirley Alexander from UTS, and she had one space where it was very open plan, lots of pods, easy to move the furniture around. Got feedback from one member of teaching staff who said this is great. I’ve got so many different options as to how to teach at this course, teach the same course at another institution that don’t have those options. I can provide a richer learning experience for my students here because of the space.


The same room, she got a complaint from another member of staff who said she had designed the worst lecture hall he’d ever worked in and she saw that as a major measure of success.


SL: You’ve taught in a whole lot of environments and a whole lot of places, but mostly in outdoor work. On your LinkedIn profile, it says you’re passionate about education and the environment. I want to just loop around to educating about the environment. How are we going?


Ray: How are we going? I think we’re still patchy. Yeah. I think education about environment. It’s an interesting concept just about the environment because it’s actually, for me, it’s about building a relationship with the environment, not having a knowledge about the environment. Yeah. Because there’s a lot of people who don’t necessarily understand any of the science or any of the technology that and the, perhaps, some of the global issues that are happening who have a really strong bond and value of the land and of the environment. Education about the environment, I’m not sure that it is an about question and I think building that relationship and education in the environment is where we should be looking more to be able to make change.


SL: How do I teach for with the environment if I’m teaching accounting? I can understand that it’s an easy step if you’re floating down a river to be talking about the river. Yeah? It’s a harder ask if I’m teaching accounting.


Ray: I think you have more opportunity to scale. If I was to put my fledgling accounting student head on, then I would be on a river, I could share, I could make everybody see the value of keeping that clean and swimmable and looking at other sources of power so that we didn’t lose all the rivers to hydro. That is an easy sell. I agree. If I go into the accounting classroom, then I’ve got people who are potentially making decisions not just about how they behave but how whole organisations behave and the scalability of the decisions they’re making potentially, much huger, so helping them look at integrating the triple bottom layer and examples of that and you run a really powerful position and I believe that most students now are looking for something that’s more purposeful. I don’t think we have to wait until we had a divorce or a midlife crisis before we start looking for purpose in life. I think people are leaving school wanting to explore what is my purpose now.


SL: What do you do about those accountants whose purpose in life is to make a lot of money and drive a big car?


Ray: They will always be there. Yeah. There are always going to be challenges that are hard. Maybe that’s not why I’m not an accounting lecturer.


SL: Yes, but you’re helping people design accounting courses.


Ray: Yes, I am. I think people have to make their, it’s based on values and you can expose people to experiences and opportunities and they can still use their own values to make good decisions. Are you going to be able to change everybody’s mind? No, you’re not. Will they have experiences and opportunities that, perhaps, further down the line will accumulate and other life experiences beyond their qualification? Then perhaps you set the foundations for something later.


SL: Do you have a bottom line or a triple bottom line. Do you have a bottom line of how much people can must, perhaps, accept things?


Ray: I think when it comes to values, we are not here as an educational institution to assess people’s values. I think people can be asked to evaluate them themselves and reflect and think on it and that’s where I would say we have a really important role to get people looking at themselves.


SL: If we ask you that lots of times and, hopefully, they’ll get the hint. A couple of years ago you went to Nepal.


Ray: Yeah.


SL: How did that come about?


Ray: Oh. We had some friends who were also had also gone there and they were all teachers or educators of some form, and they got involved with an organisation called REED Rural Environmental Education Development. They were based in Katmandu but operating predominantly in the Lower Khumbu Valley and delivering teacher training programmes, which is an incredible experience. We had 10 days. Each training was 10 days long and teachers came from two or three hours walk, different villages, descended on the village that we were in, and we rotated round, my wife and I working in the English classroom. I wasn’t allowed to work in the English classroom because they didn’t want lots of Nepalis with dodgy Scottish accents so I was helping in the math class getting back to my physics roots of skill. Yeah.


It was a fantastic experience and certainly great to have our kids there, as well, and see them get involved with the locals and school there. A completely different educational outlook of first thing every day at school is brain gym. We’re all out in the field doing our physical shakes and moves and then into the classroom and as an educator, it was quite challenging in terms of we’ll look at changing pedagogy to be more active learning and more participation, but the bottom line is that you’re a teacher in a crammed classroom with a mud floor and there’d be 70 students of diverse ability and age in front of you, some of whom will not have had breakfast, some of whom have already done two or three hours of agriculture work before they come to school, and someone from New Zealand is coming across telling the teachers to form little groups and get them working together.


It’s a very different dynamic and I think that the important thing that I learned there was about just how important humility is when you’re in those sorts of positions because they know far more about what they’re doing than anybody visiting can. You can offer them some extra options. You can be there to answer some questions but, perhaps, probably the most important rule there was to validate what excellent jobs that we’re doing with what they had, yeah.


SL: How would you describe the difference you made?


Ray: The difference I made there. The key thing on the maths sessions that I did was actually the link between maths problems and their real life was not implicit in what they’re doing, so it was all very abstract examples of maths, so algebra. What examples do you teach? How do you integrate it. It was just numbers and letters on a board and making that step toward well actually, this is the price of chickens and this is the price of a kilo of rice. Yeah. Just making that link between real life and something useful and something that’s seen as quite academic and abstract. Within the classroom, that was a difference. In terms of making a difference in the broader scale, I still hold some really close links with the teaching staff and the mentors I was working with there and, like I say, validating what they do by the fact that you see the value in it from your New Zealand western perspective can give them some confidence to do a bloody hard job yeah, so yeah.


SL: You’ve got a value or a mission something but to make a difference.


Ray: Yeah.


SL: I’m not sure how long you’ve been using that particular phrase but you probably called it something else before. Where’d that come from?


Ray: I think it’s always been there. I think probably a big brother thing in there. Yeah. I’m the oldest of three so I think there is an eldest child element to that. It’s become easier to articulate. I lost a very good friend about three years ago in a helicopter crash and he’s certainly someone who lived his life. His mission was to make a difference. He was volunteering In Rwanda, and was kidnapped and had to be rescued by the SAS.  Came back, joined the Royal Marines because he thought that was a way that he could personally make a difference, become a Marines helicopter pilot. Ran lots of missions there and then realised that that wasn’t how he wanted to make his difference and that he didn’t feel that were, he was involved in were making a positive difference.


Left and moved to Wanaka and did some work in Papua New Guinea also setting up flying ambulances in Papua New Guinea, as well, so yeah. In terms of something that flipped the switch and made it clearer to articulate this is actually what I’m here to do, that’s probably the single event that clarified it.


SL: You haven’t used the term sustainability but it’s the name of the show, so I will. Do you have a go-to definition of sustainability?


Ray: Putting back more than you take out.


SL: Is that how you tell if it is a positive difference?


Ray: No because I think sometimes you can – I think it’s more complex than that. Yeah. Certainly, I think if it reflected my experience in Nepal, putting back too much could actually disempower, yeah, and reduces sustainability of it. Yeah. I guess it depends how big a picture you look at for putting back.


SL: What is the biggest success you’ve had in the last couple of years?


Ray: I think for me it’s got to be my kids and seeing them developing values about…I’m going to use the  making a difference phrase again, yeah, rolls off the tongue but I can see that in them, that the caring and the sharing and the things that they value and what they do in their life and I think we’ve all got quite a big responsibility to keep passing those values on, whether it’s through families or friends or relationships. It’s a way to multiply a difference it would make.


SL: We are writing book of these talks. We’re calling it Tomorrow’s Heroes. How would you describe your superpower?


Ray: My superpower?


SL: Yeah. That you have, not that you wish for.


Ray: Okay. My superpower, I think probably, the thing I bring to the table is more about making connections and joining things together. Whether that’s people or whether that’s events, it’s the connections.


SL: Do you consider yourself to be an activist?


Ray: Activist. There’s so many different meanings of that, isn’t there?


SL: You can define it like however you like.


Ray: I don’t see myself out on the street with a placard chanting, so if that’s an activist, I don’t see myself as that, but do I see myself as actively trying to influence people to do more positive things? Then yes, I do.


SL: Lots of people answer that question. Oh, I’m not a Greenpeace activist. Then we talked to the head of policy from Greenpeace and he said, I’m not a Greenpeace activist. What motivates you, what gets you out of bed in the morning?


Ray: Other than my really annoying alarm clock, it’s, it is about the kids. Yeah. It is about the kids and seeing them grow and making that daily impact on how big an impact they can have.


SL: Taking them to every sporting event known to mankind.


Ray: Yeah. Maybe I should look at my carbon footprint about how much sporting driving I do.


SL: What’s the biggest challenge you’re looking forward to in the next couple of years?


Ray: Right now, I think the biggest work challenge is going to be getting the BMaD or wherever you end up calling it off the ground, and seeing some students graduate from that.


SL: What’s going to be the hardest bit of that, do you think?


Ray: I think probably the next six months of it. Yeah. Next six months the amount of work to get through and I think once we get through the formalities, there’s so much foundation and solidness and underneath the principles we’re working to there, I think once we’re up and running, that will go well.


SL: What will success look like for that? What should we be aiming for?


Ray: Stories. Lots of stories. Yeah. I should be looking on the Facebook account and seeing the graduates off doing exciting things, having exciting results, and being absolutely envious of every single one of them. If I’m not envious, we haven’t succeeded.


SL: You could do them, those things, too.


Ray: Yeah. Because you’ve done lots of those things. We could. There’s only one of me and there will be lots of them.


SL: If you can wave a magic wand and have a miracle occur, what would you have happen?


Ray: A magic wand. I’m guessing that I don’t believe in magic isn’t an answer to this question.


SL: No.


