Glenis Phillip Barbara

by | Sep 19, 2019 | Community, Our People, Stories

So here we are just days to go before our voting papers arrive in the mail. Many of us have been here many times before. Many haven’t. How many of us have found our voting papers buried beneath a pile of other papers a couple of weeks after the polling has finished? “Ah well, I didn’t know who any of those people were anyway” is a sentiment I’ve heard plenty; I have said it myself.

This time though feels different here in the Tairawhiti. I even have this feeling in my gut, which I’m going to call excitement and I realise some of you won’t believe it because I’m referring to local politics.. but it’s true.

I’m excited about these forthcoming elections because of the number, diversity and relative youth of the candidates standing for council this time around, many for their first time.  I’m also excited for those mayoral chains, which are going to get to experience a new set of shoulders after 18 years!

These are also crucial, critical times; a time in which ‘disruption’ to the status quo, is quickly becoming the new ‘status quo’. If we remain true to our coastie-time cruise, our slow-moving, slow-changing ways, we will not weather well the rising waters of change.  The number of new candidates putting their hands up this time around tells me that they feel this and recognise that the time has come to step out from behind ourselves and be the change.

So I am optimistic about these elections. I am hopeful about Meredith Akuhata-Brown’s efforts to engage more voters in a broader demographic than the 48% of eligible voters who voted last time around, 89% of whom were over 70 years old (!), and yes, it might just be my own encouraging little echo chamber but it does feel like a more engaged constituency this time around.

What I have been ruminating on is the nature of the information that we the voters have to guide us when it comes to ticking those boxes. Today we have more means of getting to know our candidates than we’ve had in the past, with a significant number of candidates actively engaging with us through social media. Some of this can be pretty insightful, at the very least we can get a sense of how they occupy and carry themselves in public spaces.

But unless we are lucky enough to know the candidates as people, (or have been dutifully collecting intel through the Council livestream), all we really have to go on when making our choices, is what the respective candidates say, as opposed to who and how they are as people.

I would argue that when it comes to someone’s ability to be an effective advocate, decision-maker and community leader, the way that person relates, communicates, navigates differences in opinion or conflict, how they problem-solve or approach challenge, are some of the biggest indicators. The issues they are aligned with are only a part of the equation.

Which is why I would like to talk here about one of the candidates whom I have had the immense pleasure of getting to know recently, someone who I do believe has the traits as well as the skills to help lead our community through these challenging times to a much more inspired future. She is perhaps the biggest excitement factor for me in the upcoming elections and I’d like to take this opportunity to tell you a few of the reasons why (all the while trying very hard to not to gush).

The Hopeful Strategist

Glenis comes to us from a thirty-year long career in the public sector where she rose to the role of Chief Executive of the Māori Language Commission. As a twenty-something Glenis was working for the Department of Social Welfare when the privatisation of government services began in earnest. She is well-aware of the ill-effects of a system that creates policy and structure at a distance from the people they are meant to serve. “I have poured my heart and soul into a system that was missing the most essential thing, which is human connection”.

With Glenis in Council our community would benefit from that broad strategic thinking, that understanding of the connection between systems and the people within them. Some of her key strengths are in strategy and co-design; her ability to align organisational intent with the needs and aspirations of the people it serves.

Unity in Diversity

Glenis is one of the most palpably unifying forces I have personally ever met, something also clearly recognised by the board of Te Hā Trust, making her the ideal person to navigate our community through next month’s commemorations as the General Manager of Te Hā.  As the daughter to a Pakeha father and Maori mother she is aware of the ‘incredible insight’ this has given her as to the interplay between Maori and Pakeha worlds and worldviews.

This understanding manifests as a gentle compassion, allowing Glenis to sit with anyone from any walk of life, to hear them, find the point of connection, meet them there and take that as a starting point.

“We’re trying to position what’s happening in October as the beginning of something important. It is about bridging our communities, about standing together”.

Her Kaupapa

Glenis believes that before we can achieve anything else as a region, we have to address the deprivation levels in our community. In the Gisborne region, 77% of Maori live in the highest bracket of deprivation – up the Coast this rises to 91%. “I fail to see how we can drive an economic development strategy for our region if we’re not addressing deprivation”. This is invisible to many of us going about our days in beautiful Gisborne. But this fact doesn’t deter Glenis, who believes that New Zealanders have this shared value of fairness “everyone expects that everyone in our community gets a fair deal, it’s just that most people don’t understand what the lived experience is for many in our community”.

Glenis believes that Council is in a perfect position to co-ordinate a whole of community focus on lifting our community through innovation and collaboration “I think we have all the ingredients, we just haven’t got them working together effectively”.

I believe that our community has everything to gain by having Glenis, with her skills, her strategic thinking, her multi-faceted understanding of the forces that have brought us to this juncture; her awhi, mana and grace, help lead our whole community into a truly brighter future as a councillor on the Gisborne District Council and on the District Health Board.

I urge anyone who isn’t familiar with Glenis to look her up, get to know her mahi, which is prolific from the grass-roots through to the high level. And if you happen to bump into her yourself, be sure to say hi so you can see for yourself what I’m talking about.

I realise that there’s a distinct awkwardness when it comes to talking about who you’re going to vote for in a public space but if there’s someone running in these elections that YOU really believe in, then please write and tell us why at

By Sarah Cleave