It's been a privilege

NEW HORIZON: Leighton Evans is relishing the challenge of taking up a new role to lead Christchurch-based philanthropic organisation the Rata Foundation. The former Eastland Community Trust general manager is pictured with his family, from left, Jasher, Salem, Jemima, wife Cherith and Melea (absent Kezia). They will join him in Christchurch at the end of the school year. Picture supplied

LEAVING a place he has proudly called home for most of his life comes with mixed emotions for Leighton Evans, who recently announced he was moving on from Eastland Community Trust after seven years as its general manager.

He is proud of what he has achieved here, sad to be leaving a community that has given him so much, and excited about opportunities in Christchurch, where his family is relocating and where he becomes chief executive of the Rata Foundation next week.

“One of the things I’m most proud of is the team I assembled. It’s no exaggeration to say they are world-class. Each is the best at what they do and passionate about our community,” he says.

“And the one thing I’ve learned in the past seven years is that our community is blessed with smart and passionate people. I may not always have agreed with them, but I’ve always enjoyed the challenge, and I’ve always been humbled and grateful for the opportunity to shape the direction of our community.”

Mr Evans says that in the time he was with ECT he felt privileged to be paid to think big and have bold aspirations for our community.

“I feel indebted to the community for the opportunity to drive economic and social change here, and I do hope that I have repaid them in kind.”

He says he is also proud of the way ECT’s distribution programme has evolved.

“When I started, the board had, rightly, minimised our distributions with a view to future-proofing the fund. ECT had distributed less than $5 million in total, had a sponsorship pool of $500,000 and made about four grants a year.

“So, while we wouldn’t have the impact we can today without that financial prudence, we were not making a tangible impact and we really had no influence.”

Creating change

Mr Evans says he was lucky to come into the organisation at a point where trustees felt ready to embark on a more meaningful distributions programme, and were committed to creating change.

“In my tenure, the trust has distributed $26 million to strengthen local organisations, support events, develop community assets and generally improve the quality of life in the region. We’ve also invested around $16m in job creation.

“The distribution of which I am most proud is the home insulation programme. The project was massively wide-ranging and impacted almost one in three people in this community. Data from hospital admissions showed that those presenting with respiratory illnesses tanked because homes were warmer and dryer.

“So, it was a big win for our community.”

What was also personally satisfying was being able to negotiate a large contribution from the government and private sectors for the intitiative.

“When ECT initially looked at the project we were prepared to fund almost 40 percent. But in leading the project we were able to bring other partners on board and reduce that input.

“It’s an example of how, together, we can make a difference and how we can influence government and the private sector for the betterment of our community,” he says.

In his time, Mr Evans believes ECT has also become a more focused organisation.

“ECT has become serious about enabling organisations to deliver great outcomes for our community. It is serious about job creation. It’s backed by some major community assets, and it is serious about being part of the solutions for some of our wider social issues.

“I firmly believe the trust has a critical role to play, alongside others, in creating long-term sustainable change in this community. The fund our community is blessed with is simply the mechanism by which that change occurs. And I’m really optimistic about what the trust can do in this community.”

Mr Evans also believes the only way the community can challenge some of our broader issues is one family at a time.

“We need to look at how we connect and help each other get ahead. For ECT, I believe that means continuing effective engagement with iwi, the council and central government. Relationships with organisations like Manaaki Tairawhiti, who are showing strong leadership in a tough social space, will also be important as we move forward.”

Being brave

It also means continuing to be brave.

“As a community, I think we have to remember that if it was easy, it would have already been done. So, by the very nature of its purpose, ECT should be taking on the tough jobs — it should be working in marginal spaces. But, because we are holders of a significant community taonga, we often err on the side of caution.”

Mr Evans believes establishing the wood processing centre of excellence was a brave move and one he believes will continue to provide success for this community.

“I would like to see the trust evolve to a point where it is taking on more projects like this. I’d like to see the organisation continue to build its relationships with the council and iwi particularly so that, together, we can solve some of the deep-seated educational, health and social issues.

“I have never seen this as ECT setting the agenda. I see our community fund as a tool that empowers the community to take ownership of the decisions and opportunities to address these issues and add value to the community,” he says.

Looking ahead, Mr Evans is relishing the challenge of his new role.

The Rata Foundation is one of the largest philanthropic organisations in the South Island, servicing an area from North Canterbury to Marlborough and the Chatham Islands. It has an endowment of over $590m, a sizeable team and distributes around $30m a year in charitable grants.

“Rata presents a rare opportunity to reset and to take what I’ve learned here and apply that to a role that can have national impact. And I’m really pleased to continue working in the philanthropic sector, with an opportunity to impact a new community.

“But personally, the family is also ready for a new challenge. A different community, different connections and different relationships. It’s exciting for everyone.”