Ray: Yeah. Okay. If I could wave a magic wand, I’m trying not to make a Miss World answer out of this one. I think I’d probably pass the magic wand on to my kinds for them to decide.


SL: That’s so cheating.


Ray: There you go.


SL: Okay. What’s the smallest thing that could make the biggest possible difference?


Ray: The smallest thing.


SL: Yeah.


Ray: Yeah. I think a smile is cheap and easy, yeah, and it goes a long, long way.


SL: Lastly for me, do you have any advice for our listeners. I think you might have given one but here’s another one. Free hit.


Ray: Advice for listeners. I think yes, the small things do count. Yeah. The smalls do make a difference but as long as you make sure that the person that you small at is sending more smalls, we need to work out ways to keep multiplying what we do because we can’t really the scale of issues we’re dealing with and the rate of change we’re dealing with, there’s no lonesome warrior and no lone-ranger that’s going to be able to do this. It’s everybody and we got to make sure we’re persuading each other and working together to make a difference. 



education leadership

Inspiring to make a difference


Gregory Fortuin is the National Director of Employment Plus at the Salvation Army. He’s got a long history, from apartheid South Africa, insurance in Australia and New Zealand, South Africa’s Honorary Consul to New Zealand, Race Relations Conciliator in 2001 and 2002, and is on board of all of the big things in New Zealand.  Kiwibank, New Zealand Post, ACC, the founding chair of Youth Suicide Awareness Trust, Prison Fellowship, National President of the African Communities amongst other things.


Gregory: I was born in Cape Town, so the foot of Table Mountain. But, I grew up in a place called Paarl, and so for South Africans I make it very clear that I’m a Paarlander, which is 40 miles north of Cape Town. That’s the wine country of South Africa. With my dad, and his mum, and his brother had bought ten acres of land. That’s where I grew up, a place called Paarl.


Oh, Paarl, of course, was made famous by New Zealand cricketers. Stephen Fleming, Dion Nash, Matthew Hart were all fined for smoking dope in Paarl and got suspended. The W. Indies, of course, thought they should’ve suspended the others for lying.


Sam: It sounds like an idyllic place but I suspect it wasn’t.


Gregory: No, not when I grew up. Paarl was typical of the real Afrikaner Dutch places. If you were wanting to see apartheid in its real pronounced, or strongest form, Paarl would be it. When the National Party won the election in 1948, my Granny said that if you were non-white you would’ve been pushed off the pavement, even if you walked on the pavement.


Sam: You grew up- was it- classified as coloured? Is that how it was described?


Gregory: Yeah. Obviously the history of South Africa was that we were colonised by the Dutch first in 1652, and then the Brits came during the Boer War and took over South Africa. Then it was the Union of South Africa in 1910 and the Afrikaner said, “if we can’t beat you over the battle of a gun, we’ll beat you at the ballot box.” Sure enough, 40 years later in 1948 they won the election, and three years later in 1951 they passed all the legislation to do the segregation. Population registration classified all of us as, “white,” or, “coloured,” or “cape coloured,” or “other coloured.”


There were an amazing number of classifications just on coloured, or Indian, and Khoisan, African, etc. That classification determined where you could live. If you were coloured then this was the designated area for coloured people. If you were Indian then this was the designated area for Indian people. That just pervaded our life. It’s like I grew up as a so-called, classified coloured, in a classified coloured area, going to a coloured school, and having coloured friends. When I was finally working and walked to the station, and you’d cross the railroad bridge over the small, little, narrow, coloured bridge, as opposed to the wide one for whites. When the train comes you wait for the coloured compartment and sit in the back of the train and when you’d get out of Cape Town Station, you got in by the coloured entrance, etc. When you’re a kid and you’re born into that then you think, “this is what the world’s like.”


Sam: What impact did that have on education? Were the schools differentially resourced?


Gregory: Yep, absolutely. Something like, in the sixties, it was the equivalent of about a 1,000 rand per capita for a white child, and about 200 rand per capita for a coloured child, and about 90 rand per capita for a black child.


The Minister of Education said, in the fifties, that, “even the Bible tells us that they need no other education than to be hewers of wood and drawers of water.” They don’t need fancy qualifications, they just need to be good slaves. We actually had a whole curriculum for Bantu education and for subservient, slave-type education; to be good slaves.


Sam: What did that do to you as a young person?


Gregory: I also grew up in a conservative church environment. It was about, “you just go to school, and you don’t rock the boat, and you obey the authorities, and you obey your parents.” That’s it. That’s that. From nought until 16 and a half, when I matriculated, I was fairly submissive. It was only at the age 17, wanting to go and study at the University of Cape Town, which was a classified white university, and wanting to do medicine maybe for aesthetic reasons, but I had to apply to the Minister of Coloured Affairs for permission to go study at a white university. And then also to the university, who I knew took a quota of non-white or black students of about three to five every year. So, you’re also competing with the cream of all of the non-whites, so I didn’t get in. Yeah, it was … education was a tough thing if you weren’t white in South Africa. That meant you just had to work so much harder to achieve anything.


Sam: Lots of the works that you’ve done subsequently has got a very strong social justice, community development ring to it. Was that always burning there somewhere?


Gregory: Yeah, totally. In those churches I grew up in there was an old, illiterate man who, when I was quite bitter about not getting into university, was saying, “you better get over that ’cause you need to get yourself an education.” It took me a while to get over that, and I did some actuarial studies, and I did operation research studies. But, the promise I made to myself was I’d never, ever, put that on a CV or on a piece of paper.


When I arrived in New Zealand and I had actuaries reporting to me, some of them, initially, weren’t that comfortable in reporting to a non-actuaries but when I could talk to them about future values and present values and [inaudible 00:08:16]. They asked a few questions about, “did you study?” And I said, “no, I understand what you’re doing.”


But, back to the old man. He was the guy who invested in our lives. My mum was 27 with three kids, four, six, and seven, when dad passed away. No insurance, no benefits from the government, etc. My mother didn’t have a formal education so left school at 13, worked in a handbag factory, and then she went to work as a nurse in a hospital. She trained herself. Those were the days you could train at the hospital to become a fully qualified nurse. She poured her life out in wanting to raise these three boys of hers.


Other than mum and my Gran, if you rang my two brothers in South Africa any day, any time and say, “who was the person other than your mother and grandmother who had the greatest influence?” They would all say their old man, the illiterate guy, papa swan, who mentored us, and invested in us. It’s about paying it forward for me.


When I was growing up apartheid South Africa one of the things I resented the most were the people in my community who were affluent coloured and black people, who could make a difference, who could help us, and didn’t. Now that I’m blessed in being in a position of influence and able to make a difference that finger that I pointed at others then is now very strongly pointed at myself. The drive to make a difference is because of that resentment as well. That if you’re in a position, then, for me, you don’t even have a choice. You should just make a difference. But, papa swan invested in us and this is about paying it forward.


Sam: Seems like a good investment he made.


Gregory: Totally, totally. It was time, it was sitting us down and having discussions with us about the future. We grew up on this small holding where eight other families lived. My dad bought the farmhouse. Eight other families came and bought their homes and stayed on our small holding. Sometimes mum would come home, having left 6:30 in the morning and arrive back home at 7:00pm, a bit tired, and one of the old aunties would come and complain, “these kids did this,” or “they did that.” Those were the days when we had no right of reply. Mum would immediately believe everything the old aunties say and so we would get our discipline.


Sometimes mum would just be tired and she’d ring this old man, or she’d call for this old man, and he’d come sit us down and say, “your poor mum works so hard for the three of you,” and, “is this is the way you want to treat her?” Sometimes he’d just draw some tears from us.


My older brother, I know, would often say, “mum, don’t ring that old man, just give us a hiding. Just don’t call that old man, just give us a hiding.”


Sam: How did you get from that background into insurance?


Gregory: When I matriculated in 1971 and wanted to go and study medicine, I firstly worked in a laboratory, testing raw materials and pharmaceuticals, etc. and thought, maybe, that was the path to medicine. Then I worked with a Muslim fellow at Peterson’s Pharmaceuticals, and he said to me, “did you see this national insurance company called Norwich Union? They’ve advertised and they’ve got something called ‘Glide Time Flexi-Time,’ where you can start any time up until 10 o’clock, and you can leave any time from 3 o’clock.” And we both thought that that was a fantastic thing in the seventies. That was the thing that sort of drew us to go for interviews.


I then went and wrote a computer aptitude test at IBM because IBM was their supplier. I passed the aptitude test, and actually went for an interview to do computer programming for them. They came back and said, “look, we don’t have a vacancy right now in our computer area, but why don’t you try our superannuation area.” I found afterwards that, as a non-white, I didn’t quite fit the mould of being in the computer programming area, and so I started off in superannuation. This Muslim guy and I, we sat one side of the partition, while all the whites sat on the other side of the partition at Norwich Union in the early seventies.


Sam: Even in a workplace like that?


Gregory: Yep, totally. Within the workplace we were told to use the toilet facilities up on the eighth floor with the messengers. They used the weak argument of it’s government legislation. They just didn’t have the will to want to treat us as equal, ordinary human beings. But they did provide me opportunities. There was the Afrikaner Superintendent, who a year later, one of the Afrikaner ladies who was a supervisor for [Team Patricide], and I went and saw this guy who was my boss and said, “I can do that job, why don’t you give me that job?” He said, “yeah, but if I do then you’ll have to get your own employees, because we can’t have whites reporting to you.” So, I went and recruited three young, coloured females. Two of them, their uncle was in the new South Africa, the Minister of Justice, and his two nieces worked for me.


