Submission of the Waikato Wellbeing Project to the WEL Energy Trust 2024/25 Annual Plan

Ma te whakaatu, ka mohio         By discussion, comes understanding

Ma te mohio, ka marama           By understanding, comes light

Ma te marama, ka matau           By light, comes wisdom

Ma te matau, ka ora                  By wisdom, comes wellbeing


1. Introduction

This submission is from the Waikato Wellbeing Project, a collaborative initiative aimed at advancing sustainable development and community wellbeing across the Waikato region. We wish to express our sincere appreciation for the unwavering support provided by the WEL Energy Trust over the past five or more years, as well as their commitment to pioneering a new approach to community wellbeing leadership in the Waikato.

Regarding the WEL Energy Trust's draft 2024/25 Annual Plan, we wish to convey the following sentiments:

·       We wholeheartedly endorse the current strategic intent and inclusive funding approach outlined in the draft Annual Plan, particularly applauding the commendable increase in community grants to $10.3 million. This signifies a substantial commitment to community welfare.

·       We welcome the initiative to review the WEL Energy Trust's strategic direction. However, we emphasise the importance of conducting this review through transparent and collaborative processes, ensuring the meaningful involvement of all stakeholders.

·       We do not support the proposed reduction in funding for the Waikato Wellbeing Project in the upcoming 2024/25 financial year, or the potential further reduction in subsequent years. Such cuts would severely undermine our ability to continue our essential work in advancing community wellbeing across the region.

We trust that our submission will be given careful consideration. We remain committed to engaging in constructive dialogue to address issues collaboratively. Together, we can uphold our shared commitment to the wellbeing of the Waikato community.

2. Relief Sought


1.     The WEL Energy Trust 2024/25 Annual Plan reinstates funding for the Waikato Wellbeing Project as agreed by the Trust and Waikato Regional Council in the Partnership and Funding Agreement.

2.     Any review of the WEL Energy Trust’s strategic direction is undertaken before any changes in funding quantum and/or method for the Waikato Wellbeing Project.

3.     The Waikato Wellbeing Project and other wellbeing stakeholders are fully consulted throughout any review, especially as it relates to funding of the Waikato Wellbeing Project.

4.     The WEL Energy Trust reconfirms its commitment to funding the Waikato Wellbeing Project in FY 2025/26, as stated in the Partnership and Funding Agreement.

The Waikato Wellbeing Project requests to be heard in support of this submission.

3. Reasons

The reasons for our submission are below, with reference to principles of good governance[1]:

a)     Good Faith: The 5-year funding for the Waikato Wellbeing Project, as captured in the Partnership and Funding Agreement, was signed by both parties in good faith. We trust that it will be honoured.

b)     Open Mindedness: A “discussion with Waikato Regional Council on future funding models and project deliveries” as mentioned in the draft Annual Plan is welcome. However, to be consistent with the principles of the agreement and to avoid predetermination, this discussion should precede any proposed changes in funding quantum and/or method.

c)      Communication: Prior to the release of the draft plan, there was no opportunity for the Waikato Wellbeing Project Kaitiaki Advisory Board, Manu Taki, the Waikato Regional Council, or the project executive to understand and respond to the proposed funding change. This is inconsistent with the agreement.

d)     Transparency: The draft plan lacks sufficient detail for the Waikato Wellbeing Project roopu, stakeholders, and/or the public to understand what other funding options/processes the WEL Energy Trust might be proposing for the Waikato Wellbeing Project, and whether they meet the intentions of the agreement. This inverts the basis of the current agreement from one of mutually agreed certainty to one of uncertainty.

e)     Fairness: The Waikato Wellbeing Project has met agreed performance objectives, grown co-funding, and kept the WEL Energy Trust and all stakeholders fully informed of progress. There are no performance-based grounds for a funding reduction or changed approach.

f)      Reasonableness: In the absence of supporting information on any alternative process, the proposed change as worded is a significant (50%) reduction in funding for 2024/25, which would impair the Waikato Wellbeing Project and our partners’ ability to deliver against the objectives in the agreement and the Waikato Wellbeing Project strategic framework.

