Date posted: 20/08/2018 3 min read

Thank you New Zealand

Minnie Baragwanath, Diversity winner of the 2017 Women of Influence Awards in NZ, pens an open letter to her countrymen.

In Brief

  • Minnie Baragwanath is the founder of social enterprise Be. Accessible
  • One in four New Zealanders have an access need, 50% of people will have access needs by age 65
  • Since 2011 Be. Accessible has driven social change and engaged businesses to take action

Dear New Zealand,

I am writing to you because I want to thank you for all your support over the last few years.

On 17 January 2011, I found myself alone, in a dark corridor outside an office, in downtown Auckland. Six weeks earlier I had resigned from my job as the Disability Advisor to the Auckland City Council, and just convinced several large organisations to invest in a pretty ambitious dream I had for New Zealand... And was now locked outside a door facing the reality that I was about to set up my own social change agency (if only I could get in...)

The irony was not lost on me that the name of our new social change agency was Be. Accessible...

All of us will have an access need at some stage in our lives due to genetics, accident, illness or ageing.
Minnie Baragwanath CEO and Founder of Be. Accessible

So, what was that dream seven years ago?

It is extremely simple... We created Be. Accessible in 2011 because we believed we could create an organisation and an approach to social change that would improve the lives of the 25% of New Zealanders with access needs.

At Be. Accessible:

  • We wanted to create a contemporary nationwide leadership program that invested in the leadership development of people with access needs.
  • We wanted to create a sophisticated 21st century way to engage and inspire business to become accessible and not wait to do it as a matter of compliance or law.
  • We wanted to create a contemporary organisation and a sustainable business model, one that embodied the very best aspects of the social and the enterprising.
  • We wanted to be a good employer, an employer of choice, and to model accessible employment.
  • We also wanted to innovate, disrupt, take some risks, shake things up, work with new and interesting people and organisations, and aim as high as we could!

Nearly seven years on, the million-dollar question is, how well have we done?

New Zealand, with your support, we have:

Invested in leadership

  • Redesigned and adapted a world-class leadership program with local disability organisations, the access community and leadership professionals, to establish a year-long leadership programme that is fit for purpose in Aotearoa, Be. Leadership.

Created employment and professional pathways

  • Co-designed, prototyped and delivered a 21st century employment program that provides professional pathways for tertiary students with access needs into well-paid, meaningful employment, Be. Employed.

Engaged businesses as pioneering leaders of social change

  • Designed and implemented a disruptive new way of assessing businesses, organisations, communities and events for accessibility called Be. Welcome.

Created tipping points

  • Established the first accessibility centre of excellence, Be. Wellington, where citizens, disability organisations, local businesses and government agencies have committed to making their city the most accessible little capital in the world.

Reframed the conversation from deficit to possibility!

  • Reached hundreds of thousands of New Zealanders with the message that accessibility matters.

Created a new generation of social enterprise

  • Created a thriving and fiscally responsible organisation. By the end of this year we will be turning over close to $2 million a year through a mixture of funding, grants and a burgeoning consultancy which now makes up half of our revenue.

Created the Be. Lab

We are currently establishing a New Zealand based, globally-networked 21st century centre for access innovation, the Be. Lab!

As the founder and CEO of Be. Accessible I hope it is encouraging for you to know that thanks to your support, your investment, your readiness to try something new and to believe that things can be better... ;that we have demonstrated that it is not only possible to innovate for a more accessible society... we now know how to do it.

25% of Kiwis have an access need right now, 50% of us will have an access need by the time we are 65, and all of us will have an access need at some stage in our lives due to genetics, accident, illness or ageing.

So, remember that young woman who had just locked herself outside her office door for the third time in downtown Auckland seven years ago?

Today she still believes that New Zealand can become the most accessible little country in the world. She is still locking herself out of offices but the difference now is that she has evidence that as a country we can, and are, making a difference.

Be. Accessible is a New Zealand social change story and, New Zealand, the second chapter is about to begin!

With much love and deep gratitude,

Minnie Amanda Jane Baragwanath

CEO and Founder of Be. Accessible (that girl outside the office door!)

Diversity and Inclusion e-conference

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