A Q&A on philanthropic leadership with Sir Stephen Tindall as seen in the latest edition of PNZ’s magazine

Treat others the way you wish to be treated yourself.

Tell us what ‘leadership’ means for you and how would you describe your leadership style?

I’ve always subscribed to servant leadership, which is best described as a leader that works bottom up supporting everyone in the organisation, rather than a “command and control” top down style. Servant leadership involves listening and working with all areas in a business or the philanthropy sector. It enables the people in the organisation to use their own initiative and to take responsibility for the area in which they work. It is very empowering for everyone. My experience has been if you treat people the way you want to be treated yourself, people will respond well – and together you will achieve more.

What role does philanthropy play in leadership across Aotearoa New Zealand?

Governments can’t do everything. There is an implied responsibility on people, to not only help themselves but also help their neighbours and community. Philanthropy comes from people who have been lucky enough to be successful and have surplus funds to be able to reinvest in Aotearoa New Zealand. For this reason philanthropy plays a very important role. The key is to show both leadership and an example of generosity that inspires others to do the same. There is a lot of wealth in New Zealand, as well as a lot of need. And if more with wealth helped those in need, our country would be much better off.

How can the philanthropic sector support leadership of community through funding?

The first thing is to identify leadership in the community and to support those people not only with moral support, but also finding out where their funding needs are. There are many community leaders and workers who could do a lot more for their own communities if they had both of those types of support. I’m a great believer in community led development and bottom up leadership from people who really know and understand their communities – so they can motivate, inspire and lead their people to do more for themselves. There can sometimes be an expectation that a wealthy state can always look after everybody, however as we’ve seen through Covid, this becomes incredibly difficult unless there is a lot of grass roots leadership, which we have also observed coming to the fore.

“There is an implied responsibility on people, to not only help themselves but also help their neighbours and community”

What has Covid-19 meant for leadership in Aotearoa New Zealand?

Covid has brought out the very best in community leadership and in generous people providing money, goods and services to those who have been badly affected and those who require support. Probably however, the most inspiring leadership has come at the community level, where people and whānau have stepped up to assemble and deliver food parcels and essential items to households with Covid to prevent further spread of the virus.

How has the sector adapted to Covid-19?

The philanthropy sector has adapted to Covid-19 by recognising that a crisis exists and by pivoting a lot from their normal day to day philanthropic activities to where the real needs are during a serious pandemic. There has been incredible stories of generosity, leadership and execution to enable us to keep families safe and well fed.

In the next few years, what are the opportunities for funders in the leadership space?

The biggest opportunity I believe, is across the New Zealand community, rather than just existing philanthropic groups and families. The movement called “Community Foundations of New Zealand” are providing a fabulous way for people, even with a small amount of surplus funds, to contribute to their local communities. This is proving very popular and over the last couple of decades almost $200 million of cash has been donated and $350 million has been promised in legacy payments. The big advantage of this is that the donations are invested and the income from those investments means that dividends and family donations go to their favourite causes in the local community which grows and goes on FOREVER. We have seen a divergence which has accelerated between the rich and poor in New Zealand due to some very successful businesses. There is huge opportunity for those that have made a lot of money to help poorer communities for the overall benefit of Aotearoa New Zealand.

“The movement called “Community Foundations of New Zealand” are providing a fabulous way for people, even with a small amount of surplus funds, to contribute to their local communities”

Which leaders do you admire / what roles models have impacted you in a positive way?

I’ve admired some of the pioneer philanthropists in New Zealand such as J R McKenzie, from the McKenzie family who owned a chain of retail stores called McKenzies – they set up their charitable trust in the 1930’s. The Sutherland family who pioneered New Zealand’s first chain of grocery stores in 1941 called The Self Help Co-op, they generated their wealth from their grocery business by rejecting traditional trading methods and opted instead for a business model that would support the community. The Todd Foundation, also a wealthy extensive family who have shown generosity. The community trusts, including those that came from the sale of Trust Bank and others from energy companies that were sold, are also showing excellent leadership in philanthropy in New Zealand.