g)     Consistency: As set out in the agreement, WEL Energy Trust’s funding for Waikato Wellbeing Project is already set on a transitional pathway and due to end in 2026. There is no justification or benefit from truncating the agreed funding profile.

h)     Proportionality: If retained at the agreed level, WEL Energy Trust’s 2024/25 contribution to the Waikato Wellbeing Project would be 3.8% of their proposed $10.3m grant distributions. The Waikato Wellbeing Project’s financial impact on the Trust’s balance sheet is already very low and reducing, relative to the value created.  The slight financial gains for WEL Energy Trust from a further 1.9% reduction are not justified compared to the significant negative impacts on the Waikato Wellbeing Project and its regional wellbeing efforts.

4. Background

4.1 The Waikato Wellbeing Project

The Waikato Wellbeing Project thanks the WEL Energy Trust for having the considerable foresight, with the Waikato Regional Council, to create and invest in the Waikato Wellbeing Project. The development of the Waikato Wellbeing Project reflected a desire on the part of the WEL Energy Trust, the Waikato Regional Council, and the wider Waikato for-purpose community to establish a new platform for impact beyond transactional and short-term grant-making. The Waikato Wellbeing Project was developed through a series of community conversations across the Waikato and is supported by expert advisory workshops and careful analysis.

Throughout the process, the underlying framework for the Waikato Wellbeing Project was developed with leaders across community, iwi, business, government, and civil society. This culminated in a summit in February 2020 which was attended by the Prime Minister, MPs, mayors, councillors, iwi, rangatahi, and more than 300 community leaders across the Waikato. Since then, the Waikato Wellbeing Project has engaged, partnered, and collaborated with a wide range and number of people, organisations, and communities across the region. This collaborative approach has been key to developing and delivering our various projects and initiatives.

The Waikato Wellbeing Project represents a collective desire to achieve impact in a different and innovative way. The project has been acknowledged across the Waikato and Aotearoa New Zealand as a leading-edge example of community-led wellbeing leadership and facilitation.

4.2 Collective Impact

The reference to collective impact in our approach is deliberate.  Collective impact is a distinct methodology developed by John Kania and Mark Kramer in 2012[2]. Their approach has been adopted across the globe and is considered best practice.

While simple and/or technical problems can be solved using a linear and/or top-down approach, most of society’s socioeconomic, cultural, and environmental challenges are complex and require looking beyond simple solutions. The social sector is filled with examples of partnerships, networks, and other types of joint efforts that fail to create lasting impact. Kania and Kramer describe such efforts as ‘isolated impact’. The isolated impact approach is oriented toward finding and funding a single solution (silver bullet) embodied within a single organisation, which is combined with the hope that organisations will scale and/or replicate this solution. There is little evidence of success for such approaches to complex societal issues.

In contrast, collective impact initiatives have core components necessary for success: a funded and protected infrastructure, dedicated staff, a structured process that leads to a common agenda, shared measurement, continuous communication, and mutually reinforcing activities among all participants.

Shifting from isolated impact to collective impact requires relationships between organisations and progress toward shared objectives. This necessitates the creation of a new set of nonprofit management organisations that have the skills and resources required to assemble and coordinate the specific elements necessary for collective action to succeed.

There are 5 key conditions for collective impact success:

1.     Common Agenda: Collective impact requires all participants to have a shared vision for change, one that includes a common understanding of the problem and a joint approach to solving it through agreed actions. Our wellbeing targets are an example of this.

2.     Shared Measurement Systems: Agreement on a common agenda is illusory without agreement on the ways success will be measured and reported. The Waikato Wellbeing Project created Te Ara Poutama to address this need.

3.     Mutually Reinforcing Activities: Collective impact initiatives depend on a diverse group of stakeholders working together, not by requiring that all participants do the same thing, but by encouraging each participant to undertake the specific set of activities at which they excel in a way that supports and is coordinated with the actions of others. All Waikato Wellbeing projects are developed in conjunction with Manu Taki and community leaders. Our key strategic actions all reinforce each other.

