E-Engage Your Community Conference Speech

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SOURCE: THE MAORI PARTY

Hon Tariana Turia,

Minister of the Community and Voluntary Sector

Today being the last day of the school holidays, I was almost inclined to bring one of my mokopuna along to this conference.

All of us will have children or grandchildren that we know come alive online.

This conference would seem like cyber paradise to them the haven of the haututu – with the invitation to be hands-on, to try out new internet based tools to see what difference can be made.

But as I thought about the wider challenges of digital technology, I decided that actually its just as important for this great grandmother to be here as it is for our children who appear to be as comfortable with a mouse and cursor as I might have been with a needle and thread.

I want to congratulate Volunteering Canterbury for your proactive initiative in hosting this E-engage your community conference.

This is a fabulous opportunity for people from not-for-profit organisations to have a go at learning about web related matters.

What we know is that more and more New Zealanders are increasingly relying on the internet for a whole range of everyday tasks ordering their groceries online, internet banking, booking flights, checking out the latest movies, buying and selling goods, and even experiencing an alternative life in another dimension.

In fact the New Zealand Computer Society has even suggested that Government should be promoting digital literacy as an essential life skill that greatly increases the capacity of individuals and groups to participate in all aspects of life.

That participation can lead to better employment opportunities or provide the means to increase learning and expand our knowledge and connect with others.

E-news, e-panui; organisational websites and social networking sites are all vibrant ways of keeping in touch with current developments.

One of the great marvels of the digital age is that through access to tools such as Twitter; Facebook; Bebo; Skype; Old Friends and the like, instant connections can be made across generations; across nations; across cultures.

For community groups, social networking sites such as these can provide a great new way of increasing your profile, of creating a stronger sense of community identity, and of sharing knowledge

One of the projects that I have watched with interest is the Cyber Whare concept at Motatau Marae up in Northland.

The project involves the construction of a multi media suite with an associated course offering technical training.

It has opened a doorway to the rest of the world whether it be the local fire-brigade, the te ara reo language group, or young people, there is now every opportunity for ideas to grow, for precious archives to be stored, for economic development to be explored.

Or closer to home, the Plugged in Project managed by the Canterbury Development Corporation in collaboration with the Peoples Times, is establishing an online, interactive training tool to support not-for-profit groups with programmes in financial management, fundraising and governance.

Some of you may have been asked to participate in a survey prepared by Professor Ted Zorn and Dr Margaret Richardson, from Waikato Management School. Some 757 representatives from community and voluntary organisations across Aotearoa responded to the survey.

The results were interesting. Amongst the key differences revealed in February 2010, since the survey was last held in 2005 were:

  • More organisations now provide remote access to online resources;
  • 59% of organisations now have access to broadband compared to 37% in 2005;
  • Similarly, over half of all organisations now have a website while in 2005 it was just 37%;
  • And probably as a consequence of the increased use, more respondents now believe that assistance with how to enhance your website would be very helpful.

I think there is very little question now that the voluntary sector can benefit from the developments that have taken place in information and communication technology.

Digital tools can bring people together, provide opportunities to work smarter and more efficiently, and enable organisations a great opportunity to keep abreast of national and international developments.

I had a fascinating experience of this earlier this week when I took part in the launch of the New Zealand Disability Support Network.

While a small group of us gathered in Lower Hutt, other groups in Whangarei, Auckland, Hamilton, Palmerston North, Christchurch and Dunedin were linked in via video-conference. A large web-camera meant that my speech was heard in real time either at these sites, or indeed in the comfort of ones home by logging into the TV blog.

It was a fantastic idea on our TV screens we had eight or so smaller panels every time someone from one of these external sites wanted to speak, their panel would come to the foreground of the screen.

Of course the beauty of being interactive means that all of us felt far more engaged in the whole event.

I thought it was a great way of being able to invest in creating a cohesive and connected network, while at the same time saving money and time.

Apparently, according again to the New Zealand Computer Society, improving digital literacy skills could contribute at least $1.7 billion per year to New Zealand in productivity improvements. Case studies they have undertaken suggest that individuals who invest in digital literacy skills could improve their productivity by one to three hours per week.

As well as the vital gains in productivity, and in expanding knowledge through use of innovation; there are some very real benefits from the way in which digital connections can help to strengthen communities.

Although some organisations experience a bumpy ride when they first introduce digital initiatives, the evidence shows that in the long term there are generally positive spin-offs for organisations. The solution is to match the digital solution to the challenge you face and not simply implement a digital solution for the sake of being digital.

Having the confidence, the knowledge and the skills to use the IT tools effectively, helps to bring people together to share information and in doing so to feel connected.

I am really excited by the momentum I have witnessed across communities and so in my role as the Minister of the Community and Voluntary Sector I am doing everything I can to make it easier to people to make the most of the opportunities that broadband and other digital tools can provide.

After all, if the Government has allocated some $1.5 billion to access to broadband, I want to make sure that it is people at the grassroots that are benefiting.

Some of the support I think might be of most interest to you includes:

  • CommunityNet Aotearoa an internet resource to support community projects and organisations;
  • The Community Resource Kit and the Keeping it Legal E Ai Ki Te Ture resource available free online to help groups set up and manage their organisations;
  • A community information and communication technology resource to help hapu, iwi and communities develop their own digital initiatives;
  • The community development scheme which can help groups to employ community development project workers;
  • The wide range of community-based projects that were funded under the Community Partnership Fund to assist communities to improve their access, skills and capability;
  • And a really great project the whatsit which can be found at www.thewhatsit.org.nz. This is an online cybersafety toolkit which helps you understand any risks, and develop procedures to ensure online security.

I hope you all have a fantastic day today, browsing and searching online; learning how to download and skype; consulting Dr Google or Mr Wikipedia for extra tips; and most of all having fun.

Thank you again to Volunteering Canterbury for taking this initiatives and well done to everyone here, for taking up the challenge of learning how to E-engage.

Many thanks to

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