At Kāinga Ora, Venus Rangi supports communities through Auckland’s population-driven housing developments, helping to build better communities in the process.
After leaving school at a young age, Venus was unsure of what she wanted to do and explored a number of options before starting a Certificate in Foundations Studies (now called the New Zealand Certificate in Study and Career Preparation (Level 3)) at Unitec. Venus says the programme laid the foundation for the path she wanted her education journey to take.
“After that year at Unitec, I attempted some undergraduate programmes at other institutions,” she says. “But, I’d often find conversations going on around me with regards to privilege. As a young learner, I felt I was in the wrong place. I didn’t feel supported and it really knocked the confidence out of me. So, when I heard about the Social Development degree at Unitec, it just felt right to re-enrol there.”
Venus began the Bachelor of Social Development at Unitec in 2015, majoring in health promotion. She felt this would give her a broader view and the opportunity to move around communities and focus areas. However, it was Unitec’s support and flexible learning environment that really drew her to the institution, she says.
“Unlike the other places I’d studied, Unitec provided loyalty, whakataukī, manaakitanga, and encouragement during my degree studies. The support I received from the lecturers and student team was beyond anything I’d experienced. The belief and mana it instilled gave me the confidence to take my education journey forward.
“For me, Unitec was a safe, supportive environment where conversations were held with a more respectful, bi-cultural, Treaty-driven approach. This is what eventually led me to my post-graduate studies - a Master of Applied Practice in Social Work. My thesis is based around how Treaty principles are applied in Public Services, whether Māori voices are being heard and whether career aspiration and progression is enabled for Māori.”
Venus says the flexibility of the degree was essential for her as a working mum.
“The staff at Unitec just got it: they understood what it was like to study while being a mum of four and working full-time. The degree was flexible in the way it was taught, which meant I could continue my role at Sport Waitākere, working with communities to create opportunities for physical activity. Sport Waitākere were also very supportive of my learning journey.”
The flexibility of her degree also meant Venus could take the time to run a free community holiday programme for between 100-200 kids, providing food, mentoring, support and pathways to sport.
“The programme started two weeks before the holidays and ran until two weeks after. The fact that I received so much support from Unitec to continue my life while studying made this possible.”
Life after graduation
“I’d already applied for my current role at At Kāinga Ora, but, because it was a long process, I took the MoE role in the interim. I was looking at population growth and how housing/the housing development plans, in general, were impacting on schools. My focus was role growth/decline, school zones and developing charters for Kura kaupapa Maori schools - really cool stuff. I learnt so much in six months and it put me in a really confident space to start my next role.”
Venus was initially employed in Kāinga Ora’s Community Development and Engagement team, which directly supported communities through the impacts of the new housing developments taking place across Auckland. Unfortunately, six months into her role she was informed that an organisational reshape was taking place and her role would be disestablished. Undeterred, Venus decided to aim high and applied for the National Chief Advisor Community Development role and was successful in her appointment. She also applied for a position within the organisation's newly created leadership committees which govern the implementation of strategy, policies and programmes relevant to organisational outcomes. She was also recently appointed to the Te Tira Maori pae tataki which will provide her with leadership learning and development.
“I am able to apply my learnings from Unitec and my employment experiences to support community teams across New Zealand. The housing programme has many complex layers and requires meaningful engagements and conversations. Some communities experience significant changes including relocation of people, houses and resources. Our teams work hard to support communities through this, aiming to create a cohesive community, albeit more condensed, in the process.
“20-30 years ago, most kiwis had the quarter-acre dream, but this began to change as our population grew. These housing projects will change the landscape even more, but I see it as an opportunity to build more connected communities that reflect the ones we had 20 years ago. That’s what’s really exciting I think: having the chance to contribute to and shape the future landscape of New Zealand.”