4.     Continuous Communication:  Developing trust among nonprofits, corporations, and government agencies is a monumental challenge. Participants need time to see that their own interests will be treated fairly, and that decisions will be made based on objective evidence and the best possible solution to the problem, not to favour the priorities of one organisation over another. The Waikato Wellbeing Project has placed particular focus on effective and high-quality communications.

5.     Backbone Support Organisation: The expectation that collaboration can occur without a supporting infrastructure is one of the most frequent reasons why it fails. The backbone organisation requires a dedicated staff separate from the participating organisations who can plan, manage, and support the initiative through ongoing facilitation, technology and communications support, data collection and reporting, and handling the myriad logistical and administrative details needed for the initiative to function smoothly. The Waikato Wellbeing Project team is the backbone organisation for the Waikato wellbeing movement.

The operating design and model for the Waikato Wellbeing Project took careful note of, and localised for our region, the work of Karnia and Kramer. The Waikato Wellbeing Project also drew on successful social innovation programmes in Aotearoa New Zealand such as the Southern Initiative[3]. Our investment in all 5 of the above attributes, plus those unique to Aotearoa New Zealand and the Waikato, such as a pou of te Ao Māori, are amongst the key success factors for the Waikato Wellbeing Project to date. The WWP has been acknowledged by government agencies and groups including the Office of the Auditor General, the Productivity Commission, Taituara, Local Government New Zealand and the Review of Local Government Panel as good practice in community development. Lots of Little Fires has received a national award for strengths-based research through Community Research NZ.

4.3 Partnership and Funding Agreement

Since its inception, the Waikato Wellbeing Project has been honoured to be supported by a broad range of people and organisations, both financially and in-kind. In response to the wellbeing challenges and opportunities in the Waikato, the WEL Energy Trust and the Waikato Regional Council agreed in 2020 to establish a 5-year fund to support a backbone organisation for wellbeing leadership in the Waikato.

The WEL Energy Trust’s funding for the Waikato Wellbeing Project is not an annual grant. It is a medium-term impact investment in doing things differently, and intentionally follows best practice for implementing a collective impact approach. As stated in the agreement, by committing to a multi-year funding programme, the partners were showing great foresight and leadership by moving “beyond grant making”. The agreement was signed by the Chairs of the Waikato Regional Council and the WEL Energy Trust and remains current. The respective chairs and CEOs of the Waikato Regional Council and the WEL Energy Trust meet annually to discuss progress made against the agreement.

The agreement committed WEL Energy Trust to providing $3m over 5 years for the Waikato Wellbeing Project. The agreement defines the nature of the relationship as one based on good faith and respect for each other’s views. The agreement states that if matters arise that may be of interest to any party, a contact person designated by each party is to be informed.

Relevant provisions in the agreement include:

·       The purpose of the funding is to establish a backbone organisation (refer above), widely understood to be a key element of any successful collective impact programme.

·       The agreement refers to a commitment to be strategic, expanding support beyond traditional grant making. Funding of the Waikato Wellbeing Project for 5 years reflected this new way of creating impact.

·       The partnership relies on an ongoing engagement and collaboration between the Council and the Trust, reflecting a commitment to joined-up leadership.

·       Some relevant principles of the agreement include:

o   Respect – parties respect Te Tiriti principles of partnership, protection and participation

o   Transparency – there will be no surprises in working arrangements, expectations or relationships

o   Reciprocity – the parties will share information, ideas and opportunities that will achieve the shared vision

The agreement was entered into in good faith. The Waikato Wellbeing Project can only operate effectively if there is trust that the agreement will be honoured by both parties and that its objectives are met. To be effective, the Waikato Wellbeing Project needs assurance of commitment so that it can plan, partner with other wellbeing organisations in the Waikato and Aotearoa New Zealand and can build and retain the capability and capacity it needs to meet its objectives.

The funding committed in the agreement had the following key attributes:

·       Funding for 5 years, subject to the project meeting agreed milestones and criteria.

