The Chamber of Commerce is sitting down with each of the winners from the recent Waikato Chamber of Commerce Business Awards, supported by Foster Construction Group, to find out what they did to stand out from the crowd. This week's Winners’ Insight is with HMS Trust’s executive chair Claire van der Most and community development partner Ellie Wilkinson. HMS Trust won the For Purpose Award.
Recently Claire van der Most and Ellie Wilkinson attended an event where a young woman was speaking to a crowd of about 200-300 people. She shared her story as a migrant, settling into a new city and country, finding her feet. And about the wonderful work the HMS Trust did with her, to help set her up for her new life here in New Zealand.
Ellie spoke to her afterwards. “I told her ‘You’re just flourishing and I’m so excited for you’. There was dual gratitude in that. She was so grateful for our help, and we were so thankful to see her living her best life. For us, that’s why you do it, those golden moments when someone says ‘because of the Trust, I’ve been able to do this’.”
HMS Trust was established in 1999, out of concern regarding gaps in services for people from different cultural, ethnic and linguistic backgrounds. The Trust was focused on improving access for refugees and migrants to aid successful settlement and to increase the awareness of receiving communities.
The first service offered by the Trust was an interpreting service in May 2000. That still operates today under the Decypher brand, along with a host of other services such as refugee settlement support, a community driving school as well as refugee driver training, bicycle safety education, migrant employment, computer training and more.
Claire, Ellie and the HMS Trust team were thrilled to win the For Purpose Award.
“We first started an award application a few years ago, but I stopped when I realised we weren’t ready yet,” Ellie said.
But this year, they were ready.
“One of our board members, Richard Cain, says we’re Hamilton’s best kept secret. And I’d have to agree,” Claire said.
The Trust has been updating their strategic plan and has put in a significant amount of work over the past 12-18 months, including understanding they needed to do more to promote their brand and to focus on their communication and storytelling.
“We felt our story needed to be told and we thought the awards would be a great way of showcasing what is going on quietly behind the scenes,” Ellie said.
“It’s a bit scary putting yourself out there and being unpicked [by the judges] a bit, but as a leadership team we thought we’ve got strong evidence as to why we should put ourselves out there.”
One of those reasons is the work that’s gone into capturing vast swathes of data from the work the Trust does.
“We’ve been in a state of growth and we knew we needed one centralised system to capture the data… all that evidence that demonstrates the impact the Trust has on people’s daily lives. One of our strengths now is great data. We can see the number of people we are supporting and the good outcomes.”
Having that data now means the Trust can respond when they can see there is demand for a particular service.
“We can drill in to how many people are coming to us for driving lessons for example, and we can see how long it takes for lessons and how many get their licence. We can see how many people are coming into centre each year and what support we’re providing them. It helps us understand the priorities in the community.”
And while it means the Trust can respond to trends in the data, it’s also superb evidence when it comes to providing accountability reports for the various contracts the Trust delivers on behalf of Government.
“For many of our contracts we have to demonstrate what we achieved, so as a ‘for purpose’ organisation, it clearly demonstrates our relevance and ability to deliver, and, as such, our contracts often get renewed,” Claire said. And that, in turn, means financial stability and sustainability for the Trust long term.
Claire said entering the awards “was a valuable opportunity to shine a light on the importance of supporting ethnic communities to settle well – this is diversity and inclusion in action”.
And the judges who visited the Trust agreed, saying: “HMS Trust is doing great work and people need to know about it! We were impressed by so many things you are doing – from the positive culture that so obviously is present in all of the staff, to the strategic initiatives you’ve undertaken to design your services around addressing the evolving needs of migrants, the way you measure and report on the impact you’re making, the financial resilience you’ve built through your user pay services and multi-year contracts, and the innovation you displayed during Covid. You also live and breathe diversity, and it shines through.”
The application and judging process was a valuable reflection exercise for the Trust, giving them space to think about the impact over the 23 years since the Trust began. Prior to Covid, they were in a huge growth phase where they saw on average 700-800 new clients register at centre each year. That plateaued during Covid, when the Trust had to adapt to providing other services as demand dictated. Now, with the borders open and migrants returning to New Zealand, the Trust is set to get busier again.
“We worked out that we’ve helped around 17,000 people in the time we’ve been operating,” Claire said. “That doesn’t include translation services and since we didn’t have great data to begin with, it’s probably more.”
Since 2004, the Trust has been based at the Settlement Centre Waikato on Boundary Road, in what was the former Marist Rugby Club rooms. As the demand for services has grown, the Trust has begun to deliver support to migrants and former refugees settling not only in Hamilton, but other part of New Zealand. That means they now have a huge, dedicated and passionate team consisting of 40 permanent staff, more than 220 casual interpreters, and more than200 volunteers across their local, regional and national service provision.
“Our building is packed to the gunnels,” Ellie said. “It’s almost like how many elephants can you put in a mini!”
Which is why the centre is expanding.
“In the new year we’ll be going out to tender to expand and refurbish the centre. We now have a footprint on Claudelands Park we can build within. That’s a big milestone for us. We’ve gone through resource consent for building, various iterations of the building and landed on a design. The next phase, with support from funders and the community, will be bringing it to life,” Ellie said.