LEAVING a place he has proudly called home for most of his life comes with mixed emotions for Leighton Evans, who recently announced he was moving on from Eastland Community Trust after seven years as its general manager.

He is proud of what he has achieved here, sad to be leaving a community that has given him so much, and excited about opportunities in Christchurch, where his family is relocating and where he becomes chief executive of the Rata Foundation next week.

“One of the things I’m most proud of is the team I assembled. It’s no exaggeration to say they are world-class. Each is the best at what they do and passionate about our community,” he says.

“And the one thing I’ve learned in the past seven years is that our community is blessed with smart and passionate people. I may not always have agreed with them, but I’ve always enjoyed the challenge, and I’ve always been humbled and grateful for the opportunity to shape the direction of our community.”

Mr Evans says that in the time he was with ECT he felt privileged to be paid to think big and have bold aspirations for our community.

“I feel indebted to the community for the opportunity to drive economic and social change here, and I do hope that I have repaid them in kind.”

He says he is also proud of the way ECT’s distribution programme has evolved.

“When I started, the board had, rightly, minimised our distributions with a view to future-proofing the fund. ECT had distributed less than $5 million in total, had a sponsorship pool of $500,000 and made about four grants a year.

“So, while we wouldn’t have the impact we can today without that financial prudence, we were not making a tangible impact and we really had no influence.”

Creating change

Mr Evans says he was lucky to come into the organisation at a point where trustees felt ready to embark on a more meaningful distributions programme, and were committed to creating change.

“In my tenure, the trust has distributed $26 million to strengthen local organisations, support events, develop community assets and generally improve the quality of life in the region. We’ve also invested around $16m in job creation.

“The distribution of which I am most proud is the home insulation programme. The project was massively wide-ranging and impacted almost one in three people in this community. Data from hospital admissions showed that those presenting with respiratory illnesses tanked because homes were warmer and dryer.

“So, it was a big win for our community.”

What was also personally satisfying was being able to negotiate a large contribution from the government and private sectors for the intitiative.

“When ECT initially looked at the project we were prepared to fund almost 40 percent. But in leading the project we were able to bring other partners on board and reduce that input.

“It’s an example of how, together, we can make a difference and how we can influence government and the private sector for the betterment of our community,” he says.

In his time, Mr Evans believes ECT has also become a more focused organisation.

“ECT has become serious about enabling organisations to deliver great outcomes for our community. It is serious about job creation. It’s backed by some major community assets, and it is serious about being part of the solutions for some of our wider social issues.

“I firmly believe the trust has a critical role to play, alongside others, in creating long-term sustainable change in this community. The fund our community is blessed with is simply the mechanism by which that change occurs. And I’m really optimistic about what the trust can do in this community.”

Mr Evans also believes the only way the community can challenge some of our broader issues is one family at a time.

“We need to look at how we connect and help each other get ahead. For ECT, I believe that means continuing effective engagement with iwi, the council and central government. Relationships with organisations like Manaaki Tairawhiti, who are showing strong leadership in a tough social space, will also be important as we move forward.”

Being brave

It also means continuing to be brave.

“As a community, I think we have to remember that if it was easy, it would have already been done. So, by the very nature of its purpose, ECT should be taking on the tough jobs — it should be working in marginal spaces. But, because we are holders of a significant community taonga, we often err on the side of caution.”

Mr Evans believes establishing the wood processing centre of excellence was a brave move and one he believes will continue to provide success for this community.

“I would like to see the trust evolve to a point where it is taking on more projects like this. I’d like to see the organisation continue to build its relationships with the council and iwi particularly so that, together, we can solve some of the deep-seated educational, health and social issues.

“I have never seen this as ECT setting the agenda. I see our community fund as a tool that empowers the community to take ownership of the decisions and opportunities to address these issues and add value to the community,” he says.

Looking ahead, Mr Evans is relishing the challenge of his new role.

The Rata Foundation is one of the largest philanthropic organisations in the South Island, servicing an area from North Canterbury to Marlborough and the Chatham Islands. It has an endowment of over $590m, a sizeable team and distributes around $30m a year in charitable grants.

“Rata presents a rare opportunity to reset and to take what I’ve learned here and apply that to a role that can have national impact. And I’m really pleased to continue working in the philanthropic sector, with an opportunity to impact a new community.

“But personally, the family is also ready for a new challenge. A different community, different connections and different relationships. It’s exciting for everyone.”

Eastland Community Trust has net assets of $308m and total assets of $547m, 80 percent of which is Gisborne-based infrastructure, energy and logistics company Eastland Group. ECT was formed in 1993 with $20m in capital, including the assets of the Poverty Bay Electric Power Board, after the deregulation of New Zealand’s electricity industry.

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