I used to leave home in Paarl at 5:30 in the morning, and go and get to the office at 7 and do some work ’till half past 8, when these young kids came in, and trained them, etc. That was the start of a five year journey at Norwich Union.


Sam: You left there in 86?


Gregory: No, no. I left Norwich Union and joined National Mutual in 78. They were an Australian insurance company and they were brilliant. They had two Aussies who ran the place and in my first year, I actually for a while reported to a guy called John Day. I went and said to him, “I think you’ve made a mistake with my payoff.” He said, “no, no, no, it’s not,” he said, “I have been terribly disappointed that we’ve been underpaying you, and we weren’t paying you the same salaries we were paying whites. I’m just trying to get you to the same level as everybody else.” It was just mind blowing. I really enjoyed working for National Mutual in South Africa.


I worked for them for eight and a half years. It was in 86 when they sold out of South Africa with all the pressures applied by the unions in Australia. That’s when I was offered the opportunity of, “do you want to be made redundant in Cape Town, or transferred to Melbourne?” I’ve always let the Aussies know I didn’t come voluntary, it was redundancy or Melbourne.


Sam: And you chose Melbourne.


Gregory: Yeah, it will forever be one of the hardest decisions I made in my life. I went and saw an aunt of mine who I was very, very close to, and she said, “look, Gregory, you don’t want your children”- I had three young daughters at the time, five, eight, and 11 -“you don’t want your kids growing up with the same bitterness and resentment that you and your brother have towards the system.”


I went and saw an elderly gentleman who had two young boys in detention. A lot of people were detained without trial in South Africa, a lot of political prisoners. I was the coordinator of support for detainees in the Boland area and organised for them to be visited by their families, organised encouragement, and organised support for families. I went and saw Mr. Gilfellen, and he said, “oh, no, Gregory, I think you should go, but when you get to Australia make sure you tell them our story. Don’t forget to tell them.”


Both my aunt and Mr. Gilfellen also made me promise that I would come back and bury them. That was 1986. It was still a great feeling of abdication. I was heavily involved in supporting people, and helping people, and helping families of detainees. I was vice-chair of the Western Cape Foundation for Community Work and we built 17 preschools throughout the Western Cape. To walk away from all of that was a strong feeling of abdication but at the time I felt that it was the right thing. Although I bawled my eyes out at the Cape Town airport when I left for this place called Melbourne.


I remember February, 1986, sitting around the swimming pool in Paarl – in Paarl it’s 40 degrees. Friends of ours who had emigrated to Australia in 83, they visited in Paarl. I said to them, “you guys can run away to godforsaken places like Australia and New Zealand. I’ll never leave South Africa. I’ll fight the liberation struggle ’till the bitter end.” When I arrived Australia at the end of 86 this couple came and met us at the airport and said, “oh, we thought you were going to stay in South Africa forever.” So I learned you can never say never.


But Australia was great. You can imagine leaving a state of emergency, leaving apartheid South Africa. In November 86 I sold my house in Paarl, and then arriving in Australia, and for the first time in my life I can go live anywhere. I can buy a house anywhere. My kids can go to any school. To the school ten doors down the road, my kids could go. I didn’t have to ask, in the restaurants, if I was allowed to come inside. I didn’t have to look for the signs on the beaches, and the buses, and the trains. Even today it sounds far-fetched, the life of apartheid in South Africa.


Sam: Did you find yourself, not missing, but did you notice things that you released from that you hadn’t even noticed? Or is it so in-your-face that you do notice it, it is obvious?


Gregory: Apartheid was like getting up in the morning, washing your face, and having a cup of tea. It was just so pervasive that it became normal. A lot of young kids, when I go and talk to kids will say, “but there were only six million whites, and there were 55 million of you. How come you didn’t just overthrow the regime?” But when have the political power, and the economic power, and the military might, then there’s very little that you can do.


That’s probably the biggest tragedy of apartheid, was the fact that people were told they were inferior, and they didn’t believe that they were inferior. It was only, sort of, this generation of 76, which said to our parents, “you’ve been yes-sirring, and no-sirring to this regime all your life. We will stand up and be counted, and be defiant,” that some change came about. So, when I arrived in Australia, I said, “goodness me. These people are free. This is democracy, and they don’t even know it. They don’t appreciate that they are free because they’ve got nothing to compare against.”


Sam: What word would you use to describe your feelings toward the system? Was it hate?


Gregory: Yep. My aunt, when I went and saw her about leaving South Africa said, “Gregory, I don’t you – or your children- to grow up with the same resentment that you and your brother have for the system.” My brother and I – older brother, far more militant than me – we would discuss, maybe it was time that we went over the border and joined the ANC in exile. But we were Christians, grew up in a very strong Christian household, and so the issue of violence was something that we just couldn’t come to grips with. We wanted to fight the system, but we just couldn’t justify that people had to die in the process of us wanting to fight the system. But that resentment, and sometimes hate, was very strong when we’re in the midst of it.


When you see your friends locked up with no trial. When my brother, who taught Sunday School in Cape Town in a place called Belgravia during the seventh riots in the seventies. We had the Trojan Horse incident when the police were hiding in the back of a van and then just shot at people. He buried a five year-old girl, shot three times in the head. There’s just thousands of those stories. Thabo Mbeki, who was South Africa’s Deputy President under Mandela and President for ten years, he sold as a novel what happened to his 17 year-old son. Kids used to just disappear. The stories in the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of how they used to either barbecue the bodies or chuck them in the river to be eaten by crocodiles. Yeah, “hate” is a strong word, but as much as I’d prefer it to be “resentment,” but I’d be lying if I said there weren’t times when I hated the regime, and hated the system.


Sam: But not the people?


Gregory: I think now, in hindsight, it’s easier to say it’s the system that I hated. At the time, it was most probably the people. The people who were the system. But, Dawie de Villiers, who was the Springbok Rugby captain, I met him here in New Zealand when I was Honorary Consul, and looked after him for three days. We went and spoke at a joint gathering and he was talking about the miracle of the new South Africa because he was one of the negotiators with the ANC. When it was my turn I said, “for me, the miracle of South Africa is this guy was the minister of a church – a university church- ten kilometres from where I lived and I couldn’t go to his church. He was preaching Christianity and inclusiveness but only to white people, and then he went into Parliament and became an MP.  He was the oppressor and I was the oppressed.


The miracle is we meet here on foreign soil, and we discover that the aspirations we have for our families are the same, and that the values we have are the same. We were just born on the opposite side of the track. That’s the great shame of South Africa. It took us 350 years to agree that all men and women were born equal, and that we would have respect for every single human being. As opposed to the arrogance of only a certain group was equal, or superior to everybody else.


My aunt’s words of, “go to Australia” now I’m at a place where I totally understand it was the system, and the indoctrination of people through the system. Obviously there were leaders, there were architects of apartheid, who were responsible for this. The distance has helped with healing the wounds of resentment and hatred. I understand that there will be no future without forgiveness. I understand that when the world model was Nuremberg, and so many of us in the ANC thought, “yep, that’s the model to follow. Just get the bastards who’ve done this to us,” that Desmond Tutu and Nelson Mandela, and the leader of the Communist Party, Joe Slovo, pushed very hard for Truth and Reconciliation Commission. Thank God for those people who were genuine leaders.


My brother, who stayed in South Africa, and lives in South Africa, probably doesn’t have the hatred anymore but the resentment is still there. I think the difference between us is I left the situation.


Sam: That’s quite a massive thing to take. A massively divided community, an attempt to heal it, to say, “we’re not going to go down this revenge route, we’re going to go down a different route.” What can we learn from that about encouraging community change?


Gregory: I think it all comes down to leadership. Firstly, I totally believe that Rolihlahla Nelson Mandela was preserved for such a time as this. If he was not in prison, he would most probably have died during one of the uprisings. The regime would’ve done away with him. Here was a man who had lots of time to reflect, and he was a different person that came out of prison than the one that went inside. He used to relate this to his children. He reminds them to go to Sunday School, that he went to Sunday School, that he taught Sunday School when he was at 14. His mother was a devout Methodist believer and I think that part of that spirituality that was in his mother was imparted to him, and he tried to do that with his children. What we needed was a leader who wasn’t going to shy away from doing the right thing.


You can’t ignore the role that Frederik Willem de Klerk also had. A right-wing Afrikaner and a good Christian made in extending the hand. He read the February 1990 opening of Parliament speech. He came to power in 1989 when P.W. Botha was deposed and de Klerk came to power. He immediately – he was strong. And, together, him and Mandela won the Peace Prize in Oslo. Now, they never became good friends, but they were both people with integrity who understood that we need to extend the hands in order to bring about reconciliation. The number one issue has got to be leadership. People with courage, people with conviction.


I judge, as a Christian, from a distance, and had views about Joe Slovo, who was the leader of the Communist Party. He was one of the great people in pushing for reconciliation and sunset clauses, and not wanting to go down the path of revenge And of course there was Desmond Tutu who screamed at apartheid South Africa then, and is screaming at ANC leadership today. Quite rightly so. You need people with courage, but the little [absent mentality], for instance.


In 1995 – the Springbok symbol is a hated symbol in South Africa amongst blacks. So, today, a lot of black people still support the All-Blacks because blacks couldn’t wear the Springbok. And this guy called Precious McKenzie in New Zealand, who in the fifties was selected to go and represent South Africa, but was told he couldn’t wear the blazer with the Springbok on it, he’d get a separate blazer with a Protea on it. So, Precious, get rightly said, “get stuffed,” went to the UK, won gold for them, came to New Zealand and won so many Commonwealth golds for New Zealand. It’s only about eight years ago now that Precious was, in fact, inducted into the South African Hall of Fame.


