Cathy Bi-Riley

Email |

Mobile | 0226598942

Cathy comes to Te Ohu Whakawhanaunga with five years experience working in advocacy and research with Caritas Aotearoa New Zealand. Cathy has been part of the Anglican lay order of Urban Vision in Wellington and was deeply involved in her neighbourhood of Newtown through youth work, and running a home of hospitality.


Cathy Bi-Riley's latest activity

Child Youth and Wellbeing Strategy and Listening to our Communities

At the end of August 2019, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern announced the launch of the Child and Youth Wellbeing Strategy. Most media attention has been drawn to the free lunch in schools trial programme, however the significance of having a holistic vision for the wellbeing of children and youth cannot be overlooked.

The strategy acknowledges the need for collective action and sets goals across a range of wellbeing factors including material, mental, emotional, cultural, and social. It acknowledges that young people want to be involved and contributing to their community and to the wellbeing of the environment.

Te Ohu Whakawhanaunga has been working with community organisations to develop listening sessions where opportunities are created for people to come together and share stories about what matters. In one listening session with a group of Catholic youth, we heard the immense pressure that young people face around mental health. For Pacific youth, we heard about the challenges of navigating the expectations of living in two cultures. During the listening session, older members of the community had an opportunity to engage inter-generationally on issues that are not commonly talked about in daily life.

It is these face-to-face engagements that bring community together around a common sense of purpose for the wellbeing of the whole community.

The Wellbeing Strategy was built around conversations with over 6,000 young people and commits to continue public engagement and including youth voices as the strategy is implemented. As community organisations, it is important that we continue the ongoing work of listening to each other and identifying together the common interests of our communities.

Over the next few months, Te Ohu Whakawhanaunga hope to do more listening with organisations and begin to identify areas where we can organise our collective power for social change. The tools of community organising such as relational meeting and table talk brings the processes of community problem solving to the grassroots without needing expert facilitators. At the heart of the organising process is the strengthening of relational power across diversity.

If we want to see children, families and communities flourishing, we each have a part to play as active citizens to hold decision makers accountable to the vision and strategy set before us.

We invite community, union and faith organisations to join us on this journey of listening and building power across our diversity for positive social and political change.

Training with our Community Leaders - Building Power in our Communities

19 community leaders from faith, union and community background gathered at Vaughan Park for the five-day residential training in community organising hosted by Te Ohu Whakawhanaunga and the Living Wage Movement. 

The training took this diverse group of leaders on a deep dive in how we can build power together and organise effective actions for structural change. The training is built on the practice of Industrial Areas Foundation and the rich experiences of community alliances in the US, the UK, Australia, and New Zealand.

One of the highlights of the training is the practice action of a people's assembly. The context used is the mock run of the upcoming Auckland mayoral candidates election forum for the Living Wage Movement. In four hours, participants gathered into teams and worked through the entertainment, stories, and presentations. The action aimed at securing a public commitment from mayoral candidates to extend the Living Wage to contract workers, and action around housing. Participants shared their own powerful stories around personal experiences of inadequate income and insecure housing.

Akiko Horita is an advocate with Auckland Action Against Poverty. She reflects: "The action on Thursday afternoon was a highlight for me. It was a useful exercise to put the concepts we learned into practice. Sharing stories with others throughout the training gave me an important foundation to take in the concepts. I guess I understand "cold anger" a bit better now. The stories from Christina and Etevise during the action made me feel that all of us were holding pains together... It's exciting to feel that I'm part of the shifting tide with like-minded people. When I feel like this I see everyone's face in my head. It is the best training I have ever attended. I'm convinced that face to face conversations are crucial for community organising and that we need to involve more people in the similar process we went through during the training."

Te Ohu Whakawhanaunga will be running a shorter 2-day Foundation Training in the month of October and November. Go to our Events page to find out more.

published The Power of Personal Stories in News 2019-05-23 12:14:45 +1200

The Power of Personal Stories

On May the 20th, the Te Ohu Whakawhanaunga network gathered together at Migrant Action Trust (MAT). As we move towards establishing our Sponsoring Committee by mid-year 2019, our network meetings are an opportunity for organisations to get to know each other. Together we embark on a process of establishing common ground for our emerging alliance.

Sr Lee Tan is a recent addition to the Te Ohu Whakawhanaunga organising team. Lee shared with us about the community organising concepts of self-interest and relational meeting. Our ability to act together as an alliance is linked to our trust and understanding of each other, and of our members/communities. Self-interest is seeing ourselves and our story in and amongst the story of others. Our self-interest connects to our motivation for seeking social change and the stories and experiences that shape us. Through the sharing of stories in relational meetings, we uncover self-interest and lay the foundation for an alliance.

