The Foundation is responsible for so much goodwill across the profession. Here are our stories, where you can find out more about who we are and what we do.

Foundation interview

Foundation trustees Helen Davidson and Sina Cotter-Tait talk about the Engineering New Zealand Foundation and its work.

What is the Foundation, and how could it help you?

Can you tell us a bit about the Foundation, and how it differs from Te Ao Rangahau Engineering New Zealand?

Sina: We call ourselves the heart of the profession in some ways. We're a charitable trust, which provides a means for the profession to support its current and future members.

Helen: Rather than being a membership organisation, we're complementary to Engineering New Zealand and we can provide support to members. We’re related to Engineering New Zealand but independent. 

Are Engineering New Zealand members your primary focus, or is it more generally engineers in New Zealand?

Sina: We primarily support Engineering New Zealand members, as they're the ones who tend to contribute to the Foundation. In terms of impact, we have an aspiration that it's broader than just members. Although of course, we do look after our members – for example, through our hardship fund and scholarships. I guess it's a bit of both.

Helen: I agree, it's both. If you think about charitable trusts, they usually have beneficiaries. So, you could say that the members of Engineering New Zealand are our beneficiaries, but that doesn't mean we have a solely narrow focus on them. We have a wider focus on the profession in general.

In which way do you support Engineering New Zealand members? 

Helen: There are several ways! That's the great thing about the Foundation. There's flexibility in how we can fulfil our purpose of benefiting both the members of Engineering New Zealand and the profession as a whole. 

Currently, our focus is on building a thriving, healthy, and enduring profession. 

We’re focusing on providing funding to programs that help us on our path to that vision, and that otherwise wouldn't receive funding. That’s where we’re at now. 

Previously, we had a strong focus on wellbeing. For example, we funded the wellbeing resources that Engineering New Zealand pulled together for members. And over the last couple of years, we've provided support to members who have been impacted by Covid-19, to the extent that they haven't been able to maintain their connection to the profession through their Engineering New Zealand membership. It was very important to us that during Covid-19 members didn't lose that – because it’s a time when the connection is really important. 

The Engineering New Zealand Foundation’s Grant Programme is here to make a difference

You've just launched the Grant Programme. What's new and exciting about this development?

Sina: When Helen and I first joined, the Foundation was quite traditional in its outlook. But around this time, the Foundation had new trustees coming on board – and there was an aspiration to broaden our impact and provide another means for engineers, our members, to exercise their philanthropic tendencies.

We’re excited about this idea of having a contestable fund as something quite different that adds to the professional sphere. The Grant Programme is providing a means of financial support for initiatives that need funding and contribute to our vision of an enduring, healthy, thriving profession. 

It's exciting to see it coming to fruition and we're excited about the things we’ll be able to support through the program. 

Helen: The Grant Programme helps provide structure to the decisions we make and the way we fund different projects, programs, or initiatives. So, it brings in some important principles around transparency of funding and equitable funding. 

Fairness and transparency are important to us. We know the visibility of the Foundation isn't as broad as it could be. By creating this clear structure for people to make requests for support from the Foundation, we hope to broaden our reach.

The way we set up the Grant Programme helps enhance our ability to create transparency, including looking at the way funding is allocated. We’ve designed a participatory model for gifting, in which the communities that receive funding get to participate in future funding decisions. This is because those communities are well placed to know the projects or initiatives that will bring the most value to them.. 

For the first grant round, the trustees will be the decision-makers on the grant allocation. But going forward, we hope to bring in people who receive grants to help choose who will get the grant next. It enhances our decision making and creates benefits at the grassroots level.

Another initiative we’re undertaking is to rethink how we think about accountability in this type of programme. It's quite common when you receive an award of funds that your accountability is to write a long report around how you've utilised those funds. But we don't want a report that’ll sit on a dusty shelf. We want those lessons shared wide, far, and loud. So, we're looking at ways we can bring to life accountability through sharing, rather than report writing. It's getting that balance – and we're excited about the innovative ways to do that, to make accountability a celebration.

Sina: All the trustees were united on the fact this is a responsive approach to using the grant funds. We've got the flexibility through the way it's been designed, to respond to some of the challenges that our profession is facing. For example, being responsive to the Treaty of Waitangi and building that into our decision-making process and criteria. Or, thinking about what we're doing around climate change. This is a way our profession can respond to some of those challenges. 

We have a modern, contemporary approach to administering a grant fund. I'm excited to see what kind of projects we'll be able to support and what kind of impact we're going to be able to have.

What sort of projects or initiatives will be successful when applying for Grant Programme funding?

Sina: We've got some good criteria and principles that we've all co-designed. For example – does it align with our values of a thriving, healthy, enduring profession? Does it advance our profession? Does it have the potential to enhance diversity and inclusion? Does it reflect the principles of the Treaty? That’s what we’ll be reviewing and considering applications against. We don’t want to fund stuff that's already out there, projects or initiatives that have access to alternative sources of funding or have limited impacts. 

Helen: We're looking for impact on a professional level rather than a technical level. We’re building the grant on the principle of equity, which is what we want it to represent, and this means to some extent we also want to keep it quite open. So, while we've got those criteria and some broad bookends, ultimately, we’re open to whatever comes in our door. We don't want to define it too much that we are excluding programmes that could be great and might not have another source of funding.

Sina: We want to support projects and initiatives that facilitate system-wide change. That’s the idea this Grant Programme pivots on – something that makes a systemic wide contribution, rather than just a narrow contribution, and narrow being in the sense of either an individual or a project.

Behind the scenes

You’ve recently done work updating your vision and strategy. What inspired this mahi?

Helen: We have a real aspiration to broaden the reach and the impact of the Foundation. 

We've got this great opportunity through funds to make a big difference. But what we know is that the Foundation doesn't have that reach it should have, despite its capabilities. So, we wanted to create that north star to point us in the direction to use that money to make an impact and increase the visibility of the Foundation. 

Sina: We are lucky because we have phenomenal trustees on our Foundation board. We've got amazing people with an amazing set of combined skills. 

Together, there was a real appetite to do something cool, but the Foundation doesn't have much resource in terms of people who can do the mahi and action this strategy. But we do have money. 

So we’re raising our profile to help broaden our reach – and reach this untapped potential in our membership, that’ll contribute to something and help build a legacy for the profession. 

We thought hard about our strategy and what we're trying to do – aligning it of course, with Te Ao Rangahau and being responsive to the world we live in today. That prompted the refresh of the strategy – and challenging ourselves to be a little more aspirational in our impact.

What do you personally enjoy about being on the Engineering New Zealand Foundation board?

Helen: For me, it’s the fantastic people on the Foundation Board. They’re from all different backgrounds and experiences. Across six people, we've got so much around the table – great knowledge, experience, and diversity of thought. 

I enjoy working with all the people on the Foundation towards something meaningful. I've learned so much from everybody and it's exciting for all of us to get out of our day job and think about something a little bit bigger than ourselves. 

We're all inspired to do something exciting. So that inspires me. That's personally what I get out of the Foundation, the energy and the people that I get to work with for a great cause.

Sina: It's a privilege to work with this group of trustees. And it's one I'm thankful for.

It's such a positive experience to be part of the Foundation because inherently, you're trying to contribute to the profession – and that's pretty cool. The idea that we can do something to help amplify members' contributions and help them build a legacy for the profession is really motivating and exciting.

It’s a real values alignment of trying to use my time and skills where I can help contribute to a great team of people. So that's what I get out of it. I feel very lucky.