Breadcrumbs

Dear New Zealand – a letter of thanks from Minnie Baragwanath, CE Be. Institute

Dear New Zealand

I am writing to you because I want to thank you so very much for all your support over the last few years.

I know letter writing is no longer in vogue, but after months of trying different smarter, slicker, glossier, cooler approaches I have surrendered to the traditional and beautiful craft of letter writing!

So here goes!

On 17 January 2011, I found myself alone, in a dark corridor outside an office, in downtown Auckland. I had just locked myself out of the office for the third time because the key pad was teeny, and as a woman who regularly tries to put her cat on over her head because she thinks it is her black jersey, eyesight is not my greatest strength.

Six weeks earlier I had resigned from my job as the Disability Advisor to the Auckland City Council and returned from a not-so-relaxing whirlwind tour of Vietnam and Malaysia with a friend who was retracing her traumatic escape as a seven-year-old refugee, crikey…! I had just convinced several large organisations to invest in a pretty ambitious dream I had for New Zealand…And was now locked outside a door facing the reality that I was about to set up my own social change agency (if only I could get in…)

It is fair to say that this was quite a significant life moment!

The irony was not lost on me that the name of our new social change agency was Be. Accessible…

So, what was that dream seven years ago? What did all of us who came on board and invested in Be. believe was possible?

It is extremely simple…We created Be. Accessible in 2011 because we believed we could create an organisation and an approach to social change that would improve the lives of the 25% of New Zealanders with access needs.

We felt the status quo, which seemed to just silently accept the costs of an unequal and disabling society, was no longer acceptable, and we realised that we needed to take action if we wanted an inclusive and socially innovative New Zealand we could be proud of in the 21st century. This vision is about leadership and possibility!

At Be. Accessible:

  • We wanted to create a contemporary nationwide leadership programme that invested in the leadership development of people with access needs and to build a strong, supportive community and network of access leadership.
  • We wanted to create a sophisticated 21st century way to engage and inspire business to become accessible and not wait to do it as a matter of compliance or law.
  • We wanted to create a brand and a story that would invite New Zealanders to value the idea of an accessible world and to have a fresh conversation, one that focused on what was possible... not on limits!
  • We wanted to create a network of powerful leaders across business, government and community to advocate for and advance a more accessible world.
  • We wanted to create a contemporary organisation and a sustainable business model, one that embodied the very best aspects of the social and the enterprising.
  • We wanted to be a good employer, an employer of choice, and to model accessible employment. We wanted to professionalise access expertise by paying people properly.
  • We also wanted to innovate, disrupt, take some risks, shake things up, work with new and interesting people and organisations, and aim as high as we could! We wanted to be a passionate organisation that was not afraid to Be. Ourselves!

In summary, we wanted to be an accessibility social change agency that catalysed and generated a culture of innovation and social change that would advance a more accessible world here – and maybe even around the world!

Nearly seven years on, the million-dollar question is, how well have we done? How well have we honoured our end of the bargain and innovated for a more accessible Aotearoa? Did we get everything right first time? Of course not – it took Edison 1,000 attempts to create the light bulb after all, but we are heading in the right direction…

New Zealand, with your support, we have:

Invested in leadership

  • Redesigned and adapted a world-class leadership programme with local disability organisations, the access community and leadership professionals, to establish a year-long leadership programme that is fit for purpose in Aotearoa, Be. Leadership.
  • Successfully enabled 107 leaders to participate in and graduate from our Be. Leadership programme and to feel confident to lead change in their own fields and communities.

Created employment and professional pathways

  • Co-designed, prototyped and delivered a 21st century employment programme that provides professional pathways for tertiary students with access needs into well-paid, meaningful employment, Be. Employed.
  • Placed 97 young professionals into paid internships while they completed their study, or supported them to go into full employment after graduating.
  • Engaged businesses as pioneering leaders of social change
  • Designed and implemented a disruptive new way of assessing businesses, organisations, communities and events for accessibility called Be. Welcome.
  • Co-designed this tool in partnership with end users, disability organisations and entrepreneurs!
  • Created and trained a network of highly skilled assessors (Be. Coaches) to implement the assessment programme throughout New Zealand.
  • Created a business model that ensures access experts up and down the country are well paid for their expertise.
  • Made it possible for over 600 organisations and businesses to have a Be. Welcome assessment and launched them on a journey to becoming fully accessible.
  • Enabled these organisations to make over 3,000 individual access improvements as a result of doing the Be. Welcome programme.
  • Designed and delivered a cultural change programme that gives organisations and their people the ability to become accessibility confident, Be. Confident.

