Helping people and working in partnership at the coalface of community issues.
The role of a community engagement manager involves spending a portion of the week behind a desk working on policies, documents and strategies. While he values this, the part that Sjimmy Fransen loves best about his job at Tamaki Regeneration Company is getting face-to-face with the diverse groups that make up this unique community - and understanding what really matters
It’s a theme that has run right through his life; helping people, working in partnership, up close and personal, at the coalface of community issues. Sjimmy was always destined to work with people, especially minorities and groups affected by historical factors.
Being of Dutch and Suriname Creole descent, his understanding of the challenges that cultural differences can present runs deep. His dad was a leader in his community in Suriname so the seed was planted early and coming to New Zealand speaking no English at the age of 11 also made Sjimmy well aware of what it’s like to be a minority trying to adapt. “I guess maybe I enjoy working with different cultures as I can identify with where they are coming from and what they might have suffered, but can still work with them in a strengthsbased way. I was an immigrant raised by a single mum who worked long hours to put food on the table. I know it wasn’t always easy. Almost all the work I’ve ever done is with people experiencing marginalisation or structural inequity. It’s important to restructure systems so that the interaction between the people and organisations is empowering.”
When Sjimmy, and his mother arrived in New Zealand, they lived in a predominantly Maori neighbourhood. “As a young person I assimilated more into that community and families with those cultures - while still retaining my own of course - and that was my
introduction to New Zealand. “At college I formed a youth group and was highly engaged in what was happening politically at the
time - the Springboks Tour protest of 1981, the land rights marches in the early 80s and Hikoi ki Waitangi, just before the Waitangi claims settlements commenced. My relationship with mana whenua comes from those days and the relationships formed in that space
from those times.” These relationships are still very relevant in both Sjimmy’s current role and his personal life. All his six kids have gone through kohanga reo and kura and at work, a lot of his role is continuous communication with representatives from Ngati Paoa, Ngai Tai ki Tamaki and Ngati Whatua Orakei, other iwi and Ruapotaka Marae. “The Tamaki area is of huge significance to several iwi. Mokoia pa was arguably the largest Maori settlement in the country and had significant horticultural areas. “The Tamaki River/Te Wai o Taiki, was the highway for waka and a space where many iwi intermingled. “There are many people in this area who are direct descendants of the people from these pa and this is obviously very important toremember as we progress with this regeneration.”
Sjimmy has worked in many community roles over 35 years (including working with homeless youth on Auckland’s streets, working in community and public health, community development work, drug and alcohol education, economic and social development, and founding leadership programs) but it’s in this job that he’s seen some of the most genuine collaboration with iwi ever. “We’re building personal relationships and partnerships so we can work through anything we haven’t got right - it’s always a work in progress. This is the way it should be done all over New Zealand and I feel very blessed to be part of it.”