Whether it’s a bustling community garden or an empty playground, Sophia Beaton is asking all the questions.
What has drawn so many people here? Why are there no children playing at such a vibrant park? What’s working, what’s not and why?
She said asking questions and being curious is a trait inherited by her ancestors, a long line of natural innovators and advocates for social justice and wellbeing – and it’s got a lot to do with her upbringing in Murihiku.
“My ancestors have always spent time on the islands of Foveaux Strait, whether it was to harvest titi (muttonbirds), to build kainga, or to farm. Whatever the reason, living on those remote islands in difficult conditions requires a lot of tenacity and a whole lot more creativity,” she said.
“I remember my Poua (grandfather) being the ultimate innovator. He was able to make whatever he needed with the resources around him, and you had to do that, because there weren’t any shops to go out and buy the things you need.”
“So when I think about my innovative ancestors and whānau, it’s got a lot to do with the island.. taking what works and what doesn’t, testing things out, trying again, and I guess that’s just something that kind of comes naturally to me.”
Initially tasked to organise the Christmas lunch at the Auckland City Mission, it wasn’t long before Beaton found herself working in community development – putting her hand up for any role that involved connecting and talking with people from different walks of life.
But it was her role at Auckland Council where she discovered co-design as a formal practice.
“I had the homelessness portfolio and part of my role was to develop and support a cross-agency plan to address homelessness,” she explained.
“It always felt really strange to me that the people most affected by homelessness never had an opportunity to participate in that. So me and a couple of colleagues, we started to sneak a group of streeties into the office at night and we would all work together to come up with some amazing projects.”
“One day, our department got a new manager, who saw me sneaking all these people into the office and she asked me what was going on. After I explained what we were doing, she just said to me ‘that should be your job, that’s the stuff that matters’... she helped set me up on my path of social innovation and design, formalising the stuff I was doing naturally and helping to provide a language for the way I was working.”
Shortly after, Beaton was introduced to social innovation in different contexts, joining the Innovation team at The Southern Initiative (TSI) to help tackle some of south Auckland’s most pressing social and economic challenges.
Now, she’s supporting Healthy Families Far North in their practice around innovation and design, ensuring kaimahi are deeply connected across their work and inside “doing the do.”
With over 10 years’ experience working across government, local government and the not-for-profit sector, she knows all too well about systems – and how, in large, Māori are disproportionately affected.
The Practice and Development Lead said understanding the underlying causes of poor health is key to making changes for a better future.
“It’s that old saying that if you're growing an indoor plant and it's dying, well it’s likely not the plant. It’s the soil or the water or the light.”
“People face challenges and people have difficulties, but we’ve created these conditions and environments, systems and policies and processes that hold people in place.”
We have the ability to shift those conditions so whānau and communities can thrive, she added.
“What's unique about something like Healthy Families is that it really is about trying to go back to the underlying root of what's going on. We’re not trying to fix an individual, we want to work alongside them so they are in their best environments and living in their full potential.”
“The way we connect with our communities and the way we work with whānau or our stakeholders, every interaction is an opportunity for change, a chance for us to make people feel safe, welcomed and valued and to practice the way that we want the world to be.”
“I’m so excited to be working alongside this amazing team as we harness the strengths, talent and opportunities sitting inside the Far North.”
Korokī taku manu e kārakaraka ana Nā Mū, nā Weka i toha mai a ha kimihia, rakahaua. My bird singing is in full song Gifted to me by Mū and Weka Search for it, seek it out.