Coloured and black people were not allowed to wear the Springbok. When Mandela heard the ANC Sports Committee was going to recommend that they dump the Springbok and go for the Protea, his argument was, “we’ve just stripped the Afrikaner of political power, we need them to do nation-building. The springbok and the rugby is one of the great religions. At this stage we can’t strip them of that.” So, in 1995, when he came out on to the field wearing the Springbok jersey, it wasn’t just about wanting to inspire 15 men to play rugby, it was a statement to 50 million people about inclusiveness and reconciliation. It’s more, those little acts that bring about this reconciliation, as opposed to, “we’ve all sat around and we’ve said that we are now convinced that we need to preach reconciliation.”


We all used to run to our TV’s at 11 o’clock at night to switch it off because we didn’t want to hear the Afrikaner anthem called Die Stiem.  Again, in 94 many of us arrogantly assumed it would purely be called Nkosi Sikelel iAfrika anthem.  But Madiba insisted that we were going to learn one verse of the Afrikaans, they will two verses of Nkosi Sikelel. We added a few lines in English. It’ll probably never be a musical masterpiece, but boy, it’s inclusive. If you lead, you also have to do the deliberate acts which then pull the nation together.


Sam: You talk about Precious McKenzie. He gave a very inspiring speech when I was at school.
You give such talks as well. What are you hoping to achieve by standing in front of a graduation, or a high school, whatever it is?


Gregory: Papa Swan made a difference in the lives of three, so-called classified, coloured kids without a dad. Even in my wildest dreams would I have been the managing director of National Mutual’s corporate subsidiary in New Zealand, or Race Relations Conciliator, or Human Rights Commissioner, or Families Commissioner, or being on boards, and finding myself in a position of influence, but for the input of that old man, and my grandmother, and my mother, and the many people along the way who have helped me.


For me, if I can inspire one, or two, or three young people to go on and make the difference, then that’s sufficient.


Sam: Does it matter if you inspire them to make the wrong difference? Can you make a wrong difference?


Gregory: Yeah, because right and wrong becomes a matter of opinion. So often I get people saying, “let me give you my unbiased view.” Our views our informed our upbringing, by the environment, by our exposures, etc. You just take the life of Fidel Castro, and the polls are all showing about 50/50 whether people believe he was a good leader or a bad leader. I think often it depends on the difference that he made in the lives of particular people. If, as a result of his actions, my family have suffered, then I will say he was a bad leader, and he made a bad difference. But, if my family have benefited, and we’re now living life to the full, then those people are going to say he was a good leader. It’s very, very subjective.


I think, innately, for me, it’s about the difference in order to recognise that everybody deserves respect. The difference is saying, I have to encourage everybody because of our common humanity because we’re all inexplicably link and if I can encourage and support them then, at the very least, they can be able to fulfil their maximum potential, and operate at a level where the only barriers are themselves.  It’s more when you inspire them to be the best that they can be, as opposed to saying, “I now commission you to go and be a pastor somewhere, or go and be a maths teacher somewhere.”  You just want to encourage them, and almost, unleash the potential so they can be the best they can be without knowing. That old man who taught us, was there for us, he had no idea where we’d end up and the difference that my two brothers and I will and can make. He was just inputting into the lives of these three boys without expecting anything other than that was the right thing to do.


Sam: There’s pictures here of you and your family, and Mandela. If you had five, ten minutes with Trump what would you say? From your experience, what would you- what message would you want? You gave a graduation talk that I found very inspiring, talking about working with people you don’t like. So, what would you do?


Gregory: To the president-elect would be to say that, with great privilege, being the leader of, presently, what’s probably the most powerful nation in the world, the Chinese and the Russians will dispute that, but from a Western World perspective that’s a great privilege.  But with it comes great responsibility and he was given many opportunities in his life. He failed at least four times, in being bankrupt, for instance. But, he was given an opportunity every time, whether it was his dad who helped him or the system that helped him in order to achieve. He owes it to his own legacy to ensure that every single person in America, and maybe the world, gets those opportunities that he has. That he needs to do that, without any view of what the colour of their skin is, what their religion is, what their country of origin is, but with a common humanity.


He’s shown that he does enjoy having his ego stroked. If you say, “see the heights that you’ve achieved, but you had support in doing that, let your legacy be that you have supported the only people who when you were out on the stage you said you were going to be there for them. Be there for them, but let the them be defined the American preamble to the Constitution, which is all men and women were created equal, and that they all have inalienable rights. Because, some of the stuff that he uttered on the campaign: anti-particular religious groups, or anti-certain ethnic groups, etc.


You still have to recognise that he’s been elected as the leader, because that’s the great thing about democracy. Is that you have a system. I mean, some of my friends are saying if Hilary or Trump were the best options that democracy throws up then who wants democracy. But, he was elected and in a democracy you have to accept the result, whether you like it or not. With Trump now being elected I think the challenge for the others is, “how can we help him to succeed in order for the people who we all beckon for? The people we all want to succeed, that they succeed under Trump?” Because he’s not going to go anywhere for the next four years.


Sam: And, he’s playing to his crowd.


Gregory: Oh, totally. I also think that his loyal followers are suddenly realising that Trump is his own person. I was just listening to Newt Gingrich the last few days, saying, “if he offers Romney the Secretary of State role, then he’s failing those of us who’ve loyally supported him.” But, Trump’s going to do what Trump wants to do, and maybe he’s playing Romney, and he’s playing everybody else. I don’t know. But I do think that he’s sort of been Trump by not doing what they’re all expecting him to do.


Sam: Okay, we’re going to have to skip through to now.


Gregory: Now I’m the National Director of Education and Employment with the Salvation Army. I was, sort of, in semi-retirement three years ago when I had a phone call saying, we’re looking for a Salvationist, but at the very least a Christian with business acumen. We’re in this new environment where the government is paying for performance and it’s not a place where the army have previously been, in that they used to get bulk money and they used to look at how can they help make a difference in the lives of the vulnerable and the marginalised. The environment’s different and we just need to rethink how do we make the mission sustainable. So I came here three years ago today now.


If you look at the education of the vulnerable and the marginalised, then … When the car’s stuck in the mud you can say, “Change your attitude,” or, “More effort,” or, “Put your foot on the accelerator.” You just spin the wheels and you dig the hole deeper. What it needs is one or two people to get into the mud with you and push the car out of the mud so you can then get them going, because the young people that we work with, the 16 to 19-year-olds, just to get them a basic NCA level two or level three qualification …


Many people will say they failed mainstream; I say mainstream have failed them, because of the view that one size fits all. Maybe in ten years time we’re going to say did we do education sitting in a class? So for people who don’t fit that norm we have to do things differently. But there’s also social issues. There’s familial dysfunction, there’s alcohol, there’s drugs, there’s just so many other stuff that’s stopping them from achieving, and so when we get 40 weeks to give them an NCA level two or level three qualification; it takes 20, 25 weeks to get the car out the mud, then you have 15 weeks left to focus on can we get them 120 credits.


Now, when you bear in mind these were people if they were lucky got 10 or 15 credits the previous year, it’s a big effort to want to do both, but that’s the commitment of the Salvation Army saying, “We’re here for those people who have been left behind,” because no one should be left behind, and it’s about the vulnerable. It’s why William Booth left the Methodist Church in 1865, 151 years ago. “You guys just do religion well, but you don’t do anything for the people in the east end of London. I’m going to start a movement for those people.”


I often find myself reminding the Salvation Army that this is why you exist, because you need to do something for those people, so it’s great.


Sam: So your passion about making a difference and your business head have found a home in an organisation that’s committed to the lives of the vulnerable and marginalised.


Gregory: Yes.


Sam: Why did it take so long? What are we doing wrong as a society that it takes a church to do that?


Gregory: I don’t know. I don’t know why it takes so long. For me, if I wasn’t exposed to business and didn’t acquire the business skills of understanding what’s the drivers of revenue and what’s the drivers of my expense, and how can I make this mission sustainable, and then what is it that we need to do in order to make the transformative difference … Because in the end it’s not just about, as I jokingly said earlier, the academic buffaloes. It’s not just the NCA level two or three, but it’s also about the transformation of that whole person. That’s what we do.


For the last three years I almost feel I’m doing what I was called to do, yet it’s taken me 50 years to get here. On the other hand, I don’t think I would have been as successful and as credible here if I hadn’t gained the business experience and if I hadn’t been exposed to the politics, and the struggles, and the issues of ordinary people. Maybe it’s the school of learning before you can speak with credibility and humble authority.


Sam: So six quick questions to end with then. What’s the biggest success you’ve had in the last couple of years?


Gregory: Most probably making education and employment sustainable within the Salvation Army.


Sam: Do you consider yourself to be an activist?


Gregory: Yes, absolutely.


Sam: Why?


Gregory: Default has never fixed anything. In fact, I think that reasonable people have never brought about any change. They’re good at implementing and maintaining, but in order to see change you need to be a revolutionary.


Sam: What motivates you? What gets you out of bed in the morning?


Gregory: Firstly, it’s faith in God. Sometimes I’ve been surprised that survived apartheid. It’s survived a house burning down, it’s survived a sad separation and so many other things, but faith in God would be the biggest thing. I’ve had a mother who poured everything into her three boys, for both my two brothers and I. We would never ever do anything that would disappoint her. And lastly, we were always going to show anybody in South Africa that we were as good as, if not better than, than they were. We just needed the opportunity.


Sam: What challenges are you looking forward to in the next couple of years?


