Farewell Words From Outgoing Chair, John Allen

This week we farewell John Allen, who has been Chair of the Be. Institute Board since it was established in 2011.

John and Eric in discussion. John is smiling and listening as Eric signs to John. A lady is translating next to them.

Our heartfelt thanks go out to John and we acknowledge his significant contribution. We are delighted to share John’s reflections on his time supporting the Be. Institute and all our mahi.

I have always been an activist, wanting to change the world. This surprises many people. They don’t associate activism with a suit and tie or with a career in law, business, and local and central Government. But activists don’t come in one shape or size.

My 12-year involvement as the Chair of Be. has taught me that some of the most capable activists are blind (or nearly blind) like Minnie Baragwanath, wheel-chair users like Philip Patston and Red Nicholson or are autistic like Matt Frost. They, and the many others that have participated in our leadership, intern, employment, and entrepreneurship programmes are hugely talented people. It is that talent which should be recognised and celebrated by our community. Sadly, even today it often is not.

Be. was established to do things differently. To change attitudes by changing language and by demonstrating the untapped potential of the access community as leaders, entrepreneurs, employees, and consumers. We have made a difference, and everyone should be proud of that. That said, we have not made the difference we wanted to. In part that is simply because we have never had funding or resources, we needed to scale our programmes to deliver the significant change in attitude required, but it is also a recognition that passion and activism are not enough.

To make things happen you must be able to engage others – particularly if you are operating in a New Zealand central Government context. This requires planning, connections, and a willingness to accept the very real constraints that come when working with Government. This is difficult territory for an organisation which is a disrupter, and it is a significant credit to the team that we secured initial funding from Dame Tariana Taria more than a decade ago and have sustained Government support ever since.

Leading an organisation with the ambition to change the country, and the world on a tiny budget can be daunting. You must think differently, take risks and be comfortable living sometimes on the brink of insolvency, because your ambition always exceeds your budget. The Be. Board has always been focused on the mission, not the money. It has been unlike any other Board I have Chaired or been a member of (there have been quite a few). It has been intoxicating and sometimes terrifying, but I always came away from our meetings energised for the ongoing battle.

Put simply, being a part of Be. has been a joy. It is, I think, the most important work of my career. I have met many extraordinary people and together we have made a difference. I salute all the members of the Be. team – past and present. You are remarkable and the work you are doing matters to a growing percentage of our population.

The decision to step down was a difficult one. But it is time for new energy and vision. I am excited by the talent we will have with new Board Members around the table, and I wish the incoming Board every success. I remain committed to the vision of Be. and to advocating for and advancing the talents and potential of access citizens in this country. Let me know if you think a 60-ish, balding, suit wearing, activist can help, I will always be pleased to.

John Allen, February 2024


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