·       Funding from WEL Energy Trust to reduce over the 5 years, and co-funding from others to inversely increase, so that overall funding is maintained.

·       Co-funding from other partners, both in cash and in kind.

·       WEL Energy Trust funding of $3m, on the following schedule:

5. Proposed Annual Plan

The changes proposed in the 2024/25 Annual Plan are summarised below, with the proposed change in red. The wording of the draft plan does not make the reduction in funding clear to readers and contains no reasons for the changes or alternative process. We have not been advised of the Trust’s intentions for 2025 and are concerned that the same approach of funding reduction may be taken. The loss of confirmed funding to the Waikato Wellbeing Project is proposed to be $200,000 - but could be as high as $500,000 over two years if there is no committed funding in 2025/26. This would represent a 71% reduction in committed funding in the last 2 years of the agreement.

6.     Accountability and Performance

The Waikato Wellbeing Project has, since its operational phase started in 2021, reported every 6 months to the WEL Energy Trust and keeps in close contact with Trust officials. The Waikato Wellbeing Project team is co-located in Perry House with the WEL Energy Team, including its CEO and Chair. We fully update our Kaitiaki Advisory Board every second month, and the CEO of WEL Energy Trust and a WRC representative are invited to these meetings as observers, as set out in the Terms of Reference for this group. In practice the observers are encouraged to fully participate in Kaitiaki meetings.

The feedback we have received from the WEL Energy Trust has always been that we have fully met project milestones and criteria. When invited, we have attended WEL Energy Trust Board meetings to update the trustees in person on the progress we have made. We presented to the new WEL Energy Trust trustees in September 2023.

We hold two Manu Taki hui every year and representatives of the WEL Energy Trust are always invited to and have always attended these hui. The Waikato Wellbeing Project also publishes a stakeholder newsletter every second month, which goes directly to about 1000 people and organisations and all stories are posted on our website. Since early 2021 we have published 18 newsletters and more than 120 stories of the work we are doing and supporting. We post almost daily on our own website, LinkedIn, Facebook, and Instagram channels. Our Lots of Little Fires videos have been viewed over 200,000 times on YouTube alone. We have a strong following across Aotearoa New Zealand and the world.

In terms of co-funding, we have worked with sponsors, funders such as Trust Waikato and supporters to meet the criteria in the agreement. This is a combination of cash, sponsorship, and in-kind support, especially the time gifted by Manu Taki and key project supporters. The results to date are shown below.

At the end of calendar year 2023, the Waikato Wellbeing Project was well ahead of its co-funding commitment by 72%. We already have another $300,000 cash committed by Trust Waikato in years 4 and 5 for Te Ara Poutama. We are actively working on co-funding opportunities for our other key projects.

7. Conclusion

The Waikato Wellbeing Project urges the WEL Energy Trust to uphold the values of open dialogue, mutual respect, and collaborative problem-solving. Our longstanding partnership has been built on shared goals of enhancing community welfare, and we value WEL Energy Trust's support in fostering innovative approaches to regional wellbeing.

While we commend the draft Annual Plan's strategic vision and increased community grant allocations, we express concern regarding the proposed reduction in funding for the Waikato Wellbeing Project. This deviation from the established Partnership and Funding Agreement threatens to undermine the impactful work we've achieved and compromises our ability to sustain our efforts in the years ahead.

We urge the WEL Energy Trust to reconsider this proposal and reinstate funding levels in alignment with our agreed commitments. We advocate for a transparent and inclusive review process of the WEL Energy Trust's strategic direction, ensuring our active involvement and adherence to the principles of good governance.

Our collective efforts have yielded tangible results in advancing community wellbeing, and we remain steadfast in our commitment to fostering collaboration and resilience across the Waikato region.

Thank you for considering our submission, and we look forward to continued partnership in realizing our shared vision of a thriving, inclusive community.

[1] For example, refer to Sections 2.1,2.2 of the Institute of Directors Four Pillars of Governance Best Practice

[2]  Collective Impact (

[3] The Southern Initiative (