Gregory: It’s more being able to say no to the many things that I’m doing so that I can spend a bit more quality time with my grandchildren and my children. If anything, I need to ensure that, having lived the values that they understand them and that they will continue those values of wanting to make a difference.


Sam: Is it going to be harder to get your kids and your grandkids to have that passion to make a difference, in that they haven’t come from that terrible position?


Gregory: Yes. I often say to them, I wish you grew up on the farm that I did. The challenge is to be able to find a 21st century equivalent of my experience. But it’s been genuine, it’s been authentic, it’s them seeing me vulnerable, it’s them seeing me real that, warts and all, that will hopefully inspire them.


Sam: If you could wave a magic wand and have a miracle occur tomorrow morning, what would it be?


Gregory: That old man, Pappa Swaan, who was there for my two brothers and myself … We live in a country where three under-24-year-olds a week are killing themselves and committing suicide, so if I could wave a magic wand it would just be a mental figure for every single kiwi out there, somebody who’s going to be there at 2:00 a.m. in the morning when they ring and say, “I’ve stuffed up; I don’t know what to do.” Not judgemental, but still the strong guidance and the strong voice of encouraging and inspiring them. The magic wand is mentoring, but a genuine Pappa Swaan figure.


Sam: What’s the smallest thing that we could do that would make the biggest impact in achieving that?


Gregory: We have to be kind to each other. We have to love each other, and family matters. In August I was back in South Africa for my brother’s 60th birthday and then for two days mum and the three of us went away, just by ourselves, no wives, no kids. And for the four of us we couldn’t but reflect on it was 55 years ago when dad passed away, and mum as a 27-year-old with three boys, 4, 6 and 7 had to journey to … give her life in order for us to live fruitful lives. And 55 years on, here were the four of us at a resort, all over 60, still loving and enjoying each other and knowing how precious we were to each other.


Sam: Lastly, do you have any advice for our listeners?


Gregory: We all have the ability to make a difference and we all have to discover our sense of somebodiness, and our sense of self-worth that in this modern world. People think that the challenge is in the fear of others. I think the challenge is knowing who we are, what we believe in, what our values are, and then being true to that. If we could just be true to ourselves and be kind to ourselves, and be kind to others, this will be a great world.


Sam: Thank you very much for joining me.


Gregory: Thank you.



leadership urban

grand challenge of LA as a global model of urban sustainability

Cassie Rauser



I said, “No, that’s not ambitious. That’s not acceptable.” I want it to be better. I want urban ecology to be incredible.


Dr Cassie Rauser is Director of UCLA’s Sustainable LA grand challenge.

Sam: Welcome to “Sustainable Lens, Resilience on Radio,” a weekly show on sustainability topics brought to you by Otago Polytechnic. The show is co-hosted by Shane Gallagher and me, Samuel Mann. Shane’s not here tonight because I’m in Los Angeles at UCLA. Each week we talk with someone making a positive difference and we try to find out what motivates them and what it means to see the world through a sustainable perspective, through their sustainable lens. Tonight’s sustainable lens is that of Dr. Cassie Rauser. She is the director of UCLA’s sustainable LA grand challenge. We’ll find out what that means. Thank you for joining me.


Cassie: Thank for being here and thank you for having me.


Sam: We’ll come back to this but let’s start with an introduction to what the sustainable LA grand challenge is.


Cassie: Sure. Sustainable LA grand challenge is a campus-wide research initiative. It was introduced by the Chancellor in 2013. It’s a little bit different than business as usual, as far as a research initiative goes for a campus because we are organizing the research and the faculty around a major ambitious goal in sustainability. That goal is, or those goals are, to transition Los Angeles the county to 100% renewable energy, 100% locally-sourced water and enhanced ecosystem health and human health and well-being by 2050.


Instead of everyone continuing to work in their silos on their sustainable and environmental issues, we’re really bringing the faculty together from across disciplines to tackle this major problem and to rally them around these ambitious goals.


Sam: I read that part of the goal is to have a thriving in a hotter LA and be a global model for urban sustainability.


Cassie: Yes, absolutely. Absolutely.


Sam: That’s quite a big call for LA.


Cassie: Well, sustainability for LA is a pretty big call, quite honestly. When I heard about the initiative, I wasn’t here at UCLA and I got a phone call and they said, “We think you might be great working on this project. We want to make Los Angeles sustainable.” I kind of laughed and I said, “Yeah, good luck with that.” LA doesn’t have a reputation outside of the LA area as a place that is sustainable. I think that it conjures ideas of smog and urban sprawl and actually a lot of very negative environmental ideas when in fact, LA is really quite fantastic.


The folks who had come up with the idea of the grand challenge, they were very inspiring, although very ambitious. I kind of started to feel like, “Gosh, if we can do it in Los Angeles, well then you can do it anywhere.” That’s really the idea is like, “Yes, it’s a big challenge here.” We do have a long history of success overcoming environmental challenges. If you were here in the ’70s or ’80s, you couldn’t breathe. You couldn’t go outside I don’t know how many days per year. Obviously, you’re here today, although a little bit cloudy for Los Angeles, it’s pretty lovely and much clearer and the smog has significantly reduced.


We know that we can pull off things like that so in that spirit, I guess, if we can do it here in Los Angeles, if we can get to 100% renewables, if we can start using the water that we do have here, instead of importing up to 60% of our water from over 200 miles away, as a county, if we can do that kind of stuff here, you can do that anywhere in the world. There are so many major mega cities around the world that can use the technologies, the policies, the management strategies etc., that we will develop and implement here in their own backyard. This wouldn’t just be a success for Los Angeles of course; this will be a success for everyone.


Sam: Anywhere in the world. Let’s talk about your anywhere in the world. Where did you grow up?


Cassie: North Dakota.


Sam: I’ve driven through North Dakota.


Cassie: Well that’s incredible. I don’t know many people who’ve been to North Dakota. I usually get the response of, “Oh, you’re the first person I’ve ever met from North Dakota.” Well, in fact, there’s less than half a million people there still so that’s not strange. I grew up in a town of about 40 people, not 40,000, but 40 people and my parents still live in the same house that I grew up in, and everyone around us, they were farmers or worked somehow within the farm industry. We’ve had a sugar beet factory in our town where I went to school.


In a lot of ways in relation to sustainability I guess, I unknowingly was very much raised in a family that was operating in a sustainable fashion, but maybe for very different motivational reasons or philosophical reasons than kind of how I operate today. You know, not much money, always conserving, always turning the lights off, turning the water off, collecting cans for recycling and making money, but also growing our own food, freezing the food for the winter, bartering … My father was a mechanic and he would fix someone’s tractor and we would get half a pig so I didn’t grow up around fast food.


I just didn’t have the distractions and some of the negative aspects, I think, that come along with a major city. It’s a very interesting upbringing, but I knew the whole time that I also didn’t want to live in a small town and I felt like there was something bigger and better for me to do. I moved away, I think, literally the day after I graduated high school.


Sam: What did you want to be when you grew up?


Cassie: I actually always wanted to be a lawyer, and I always wanted to be an activist of some sort. I wanted to be like a social justice lawyer. I went to college in Minnesota, Minneapolis, St. Paul, at a little liberal arts school and that was just such a fantastic, amazing experience for me having come from such a small town. Everyone was really smart and there were so many options as far as careers went that I had no idea about. I quickly realized that I was very much attracted to environmental justice rather than social justice issues, and almost immediately, I became very involved in the Minnesota Public Interest Research Group, the PIRGs, and became active and a leader in that organization. I took a bunch of environmental courses, both on the social and political side, but also started taking them in the science side and realized that, oh gosh, science is really quite easy for me and fun so maybe I should do that. That’s kind of how that all evolved and I always continue to be active in the community movements.


I can’t tell you how many Earth Days I’ve co-organized or organized wherever I was. They started there in Minnesota. I found my way actually to Arizona State. I transferred there eventually and finished, but similarly, I think I was the first environmental … I can’t even remember what they called me but for their student counselor, their student union group, they had no environmental representation. I went to them and I said, “Well, gosh. You need recycling here, and you need to have an Earth Day event, and you need this and that,” and they were like, “Do you want to do it?” I said, “Sure,” and so they gave me a little bit of money and I think I did their first Earth Day and I helped them start recycling. I keep doing that because then I did that in Costa Rica, too. Like it’s so crazy. Keeps following me around.


Then from there, I went to graduate school. I figured, well, I had done some research and I enjoyed the research, and I thought, “Well, maybe I can contribute the most through getting my graduate degree. I don’t know what I’ll do with that. Maybe I’ll be a professor,” and wasn’t so sure, but enjoyed the learning and always enjoyed the schooling. I went to graduate school in ecology and evolutionary biology and was very, very fascinated by evolution and evolutionary theory, population genetics, how genes are flowing through systems, how it really in the context of sustainability … I mean anyone who knows anything about conservation … how important it is for those genes to continue to be able to flow so that when we’re … When we’re building cities and we’re building walls and we’re building freeways, we’re cutting off this gene flow and that is really affecting plant/animal populations among other organisms. I don’t know, it’s all kind of always been related and always been there.


Sam: You started out with explicitly, if not law, but the social sides of the … Is that thread continuing or did that thread continue through that research or did it become more and more technical?


Cassie: Oh, the research was much more … It’s much more technical and in fact, my dissertation wasn’t related to sustainability at all. It was very much evolutionary theory and experimental biology, but underlying knowledge that is extremely beneficial and applicable in everything I do because sometimes getting your PhD is much more about the other skills you learn than the tiny bit of knowledge they you know more than anyone else in the world. Yeah, I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do with that and how to apply it, and I had left many options open. I think I really missed the application maybe, or the activism that was always me and what I had always been doing because those five years of getting a PhD, they were about being in the lab and doing the work, and the other parts kind of dropped off.