Migrant Action Trust (MAT) shared with us their stories as individuals and as an organisation. Amie Maga, Manager, shared with us the stress and difficulty she experienced without a driver's license as a mother of three living in Auckland. While working for MAT, she herself benefited from the Trust's Puketapapa Community Driving School (PCDS) which is a driving school run by migrants for migrants and the wider community. Community members able to pay the full amount for a driving lesson enables the school to provide free lessons to migrants and former refugees who are unable to afford driving lessons.

Through regular community hui, Migrant Action Trust surfaces stories from the migrant community, and shape the focus of their advocacy work. At a recent community hui, it was identified that the indefinite closure of the Parent Resident Visa is a deeply felt issue in the migrant community. At the hui, Chris Christian, an Indian community member shared his story of lodging an application for his parents’ residency in May 2016 but in October 2016 Immigration New Zealand stopped processing under the Parent Resident Visa category. He is an electronics engineer working with a company designing emergency systems for New Zealand fire service. He is working to save lives of people in New Zealand but he felt that his parents were treated like unnecessary intruders to this country.

At the Te Ohu network meeting, Chris shared that his father had an iron deficiency, and as a result, Immigration New Zealand required several rigorous medical tests. After all the efforts they have been through and two and a half years of waiting, there is still no indication of what will happen to Chris' parent's application and the 5000 other families with applications waiting in limbo.

While not all organisations who become part of the Te Ohu Whakawhanaunga Auckland alliance have migrant members, it is important that we can recognise the values that enable us to stand in solidarity in each other's concerns. Through the sharing of stories, we can relate to each other, not at an ideological level, but at a human, moral level. Then together we can stand in solidarity for the common good.


Upcoming events from member organisations:


Migrant Action Trust – Parent Resident Visa Core Team Planning meeting

24th May 5pm – 6pm @ Migrant Action Trust


NZEI – Auckland Teachers' Mega Strike March and Rally

29th May 11am @ Fort Street, City Centre


AAAP – Community Event Budget 2019 Not Enough Left

8th June 12:30 @ Wiri Community Hall



published A community alliance for Auckland? in News 2019-01-07 15:07:10 +1300

Why a community alliance for Auckland?


Sr Margaret Martin is part of Sisters of Mercy Wiri and has been engaged in social work and advocacy in the Wiri community for many decades. She is a trustee of Te Ohu Whakawhanaunga. Here is her reflection on why broad-based organising is important today, as we look to 2019.


When Annie Newman first canvassed the idea of forming a community alliance founded on broad-based organising I was keen to be involved. I got what she was talking about. I was aware of the Living Wage Movement and the principles by which it operates and the successes it has had in the space of 5 years.

I have lived and worked for over 30 years as a community social worker and advocate in Wiri, a community of need. I have worked with and alongside people, children and families, shared their struggles, hopes and disappointments. I have been involved with a wide range of groups, networks and committees all concerned with wanting to address the injustices and inequities that exist in our society and especially felt by the poor and vulnerable. Unfortunately, the efforts of many have not changed the landscape to any great degree, in fact, from where I stand I would argue in broad terms that that the issues of housing, welfare, family violence, justice, health, education and local community and neighbourhood issues are worse now than 30 years ago.

The neo-liberal ideology and market driven policies have weakened the role of government and civil society. The rich and powerful, the corporate elite are in control. We have all endeavoured over the years, in addition to continuing the day to day mahi of our organisation worked to effect change  through advocacy, submissions, media releases, protests, appearing before select committees, petitions, being members of advisory groups and neighbourhood and community meetings, for example. Sadly we have not made any overall significant change to reduce inequality and poverty in our land. So how do we begin to change this imbalance and successfully bring about long term social change?

I see the broad-based organising model as an opportunity to work differently – smarter and together. An opportunity to engage and be connected in relationship with a wide range of groupings; faith based groups, unions and community organisations. All coming together to build an organisation made up of many diverse organisations who share a desire to work for the common good - for social justice. Often by association our individual organisations can be seen to be in cohorts with local and central government who for many fund the work that an organisation does.

Te Ohu Whakawhanaunga is about a collective of organisations standing together and using our collective power to effect social change.  I see the broad-based organising model as a way of working for systemic and structural change without compromising individual organisations who have funding and working relationships with both local and central government.  

This model works in the UK, Canada, Australia and America. Surely, we can make it work here. What have we got to lose? I am hopeful that the time is right for our organisations to commit to being part of a new way of working that contributes to a broader based framework for the common good while at same time retaining our own identity as organisations.

The key to this model of working as I see it is engagement, being in relationship, building trust and a willingness to make a commitment as an organisation to be part of a broad-based alliance. Te Ohu is about speaking truth together as an organisation to those in power so that, to quote Pope Francis, both the cry of the poor and the cry of the earth will be heard and working together we will change the ways things currently work or are structured.