There’s a good chance Jovi Abellanosa meets more people than any other Hamilton City Council staff member.
As Ethnic Development Advisor, Jovi is the conduit between the city’s growing ethnic communities and the Council. It’s not standard 9am to 5pm working day, and one which has her mixing and mingling with people from all over the world who have made Hamilton their home.
At last count, Hamilton was home to people from more than 160 nations – including Jovi, who was a university professor in her native Philippines before emigrating to New Zealand in 2007.
The sheer volume of people she has contact with – several thousand every year – means a few ever-so-slightly awkward moments when Jovi can’t quite recall someone’s name.
“I do get to see and meet a lot of people,” she says. “I try to remember names, but yes, it can be a challenge! And if I can’t quite remember them I say ‘I’ve met you somewhere, but sorry, I’ve forgotten your name!’. I’m used to saying that, and they know I am all over the place at events.”
Jovi was appointed to her role in 2013, when former Cr Philip Yeung – who had held the position for more than a decade – was elected as an East Ward Councillor for the first time.
Replacing Cr Yeung – a high-profile, tireless and much-admired professional – meant Jovi had “super big shoes to fill”.
“It was hard, and exciting,” Jovi says of taking on the position.
“I was coming from Settlement Centre Waikato, and I used to be the Relationships Manager over there – so I was already working with the communities and the stakeholders.
“When the (Council) role became open, I thought ‘oh, this would be a great opportunity’.”
Jovi has no typical working week: because her role is strongly focussed on relationships, she often attends meetings and events at night and at weekends, and is called on to do some public speaking so ethnic communities understand the Council’s business and the decisions it is considering.
“My role involves liaising between the Council and our communities – making sure we’ve got those connections,” she says. “For the ethnic communities, it’s about making sure they know what the Council is and what it does, and what resources are available to them.”
Events and celebrations are important to many of Hamilton’s ethnic communities, and Jovi is a frequent attendee at those, often an invited guest: “These events often happen at night, or on Saturdays, so yes – I have a lot of weekend work.”
Jovi tries to attend these community events not only to be part of the celebration but also because “For many of these ethnic communities, that’s their chance to celebrate and share their culture– and some of them have just one event for the year. I feel I miss out on that important connection if I don’t go,” she says. Jovi says the role is also about understanding – she’s tasked with ensuring ethnic communities understand their opportunities to provide comment and feedback is an important aspect of her work. It’s a two-way street, ensuring the Council staff and elected members have the opportunity to obtain views and understand from the ethnic communities for the many and varied formal and informal consultations and engagement carried out every year.
Although some ethnic communities are “very much settled here already”, other newer or smaller ones need a different or greater type of support – particularly those for who English will generally be a second language, or they have come from nations where conflict, environmental change, political instability and economic issues have led to their departure in New Zealand.
“If it’s a new group, I need to make sure I get to know them – and along with other service and settlement organisations make sure they are welcome and settled well,” she says.
Jovi’s professional background is in teaching with community development work– a skill set and experience she says is valuable in engaging with the communities, families and individuals she works alongside.
She is helping the Council to increase its understanding about culture and respecting the cultural and religious differences amongst our ethnic communities. She regularly presents training on what the challenges are and the tips on how we can better communicate and engage within our diverse communities.
Jovi says she feels privileged to be working for the Council and the diverse communities that have settled in Hamilton.