I did have a fellowship to go to the National Institutes of Health to do a postdoc, and I went to Costa Rica for what was supposed to be three months to take a little break before what, to me, started more and more to feel like my jail time at my postdoc position. I went to Costa Rica to surf and to do some yoga and to just kind of relax, and realized I cannot go back in that lab. I don’t belong in a lab. I need to be out here. I need to be doing something else. I need to be making a big difference in the community. I felt suffocated and I called them and I said, “I’m sorry, I can’t come.” I stayed in Costa Rica and surfed and did yoga for a while because I didn’t have a job. Things came together. You think, “Gosh, I’m in Costa Rica. This is like the biodiversity mecca of the world. There must be so many amazing things you can do, but I’m an American in Costa Rica. I can’t legally work in Costa Rica. It’s a very different infrastructure for how science and conservation work, etc.


I explored things I could do in the community, anywhere from essentially volunteering at a preschool and doing what I could with education, art and science. I looked into other teaching opportunities, both high school and there was like some kind of adult community college-ish things going on, but nothing really formal. I explored a lot of different things and in the end, quite honestly, what happened is that that preschool volunteer experience is the thing that paid off because one of the child’s mother’s dad had a development that he was operating in the small beach town where we lived and he heard about me through her. You heard, “There is a woman who lives in this town who has a PhD in biology and I want her to work for my development,” and I said, “No, I am not working for somebody who builds things.” That is the last thing that my conscience would allow me to do. I was convinced by number of folks to meet with him and I did, and I was actually inspired by his vision.


The vision really was to build. People were building there anyway, quite honestly, and very irresponsibly. His vision was to build a community and it was a pretty upper-scale type community, but around a nature preserve rather than around a golf course. I thought, “Well, that’s pretty cool.” He had showed me his vision and all of that and what his goals were for it, and he really gave me freedom. I’m not even sure I ever met with him more than two or three times in the couple years I worked there. He just let me do what I wanted and it was really such an amazing experience. The idea was to form a public-private partnership, so a partnership with the equivalent of their national park system, to take some of his land, form this public-private partnership so that we had the expertise and really the legal guidance of their national park system in running a park or preserve, but then he had me obviously representing the private side.


I had a lot of both organizational experience and research experience, but in the United States. It’s very different having to translate that into the customs and the laws and the regulations of what are going on in a different country. I worked really, really closely and side-by-side with this fantastic woman from their national park group to do this and we developed community programs, education programs, recycling programs … Recycling keeps coming back.


Sam: What was in the preserve part of it?


Cassie: It was mostly mangrove wetlands. It was a piece of land that was actually in between two estuaries so we were along the beach. There were two estuaries. Actually, a national park on the other side of one of these estuaries was Las Baulas, Parque Nacionalas Baulus, and that’s the large Las Baulas leatherback sea turtle. That’s a very famous national park and you know, of course, the numbers of turtles coming to lay eggs there had been dwindling and it’s really tough. This was a piece of land that was actually adjacent in a roundabout way to that national parks land so it was an addition in a way to existing parkland. It’s mostly, I would say … Well, it’s seasonal dry forest but other than that, I mean that’s it. It’s really mangrove and seasonal dry forest.


Sam: There was development of housing?


Cassie: It was housing development and the developments prior to me being there had already made a choice that was legal, but perhaps not wise. They built too close to the mangrove and it really had the community fired up, for good reason, and that was a huge struggle. A lot of the struggle that both myself and the woman I worked with from the park service was community engagement in such a way that … We wanted to do good in the community and that maybe sometimes meant making up for building too close to that mangrove on the first try. Nothing else was along the mangrove. That was just the one very first building they built and that is a thorn in their side until the end, quite honestly. I mean I think the wonderful things that came out of it were a lot of great community engagement and community programmes.


This was a very international town. The town on the beach was international with a lot of expatriates and folks from Europe and Argentina, and United States, Canada, the whole thing, but the surrounding communities were all Costa Rican communities and I would’ve never, on my own, been able to go into the Costa Rican communities and have the experiences and the effect that I had without working with this woman, of course, who is Costa Rican. I actually married a Costa Rican and had a Costa Rican daughter. That helped a little bit, but they were very suspicious of course of the developers, and rightfully so, for the most part.


I think we had a really lasting impact in bringing good resources and community programs to them. The recycling program which was not started by this group, it was actually started by now my very good friends, Gina and Tony, who live back in Minnesota. They brought me on really early on and we started this recycling program that, to this day, is still happening and I can’t tell you how excited I am. That from once a month, everyone bring us your trash to the beach and we’re going to sort it, and have this guy come in his truck and pick it up and haul it all the way to the capital city like four or five hours away. He sells it. He gets his money, whatever, but we were recycling.


Then I helped expand that into the Costa Rican communities and they actually very much had a tradition of recycling because they were used to recycling glass bottles. Many of the older generation folks, they were like, “Why these plastic bottles? What can we do with them? They’re just trash and lying around and we can’t burn them.” It’s too bad, you know. That was a lot of obviously American influence that changed the way that they are bottling and receiving their … things are packaged and receiving their food and drink. These programs have continued and the recycling program evolved into something the municipality actually has undertaken, and by the time I had launched Costa Rica, we had begun talks with the municipality to get them on board to pick up recycling the same way that they would pick up trash. I’m actually very impressed that it ever happens. I think there were some great successes and the project actually ran out of money and that’s why I ended up coming back to the United States, but I think some good things did come out of it.


Sam: I was about to ask, but I’ll ask anyway if sustainability is the bit at the intersection of the Venn diagram that I don’t like, but let’s stick with it for the moment. Then it is where the environment and society and economics interact. This seems like a good example of something that’s actually operating in that intersection. I was about to say, “Is it working?” Then you said it’s run out of money.


Cassie: Well, 2008 happened. I mean the economic crisis happened. They were trying to sell high-end homes. That’s a second home to people who are buying those homes so they weren’t selling, obviously, at the range that they had thought that they would be selling. Well, the environmental girl was the first person to go. To some extent, I was probably sort of a piece of jewelry for them, right?


Sam: Mm-hmm (affirmative)


Cassie: They let me do what I wanted to do, but I mean the integration with what they were doing was very minimal.


Sam: That’s a shame because what I wanted to know is if it is working at that small community level. Is that the model for what has to happen of the whole … over a huge city such as LA?


Cassie: Some of the most valuable things I learned there were from the practices of their national park system and the way that they do approach that. They very much approach it like the Venn diagram, although I’ve never seen any of them use the Venn diagram. They really put effort into educating the communities where they have their parks. With the turtle experience … I’m sure many people know this story. One reason there was decline with the turtles, other than a lot of extra homes and lights and things like that and extra infrastructure, was because people would steal and sell and eat the turtle eggs. These people were making a living on doing that and so for the park system to come in and say, “No, these are a protected species. This is protected land. You can no longer come and take these eggs in the middle of the night,” that was really huge for the community.


The way the park system approaches that is that they retrained these individuals to be like where the park. Sometimes I can’t remember the words in English, you know, like the park rangers. They did workforce development and workforce training, and they gave these individuals other career options where they could make money. That was something they consistently did and was there. They were very conscious of that and it was really such a great execution of the Venn diagram of the sustainability model where they weren’t displacing people.


Sam: Then you came back. Did you go straight back to Irvine?


Cassie: I did. I came back to Irvine. I felt Irvine was a familiar place after four years of living in a let’s-have-coffee-in-a-hammock-in-the-afternoon kind of lifestyle. I mean it was culture shock to come back to the United States. One I did at Irvine actually was a bit different. I kind of left Costa Rica thinking, “Gosh, if I’m going to go back into academia, I don’t think I want to a researcher. What am I going to do? I feel like I don’t have any skills.” You know, I know how to sex a fly. I know how to sequence DNA. It’s like what are my skills? I felt a little bit lost so I thought maybe nonprofit, I am not sure. Anyway, I found my way back to Irvine and it was in a position that’s called research development. What that means is truly the development of research ideas, the research teams of proposals to fund those ideas and those research teams, so it’s the whole gamut of the research enterprise and I don’t just focus anymore on sustainability issues or even biological issues.


I was in an office that served all of the sciences, medicine in the stem fields, and the reality is that that type of job utilized all of my organizational skills, all of my community skills, all of my diplomacy skills, all of these skills that being this environmental activist my whole life had given me and I just didn’t realize, gosh, they’re truly applicable in so many ways. It was fantastic to be a part of, in some way, all sorts of kind of science going on. It was never boring. It was always the cutting edge work that was going, and really the focus was to provide support for the faculty and researchers working on interdisciplinary projects which, as you know, it’s not usually within their comfort zone or naturally what occurs in a university.


I think the trend in funding has really shifted the trend of what’s going on the university. I also think the fresh, younger professors and researchers are also a lot more keen on interdisciplinary work. I think there’s just a big shift happening in that way and it’s pretty exciting because if you take that back to sustainability, no one discipline could ever solve the problem of sustainability, ever. You know, no one technology is the silver bullet. You need to develop that technology. You need to have the policies in place for that technology to be applicable. Applied, legal, you know there are many technologies that we have that can solve so many of our problems and we can’t use them.


From Irvine, I think as I mentioned before, I got the call from UCLA when they were dreaming up this sustainability project. It was a matter of somebody had met me, knew that I did research and proposal development, also knew I spent time in Costa Rica doing environmental work and activism and this and that, and they thought, “My gosh, we need to combine all of that to have somebody come and lead this program,” and quite honestly, that was a great vision that they had because I think this really is just like the perfect job for me. It’s so amazing. It’s so fun to be a part of. I sometimes miss doing the research, but even in this, I’ve been involved as much as I want to be on that side as well.


