Holly Snape knew she never wanted to work for government or for private industry. Then she found her perfect fit - the social sector. But it took a terse conversation with a university secretary to kick start that career.

Snape had completed her Masters in social science at Waikato University and had been taking on short-term tutoring contracts there until one day the secretary of the main department she was involved with called Snape into her office.

"She was quite a hard woman," said Snape. "She sat me down and told me 'You have to leave here. Get a job. Leave. You'll end up like these people. You need to get out.' I left not long after that, but it was a really interesting conversation. I thought, 'she's right ... it's becoming easy'. I probably would have gone for my PhD otherwise."

And so Snape took a step into the big wide world. She landed the role of manager at Te Whare Kokonga (Melville Community Centre) in 2004 and hasn't looked back.


"Now I go to university two or three times a year and lecture about this sector so more people know about it and the work that we do."

After Te Whare Kokonga, Snape took on the role of service delivery manager at Linkage, an organisation that provides a variety of services to help people navigate their way through the government, health and social service systems.

Snape left Linkage to manager Web Access Waikato. That role was a flexible 30 hours a week which gave Snape the time to campaign as a West Ward candidate in the last local body elections.

"I just missed out on being elected by about 200 votes. I was first loser! And actually, if I'd have got on I would have kicked off Dave Mac (Macpherson) from his spot and I don't think that would have been a good thing. He's a strong voice."

Snape began at Community Waikato (CW) on September 14.

She describes CW as a capacity building organisation for the social service sector.

"Its role is to support social services, not-for-profits, community groups to achieve what it is they are seeking to achieve in the communities."

Snape has taken up the role just as CW is about to enter a transitional phase.

"We're about to embark on a three-yearly strategic plan. It's a good time to come in with fresh eyes. We'll have a new chair on the board too, Janet Gibb."

Gibb is Ngaruawahia ward councilllor at Waikato District Council where is also the deputy chair of the strategy and finance committee.

At the same time as the strategic plan, CW will also have its three-yearly external review and will launch a research project.

The review looks at what the organisation has been doing and achieving. The research project will engage with key stakeholders and funders about what they see as the big issues in the community, what some of the gaps are and what CW can doing to support that.

"We are looking at how we can be more responsive to the community," said Snape.

"We want to work through the strategic plan, get the vision nice and strong and get the feed in from the broader sector about what it is we need to be doing and how we need to be doing it."

Snape said one of the key things she sees CW doing is acting as a voice for the sector it supports.

"Changes in the funding structure across the sector has been an issue. There has been a move for greater collaboration, which is excellent but it's really hard because also been a shift towards contestable funding models. What you have is a request to be working together but sharing of resources becomes difficult ... and the pitting each other against each other.

"Contestable funding isn't conducive to the collaboration we're talking about.

"I don't think we've had the opportunity in the past to articulate the unintended consequences of some of those decisions. It would be fantastic for an organisation like Community Waikato to have some of those conversations with funders, to be the organisation groups can come to and voice their concerns and it's us taking those concerns to funders and have a discussion on behalf."

Snape said she sees community leadership as being an important part of what CW does, but that their "bread and butter work" will remain.

That core work involves developing and sharing resources, providing training needs and fostering networks.

People working in the social sector are often committed, passionate and focused, said Snape, "but they may not necessarily have all the information, skills or experience they need to build, drive and run a business, which essentially what the organisations are."

"We also provide support around strategic planning. To have a vision is one thing but you need everyone in an organisation to understand what that is and where you're going."

A new initiative CW has organised is the conference it held earlier this year for its members and was attended by more than 200 people.

"In our sector we don't have the same opportunities for networking and personal development that a lot of the private or government sectors have."

The conference, Snape said, was a huge success and they plan on running it biannually.

Snape is also keen to see the organisation celebrating the work of its member organisations.

"A lot of the work they do is quite invisible and really important for a functioning, healthy society. We want to celebrate what we are doing."

There are more than 1400 community organisations in the Waikato.