Intransigence, opaqueness for the Culturally and Linguistically Diverse

Dr Zainab Radhi

Founding Director of SMART Start Business Ltd

(Providing support to migrants and refugees)

In addition to being a great place to live, New Zealand also has a reputation for fairness and transparency. As a nation we welcome legitimate new arrivals to our shores. However, while working very closely with the Culturally and Linguistically Diverse (CALD) community, I find there is much work to be done. There is an urgent need to improve inclusivity and integration of our recent arrivals by overcoming intransigence and lack of transparency in the public service.

The mission of my Wellington-based business is to help migrants and refugees to help and develop themselves and contribute to the New Zealand economy. In other words, to assist migrants and refugees to be self-sufficient and prosper in our legislative, political, social and business environments, initially unfamiliar to them.

Obstacles are challenges

Day after day, job after job, project after project, I’ve increasingly experienced many gaps in the network of support services that ought to be available to the CALD community.

My experience over the last five years is that there is a widespread lack of transparency, access to information, accountability, flexibility, understanding of the community needs, and adaptability to new circumstances and situations. All these factors have created obstacle after obstacle and endless challenges, to those of us who are trying to improve the wellbeing of the CALD community in the broadest sense.

Over three years, I have developed many programmes to support this community without any government support, funding or even income. These programmes were thoroughly researched and recommend solutions to address the diverse challenges faced by this community.

I’ve knocked on many doors, including Ministers, with little success. There is an unfortunate pattern in all the responses:

‘We cannot help you!’

‘I will put you in touch with someone else!’

‘This is not what we do!’

‘Your services are not listed with us!’

‘You are on our waiting list to have a meeting which will take months to arrange!’


From my experience I identify a number of issues within an unresponsive CALD support system comprising the public sector, NGOs and even the private sector:

  1. People who are making the policies for the CALD community are not from this community. Therefore, they do not understand their needs and challenges. Unfortunately, many people from our community cannot be in these positions in the first place
  2. The rigidity of the system does not accommodate new challenges and problems. The system continues to offer the same solutions to different problems
  3. There is no outcome assessment system in place. When in a high-level public sector meeting, I asked “what is the system in place for assessing the outcomes?” the answer I very directly received was “there is not any”. In other words, government puts a lot of resources into programmes which do not understand the needs, do not fill the gaps, do not appreciate the challenges, and then does not assess their outcomes.
  4. Government agencies do not communicate and talk to each other. It’s difficult to recognise gaps in services when many do not seem to know who is responsible for what and who can be held accountable for what.
  5. Government funding rewards known, established organisations, while indifferent to the value of CALD projects and the demand for them.
  6. Appointments in government, NGOs and private sectors, depend more on networking and connections than qualifications. Every Job Search workshop reiterates that “finding a job in New Zealand is highly dependent on your network!”. How effective is this strategy for someone from the CALD community who might not have built the right network and is still developing their qualifications and skills?
  7. It follows from the above, that job applicants within the CALD community are very often rejected for being “over qualified”. As a result, New Zealand is losing for example, research-based development planning talent by relying on global trends instead of local innovation. This poses the question of do we have the right people in the right places?
  8. For many years our immigration system has welcomed qualified and skilled migrants. But many such people are undervalued and under-utilised. This stems in part from lack of communication between government agencies and between government and recruitment companies.

Need for improved assimilation

In conclusion, it is high time to acknowledge the current lack of transparency of services that have the potential to greatly enhance the wellbeing and self-sufficiency of New Zealand’s CALD community. Improving assimilation of this community of the typically highly-motivated immigrants and refugees we have welcomed to our shores, they will flourish and successfully contribute to our society and overall wellbeing.


The Author: Originally from Iraq, Dr Zainab Radhi holds a SJD(Hons), equivalent to PhD(Hons), in International Law of Economic and Human Development and Islamic Finance. After moving to NZ in 1994, she gained both LLB(Hons) and LLM(Hons) at Waikato University Law School.

Dr Radhi's career includes: Solicitor, University Lecturer, Researcher, Community Developer, Interpreter, Trainer and Programme Developer. In 2017, she founded and became the Director of SMART Start Business Ltd and New Zealand Business Beyond Borders Ltd. She is a proud mother of two sons and currently living in Wellington with her family.

She is the co-founder and project manager for the UMAH Day exhibition in remembrance of the 15 March 2019 attack in Christchurch.

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