Right when I got here, the first project was truly, “Okay, we need to coordinate and develop a research plan. You know we have these goals, we have this vision but, my gosh, how are we possibly going to get there?” I coordinated and brought together 28 faculty from across campus, so very multidisciplinary, organized them into our three major groups of energy, water, ecosystem health. In that energy room, we had lawyers with engineers with policymakers with urban planners and me, a biologist, and some of those conversations were really hard and when you get people with such different perspectives or different ideas of how the problem should be solved, it can be difficult but when you can get over that hump, it can be incredible and just so rewarding. The ideas that come out of that don’t even compare to what you would get being in the room with just a single type of researcher.


Sam: The three goals, renewable energy, locally-sourced water and ecosystem health, which is the hardest one? Which is going to be the hardest one? This is a long-term plan. You said 2050?


Cassie: Mm-hmm (affirmative)


Sam: You’re going to be here for a while.


Cassie: Well, you know. I feel like even if we got 50% of the way there, I feel like it’s still a huge success, right? The hardest … I’ll tell you what. I feel like in energy and water, I think we, even with existing technologies, we can do it. We know it can be done, now can it be done sustainably? Can it be done economically? Can it be done while not imposing hardship on lower-income communities? Can it be done efficiently? Those are all research questions that we need to address in the next five years. With ecosystem health, and that also includes human health and well-being, that one we found was a lot more difficult to, one, define what that meant. You’ll notice it’s the only one that doesn’t have a quantitative goal. It’s not a quantitative goal, I guess, enhanced ecosystem health.


The one thing I want to point out that was very important to me to do is that the language for that started out as something along the lines of “without harming biodiversity to achieve these other two goals,” and then just kind of, “let’s not mess it up any more than we’ve already messed it up.” I said, “No, that’s not ambitious. That’s not acceptable.” I want it to be better. I want urban ecology to be incredible. I want people to think about it, to notice it, for it to be a part of their lives, you now? We realized through the process that we don’t know much about urban ecology, that we don’t know much about the species that exist here. LA is really fantastic and I think most people don’t know unless you’ve spent some time here that there is a lot of protected land. We have a lot of protected land in LA County and so we do know a lot about what happens in the Santa Monica Mountains, for example, because it’s natural, protected land and people do research there. People don’t do research in the concrete jungle.


People think there’s nothing going on, but I think there really is. It’s not ideal what’s going on and there are a lot of invasive species that have now … not invasive, sorry … non-native species that have found their home here so we have a lot to think about on what do we do with those? How do we integrate them? Is it okay? Can a hard-core ecologist get over the idea that sometimes the non-native is okay? There are a lot of questions. Then we’re also so incredibly culturally diverse in LA County. I think we are the most diverse area in the world and so, culturally, what does biodiversity mean to all of these different groups? What does a lawn mean to different groups? Is it a status of an economic status? What does the rosebush mean? It takes up a lot of water, but I mean these things mean different things to different cultures and I think we need to be really sensitive about those feelings and how we integrate all of this and still make it better. I think that one’s the most challenging, quite honestly.


Sam: The lawn was a good example because as you get closer to UCLA and the houses get bigger, the lawns get bigger and the lawns get greener.


Cassie: Oh, they do. It’s no secret. Well, it’s kind of a secret because you can’t, of course, see individual water use but there is, of course, a lot of talk that has been going on with regard to lawns and the use of water and the responsible use of water, and how do we price water so that that type of behavior is deterred in some way? Yeah, definitely the poorest communities already use the least amount of water compared to the wealthier communities. There’s a lot of shaming going on. There’s a cultural shift that needs to happen here, but a lot of great, just personal conservation has already happened. Los Angeles, the state has water-mandated goals right now because of the drought and Los Angeles, I believe, has already met the goals or is only about 1% away from meeting their conservation goals with water. People have stepped up and people are conserving, and it’s going in the right direction. It’s definitely motivated by the drought, which is kind of the only good thing about the drought. Hopefully these are types of behaviors that aren’t so much of an imposition that people will continue.


Sam: Tim Flannery, who we talked to a few months ago, said that the current El Niño is a good thing because it’s given people a bit of a view into the future. The drought is perhaps doing the same thing.


Cassie: Absolutely. Absolutely.


Sam: When it starts raining again, will people forget?


Cassie: I think so.


Sam: Let’s party in the swimming pool again.


Cassie: Yeah, everyone was expecting the El Niño to bring us a bunch of water to LA and it didn’t. Prior to El Niño, the Godzilla El Niño, as it was referred to, everyone was just like, “We’re going to be fine. We’re not going to have to conserve water anymore,” and it didn’t happen. It didn’t happen and so that’s an eye-opener, too, that some of these changes need to be permanent. California is just really incredible as far as being a leader on environmental policies so I think it’ll stick. If the policies stick, then I think we have some hope here.


Sam: California might be a leader on environmental policies, but it’s also, as you say, a concrete jungle with cars everywhere.


Cassie: There are.


Sam: Can a city be sustainable just on those grounds? It doesn’t seem to me that that would be a sustainable model for that. Even if it was all electric powered, it still has to come from somewhere.


Cassie: Right, but what if all cars were electrified and all of our electricity came from renewable sources? That’s pretty sustainable. We’re going to have self-driving cars and the car culture is changing in a sense like never before and at a very rapid rate. We have shared transportation. We don’t just have public transportation anymore. We have Uber and Lyft and what not, and that has really transformed the way LA operates in a huge way. I am personally getting rid of my car. I live in LA. People would’ve thought you were a nut, like, “You can’t do that.” I take public transportation all the time. I have two children and a husband, and we currently have two cars but our lease is up and I’m done. I’m done so we’ll have one car because my husband drives for his job.


It’s not necessary anymore and I think the younger generations, all the studies show the millennials aren’t getting their driver’s license. The millennials are using shared transportation networks and that works better, too, for low-income neighborhoods, you know, the last mile to get to and from public transportation if that’s the hardship. The Los Angeles Metro did just open the train that goes all the way to the Santa Monica Pier now, so that’s the first time since … I can’t remember, the ’60s or something like that. Now, the train, you can go from Downtown Los Angeles all the way to the beach and prior to that, there was essentially no rail transportation on the west side. The greener the lawn, the less public transportation.


Sam: When you’re talking about those energy and water, you said they could be done with existing technologies, but can it be done sustainably? That’s a nice model. I like that. Can it work economically? Can it work in terms of social justice? Is that connection widely felt? Yes, we could solve this technical problem, but that’s not necessarily solving the sustainable approach to it.


Cassie: In general, I think so, and I think that’s partially because we have such great leadership in the Los Angeles mayor’s office. They developed and released their first sustainable city plan in 2015, and that plan is truly a sustainability plan. It’s not an environmental plan so I think when people hear the word “sustainability” in general, because very often, the word “sustainability” has been used to mean environmental but it has a negative connotation and that anyone who is against the environmental movement, because it’s not thinking about business, it’s not thinking about these other things, can be turned off by that. Sustainability is gaining traction globally as a concept and idea that truly encompasses the economic and societal parts of that. Like you just said, something isn’t sustainable if you can’t economically do it. I’ve had that conversation, I can’t tell you how many times, where I’ve had to remind somebody like, “No, we’re not just going to make you use that or make that technology be the way to go. It has to work economically.”


Sam: What’s your go-to definition of sustainability?


Cassie: Oh, that’s a good question. I do often refer to, I guess, what you would see in the Venn diagram, but sustainability in general, of course, is something for us to use today that will not harm future generations or will not leave future generations without resources.


Sam: A Brundtland definition…


Cassie: Yeah, it really is, but that’s what sustainable means, whether you’re talking about the environment or not.


Sam: What do we think that those future generations will be thinking about what people are doing in LA now?


Cassie: Well, hopefully they’ll look back on sustainable LA and they’ll think it’s just amazing because we will have been successful. Gosh, that’s a good question. I think I feel like we’re in a really great era right now. I feel very positive and I’ve been working in environmental movements long enough now to now have always felt like I was gaining traction or that I was being heard, but now you have major leaders who truly believe in this and are progressive enough and visionary enough to see that, “Gosh, if we continue what we’re doing, there are no future generations. There’s nothing for them.” Even today, this is about making quality of life better today and I think we can do both. I feel really good about it right now and maybe it’s because I live in the bubble of California, but again, hopefully we can continue to serve as a model.


Sam: What’s the coolest thing you’ve done in the last couple of years?


Cassie: The coolest thing?


Sam: Yeah, a thing you’ve seen that you thought, “That’s awesome,” or either you’ve done or you’ve seen one of your colleagues do and you thought, “That’s something we need to bottle. Let’s do that more.”


Cassie: Wow. Well, I had a child in the last three years so I’m going to say that’s the coolest thing I’ve done. I have to say that.


Sam: Let’s not bottle a child.


Cassie: Let’s not bottle the child, but if we could bottle their energy and their spirit, that would be amazing. Gosh, there are so many things. There are a lot of really cool technologies and I feel like everyone has seen this, but I remember that ah-ha amazing moment when I saw the transparent solar, flexible solar panels. I wouldn’t even call them panels, right? You know, the ability to put solar on windows, the ability to put solar in car paint, the ability to put solar on the streets, this is amazing. This is so incredible. We can constantly be getting energy from the sun that comes up every day. That was pretty incredible.


