Seth Le Leu has helped communities for 25 years, reports Angela McCarthy.
Describe what you do.
I supervise all the community development work and humanitarian respite work done by World Vision New Zealand office in partnership with about 20 countries. This involves a lot of travel to see how New Zealand-funded programmes are being implemented overseas.
The key is building communities fit for children to thrive in. We're about breaking the cycle and that involves things like clean water, good nutrition, vaccinations and access to all resources for women and children. Everything we do must fit World Vision New Zealand principles.
What are those principles?
Our four basic principles concern the well-being of children and are non-negotiable. They are that children physically thrive, are educated for life, are cared for, protected and able to participate (in life) and that the children's families are economically empowered.
So everything we do, we look at to see whether our programmes are actually achieving this. You could say my job is to be anally retentive about these principles.
It is often not about doing something new, but about working with the community to do something better. And because World Vision works in so many places, we can make suggestions of best practice from somewhere else.
I was lucky to have the experience of working in developing countries and learning on the job about the role of a development professional. Then by doing a master's in Development Studies through Massey University, I moved from amateur to professional.
I originally worked for the Salvation Army as a secondary school teacher in Tanzania, the second-poorest country on earth. After that I shifted to London and worked as the Salvation Army international co-ordinator for nine years, co-ordinating community development and emergency responses. Then I decided it was time to return to the field and got a World Vision job in South Sudan. I did that for three years and last November moved here.
So after 25 years I've returned to New Zealand. My wife and I have adult children, and we've only just bought our first house; the development profession involves quite a nomadic existence.
Coming back to New Zealand must have been a big change?
Yes, it was. We all won Big Wednesday when we were born in New Zealand. Part of our job involves helping New Zealanders understand the deprivation so many people face in the world.
We believe a family with a sponsored child starts to get an idea of how different our life is when they realise their sponsored child considers herself rich if she has shoes, a uniform and can go to school.
What training or experience is important?
We don't take generalists. We need expertise. You need to develop knowledge in areas like agriculture, health, engineering, human rights or educational expertise with an overlay of development studies. Then you should apply to do something like VSA. Then you're ready to work for us.
An example of expertise?
We've got a guy in Niger, where there is a massive food crisis. He is a food security expert. He has to think about stopping desertification. What is the science and where are the institutions that can help? It is all about links, knowledge and getting best practice happening.
So there are many layers to World Vision's work?
We are best known for our basic services; we have over three million sponsored children, but we also need policy to back up our work. We will never complete the journey for communities unless we also deal with policies that chain the poor. So we try and help villages create good village councils, which flows through to district councils working together better and builds up good governance.
The ability to think, be adaptable and communicate. Most importantly, you must be a good listener. What is working? What do the community want? When learning the theory, I realised we had been doing a lot of it, but that there is so much more to consider. We're in continual evolvement.
What do you enjoy most?
Seeing the transformation when investment is made into community groups over a five- to 15-year period.
You belong to a faith-based organisation. Where does faith fit?
People are tripartite: body, intellect and spirit. If we're dealing with the whole person, we need to deal with all of that. After disasters, healing of inner being is really important.
How much money raised gets to the communities?
Our percentages are carefully monitored and 80 per cent of World Vision money goes directly to the people. We do, however, spend considerable money on the 40 Hour Famine each year because we believe it is vital to educate young Kiwis about poverty. To us that is an unashamed investment.
What keeps you at it?
I believe we are placed here to share with people who have less. I find extreme need is a catalyst. This is the need, what is the solution? What is the way forward? Hope is possible, even in darkest places.
Name: Seth Le Leu.
Role: World Vision New Zealand international director of policy and programmes.
Working hours: 24/7 because responding to issues globally, not only in development work but also humanitarian disasters.
Qualifications: Master of Arts (Development Studies) through Massey University.By Angela McCarthy