Created tipping points

  • Established the first accessibility centre of excellence, Be. Wellington, where citizens, disability organisations, local businesses and government agencies have committed to making their city the most accessible little capital in the world.

Reframed the conversation from deficit to possibility!

  • Reached hundreds of thousands of New Zealanders with the message that accessibility matters, by documenting, filming, writing newsletters, telling stories, giving presentations locally and around the world, building relationships with the media and experimenting with social media.
  • By making ourselves vulnerable and sharing our most personal experiences with you New Zealand, we have touched the hearts of thousands of people and invited them to think differently about the importance of an accessible world for all.

Mobilised strategic influence

  • Created the Fab 50, a powerful network of influential New Zealanders who have become access champions, pioneering social change initiatives in their organisations and across their spheres of influence.

Created a new generation of social enterprise!

  • Created a thriving and fiscally responsible organisation. By the end of this year we will be turning over close to $2 million a year through a mixture of funding, grants and a burgeoning consultancy which now makes up half of our revenue.
  • Established ourselves as a responsible and values-driven employer of choice. We now employ 17 professionals at our head office in Auckland and another 20 contractors throughout the country. People with access needs make up over half of our team, our board, our leadership team and our contractors, and our CEO (me) is partially blind to boot!
  • Created an enterprise and a series of programmes that are generating millions of dollars into local, regional and national economies through the burgeoning yellow dollar and access economy.

As the founder and CEO of Be. Accessible I hope it is encouraging for you to know that thanks to your support, your investment, your readiness to try something new and to believe that things can be better for our people, our families, our communities, even ourselves…that we have demonstrated that it is not only possible to innovate for a more accessible society… we now know how to do it.

We now know that if we focus on possibility, not deficit (disability), and take a holistic social change approach that addresses the physical, social and personal aspects of life, if we are enterprising, innovative, disruptive and heartfelt, and if we have the right people and committed leadership, we can create change.

And …the critical thing to remember is that this work is about valuing and improving life for all of us!

25% of Kiwis have an access need right now, 50% of us will have an access need by the time we are 65, and all of us will have an access need at some stage in our lives due to genetics, accident, illness or aging.

So, remember that young woman who had just locked herself outside her office door for the third time in downtown Auckland seven years ago?

Today she still believes that New Zealand can become the most accessible little country in the world. She is still locking herself out of offices and struggling to dress herself in her black cat, but the difference now is that she has evidence that as a country we can, and are, making a difference.

So far you might have contributed to our social change work through a myriad of ways… it might have been through your taxes or a donation. Perhaps as an employer of a young person with access needs. Maybe as a businessperson who contracted an access expert to assess your business. Maybe as a friend who supported someone you care about to take a chance on our leadership programme. Maybe as a politician who backed a bill to invest in us. Or as the CEO of a city who supported their team to work with us to make the local community more accessible. Or a young woman with an access need daring to imagine she could set up and lead her own business one day.

New Zealand, seven years ago you took a punt on our vision for Aotearoa to become the most accessible little country in the world. We want to let you know that we have deeply honoured and treasured that faith you placed in us, and feel that while there is still so much to do, we have done our very best to deliver on that promise. I believe we have done our very best to reimagine, recreate and start to deliver a more accessible Aotearoa! Have we done it perfectly? Of course not. Have we made mistakes? Yes. Have we made a difference to the fabric of New Zealand and the lives of our citizens with access needs? I deeply believe we have! Can we do more? Absolutely we can. Can we do it alone? No. Will you continue to believe in us and help us create not only the most accessible and inclusive country in the world but also help us grow and develop our world-class centre of access innovation so we can keep on learning and improving for years to come?

I do hope so!

Be. Accessible is a New Zealand social change story and, New Zealand, the second chapter is about to begin!

With much love and deep gratitude,

Minnie Amanda Jane Baragwanath

CEO and Founder of Be. Accessible (that girl outside the office door!)