Sam: Do you think we can get there with such technologies, the cool stuff, or are we going to have to consume less?


Cassie: Both. It’s absolutely a combination of the two and that’s funny. I think people have a very different perspective in that, in that a lot of individuals believe that we can continue to consume and do what we want because technology is always going to come around at some point and fix this, which is a strange way to not really take responsibility for your own actions or to be a part of the solutions. I always believe in being a part of the solution and that means you recycle the inside part of the toilet paper roll at my house. Every little thing counts.


I definitely think it’s a combination and in the research plan we developed, that’s really what we came up with, that in order for us to get to local water … We do have quite a bit of rain here in LA, sometimes 12 to 15 inches a year … and that the combination of reduction in consumption and technology combined because with the water, we’re seeing we can already get a huge reduction with just really small behavior changes and so combine that with the technology and yes, that’s how we can get there. Definitely, reduction in consumption needs to happen and we know it can happen and we know we have a lot of room to reduce consumption because if you compare consumption across the world, I mean we have a long way to go. There’s a lot of wiggle room there.


Similarly with energy, most of the energy accomplishments that we’ve seen to date are because of efficiency measures, so not only just consumer behavior, but retrofitting light bulbs. These were consumer changes in consumer behaviors in many ways. The first time you started using the different light bulbs, you were like, “That light’s kind of funny. I don’t really like it,” but I think people are really used to it now. They’re saving a lot of money, saving a lot of energy, so those little things make a really big difference and they’re not imposing too much upon the individual.


Sam: Will those little things add up? Are they enough?


Cassie: Oh, they definitely add up. Those little things, water conservation, we’re a perfect example. That has added up in California. We’re reaching the mandates and we’re doing that simply through our actions. Nobody put in a recycling plant since the mandates came down. This is really all human behavior in reduction and consumption.


Sam: Is anybody complaining about that? Are people having a lesser life because of it? Part of the opposition to the sustainability movement is, “You’re wanting me to go back into the caves.”


Cassie: Right, it’s about the imposition, so it’s about what the individual feels is an imposition. I think with the combination of technology and slight modifications in behavior, that’s where we come to that equilibrium because if you think of the car and you think of even 10 years ago, who would be driving an electric car, someone who like a Charger or a Mustang probably wasn’t going to be driving an electric car, but now there’s the Tesla and it’s sexy and it’s cool and it’s fast. Now you have a different demographic that would drive an electric car that wouldn’t only 5 or 10 years ago. I think together that these things will bring different populations to a point of not feeling like this is such an imposition on them.


Sam: We’re writing a book of these conversations, which is going to be called “Tomorrow’s Heroes.” How would you like your sustainable super power to be seen?


Cassie: I think I’m an organizer. I think I’m a matchmaker and I am a very empathetic. I think I have this super-power ability, truly, to understand the different languages that the folks in the different disciplines are speaking, and translating it enough so that they start to understand what the others are doing and what the contributions are realize that they have so much more in common than not. I do often say, because I am always bringing together different groups of researchers and I’m always saying like, “Gosh, I always feel like I’m a translator. It’s so funny and in so many meetings, I will say exactly this, “I think what he’s trying to say is this,” “I think what she’s trying to say is actually this,” and “that you guys are saying the same thing, just from a different perspective.” These folks have gone on to work together, to write grants together, to do projects together, and it would’ve never happened without my super power.


Sam: I think you’ve already said that you’ve bridged the qualitative and quantitative, but have you managed to bridge the reductionist and systems thinking people?


Cassie: Yeah, a little bit. I definitely am working with those two types of groups. I have had them work together. I brought them in a room together. I do a lot of counseling before and after, truly, but we have some really great visionary system thinkers and they know that they don’t know the tiny details about how the solar is captured and how that’s delivered and how much … They know they don’t know that, but they really are the big system thinkers that we need to kind of help pull this all together. I’ve gotten that group to meet with engineers in water and energy, and it’s tough but they’re working together now because they’re giving them the numbers they need to do the big system calculations. This is one of our first projects that we really hope to have done and released, and I think it will be really provocative and incredible because it’ a “What does LA 2050 look like?” Project. It is a big system thinking project, but it really needed all of the reductionist-type research contributions to make it successful.


Sam: Are you funding spaces for the creative people to contribute to those?


Cassie: Yes, absolutely. Absolutely. That group is actually led by a world-famous architect who is very creative and their visuals are really what drew us to them because they have just amazing ability to create visuals of a city and to the urban fabric and all of that. Additionally, we have other creatives. We are UCLA. We’re in Los Angeles. We have a fantastic film theater television department. We have a great humanities department with an environmental humanities component, and I just met another professor last week who was super interested in being involved and she’s in the arts. They’ve become integrated in different ways. We had a woman in humanities who was fascinated with the idea of trash and has done projects with students on trash and waste, and what does that mean, again, across cultures? Yeah, so this really is interdisciplinary and this can’t be successful without the contribution from all of them.


Sam: What’s the biggest success you’ve had in the last couple of years?


Cassie: I think the release of our research work plan. That was really a year in the making and what I think makes it so successful was the ability to bring together the interdisciplinary groups and really develop a solid comprehensive research plan. This is the research we think, across disciplines, needs to be done in the next five years to answer the questions that we’re still not so sure about so that by 2020, we can develop a blueprint or an implementation plan for how the transition would actually happened by 2050. We’re a research university and so we do research well and will stick to doing the research, and we understand that we can’t do this alone and this is so much dependent on partnerships; partnerships with the city, partnerships with the utilities, with other institutions, with civil society, with NGOs, nonprofits. I mean you name it. We have to partner and we’re building those various relationships as we’re doing the research and together. We really want to develop an implementation plan that has input from all of these stakeholders.


Sam: Do you consider yourself to be an activist?


Cassie: Absolutely, every day, all day long.


Sam: At work?


Cassie: At work, at home, yeah, absolutely.


Sam: What motivates you?


Cassie: I think what motivates me most is contributing to positive change in the world. I’m a sucker for humanity.


Sam: What challenges are you looking forward to in the next couple of years?


Cassie: The challenges of figuring out how you get this fantastic research translated into something that is applicable and implementable, if that’s a word, because that is the struggle. There are so many amazing ideas bouncing around this campus, on any campus, and the percentage of those ideas that actually get translated and applied are very small. We realize that that is probably the biggest challenge for us.


Sam: Speaking in UC Irvine terms, because I don’t know the people here, do you have somebody like Irvine’s Peter Bowler that is going to go out and say, “I’m going to take this neglected area and regenerate it and actually do this work?”


Cassie: Oh, definitely. There are very different degrees of folks in all of the disciplines who are doing very applied work. It’s by far not the majority, but there are definitely your Peter Bowlers here and there are your Peter Bowlers in engineering, too, and there are your Peter Bowlers in law and policy. I have a much better understanding of law and policy, researchers and faculty than ever before. I always was working in the sciences, in the hard natural sciences, physical sciences, and quite honestly, what they’re doing is applied work every single day. That’s the applied work. Now, you can do policy research and then you can write your report and it never makes it into the hands of policymakers, but that’s easy to change. It’s easy to give a report to someone. It’s much more difficult to go out and change the swamp into productive land for a native species like Peter does.


Sam: If you could wave a magic wand and have a miracle occur, what would you like to have happen?


Cassie: Oh, wow. I think what I would like to have happen the most is equity. I would like to see equity and somebody had brought up the other day in a conference I was at, equality is not the same thing as equity, and that is very much true. With regard to energy, with regard to water, with regard to our health and with regard to our ability to enjoy our ecosystem and receive all of the benefits that this has to offer, I really, at the heart of this, I want to see equity. I want everybody to have that same experience and those same options.


Sam: What’s the smallest thing that we could that would have the biggest impact in getting us there?


Cassie: That’s a tough one. I think little things make a difference. I think that, quite honestly, if everyone could think of 5 little things they could do in their life, in their daily routine that didn’t, I don’t think, impose on you too much. It’s very slight modifications. If everybody did those 5 little things, that would have a huge impact. We have 10 million people in LA County. If you had 10 million people taking 1 gallon bucket of water from their shower they ran, that’s a lot of water, right. That’s just one little thing so I think it’s the little things. I think everybody engaged in doing some of the little things, that that’s going to make the biggest cumulative impact.


Sam: Lastly, do you have any advice for our listeners?


Cassie: Advice? Well, if you love sustainability or you love breathing clean air or living in a world that has equity, equality and economic prosperity, then I think everyone can be an activist in a little way. Don’t be discouraged, and that sustainability, as an area, is so broad and so diverse that I think everyone can play an important and interesting role, regardless of what your passion is so take your passion and then you can use your passion for improving life on Earth as we know it.


Sam: Thank you very much for joining me.


Cassie: Thank you so much. This was fun.


Sam: You’ve been listening to “Sustainable Lens, Resilience on Radio,” a weekly show on sustainability topics brought to you by Otago Polytechnic. The show is co-hosted by Shane Gallagher and me, Samuel Mann. We’re broadcast on Otago Access Radio, OAR.ORG.NZ and podcast on On, we’re building up a searchable archive of conversations of people from many different fields who are applying their skills to a sustainable future. In our conversations, we try to find out what motivates them, what it means to see the world through a sustainable perspective, through their sustainable lens. Tonight, the sustainable lens was that of Dr Cassie Rauser, who is director of UCLA’s Sustainable LA grand challenge, and a grand challenge it is. You can follow the links on Sustainable Lens to find us on Facebook, and you can listen to us via iTunes and other places for free. That was “Sustainable Lens,” I’m Samuel Mann. I hope you enjoyed the show.