Jobs at DOC: Nikki Wright, Senior Partnerships and Participation Advisor

Department of Conservation —  22/11/2013

Come behind the scenes and into the jobs, the challenges, the highlights, and the personalities of the people who work at the Department of Conservation (DOC).

Today we profile Nikki Wright, Senior Partnerships and Participation Advisor at DOC’s National Office in Wellington.

At work

Some things I do in my job include…

I am bound for new adventures shortly, so recently I have been pulling together the main reflections and milestones from the 10–12 year road so far in DOC’s work with communities.

Nothing like cajoling family and friends to be part of street theatre with attitude in the Cuba Street Carnival—daughter Liffey as penguin and former colleague Bruce Dix doing his best in my orca creation. Photo: Dominion Post.

Nothing like cajoling family and friends to be part of street theatre with attitude in the Cuba Street Carnival—daughter Liffey as penguin and former colleague Bruce Dix doing his best in my orca creation

When this work started back in 2001, with $2.5 million Green funds for new and innovative ways of working with others, and the launch of the national conservation with communities strategy, there was an incredible fusion of experimentation and exploration.

The combined impact of the fund and the strategy stimulated the development of hundreds of new projects, established the community relations role in area offices and paved the way for the huge outreach DOC has today. I have been lucky enough to be involved in leading much of the national work for this—developing a national framework of systems, processes, tools and training—and I cannot begin to describe the joy of working and learning with such talented DOC staff and communities around the country.

In a way it seems that DOC is now on the second wave of this innovation, only this time it’s another game—getting smarter about the way to increase conservation with others, more effective engagement practices, optimising and developing existing partnerships and searching for those new transformational ones that will make big leaps.

I’ve also been managing DOC’s partnership with the Outlook for Someday Sustainability film challenge. This one’s about growing ‘a generation of sustainability storytellers’, and every year hundreds of young people aged 5–24 enter and have a crack capturing DOC’s big picture award.

Last year our winner Natasha Bishop went on to create history as the youngest person ever to be nominated to the Japan Wildlife Film festival where she won two big prizes mingling with the likes of the BBC and other biggies. It’s been life changing for her and empowered her to be a national and international advocate for the conservation message with a huge outreach to other young people through social media and television.

Basically doing anything to raise the plight of the giant speargrass weevil, including nose dancing. Photo: NZ Herald.

Basically doing anything to raise the plight of the giant speargrass weevil, including nose dancing

This helps achieve DOC’s vision by…

The Arts sector, approached thoughtfully and collaboratively, has the potential to have a big impact for conservation. And this is one of the adventures I’m off into next.

Research suggests that arts education is one of the most effective ways to connect young people to nature and increasingly highlights the need to encourage children to first develop an emotional connection with nature as a precursor to environmental awareness and responsibility.

And it’s not just limited to young people. Artistic and creative approaches such as drama, storytelling, music, dance, visual arts, films creative writing and poetry are an important way to foster ‘affective knowledge’ and deepen the emotional connections between people and places. But the concept is not new. The connection can often be more clearly seen in indigenous cultures that use stories or theatre and art to make meaning between their own existence and nature. Many cultures for example have narrative traditions that teach people ethical and proper relationships between people and the environment, and also encourage empathy and responsibility for nature.

On location for Radio NZ at Chimfunshi Sancturary, Zambia.

On location for Radio NZ at Chimfunshi Sancturary, Zambia.

The best bit about my job is….

The incredible safari I have had with the extended DOC family. I have been working in the conservation field for 20 years—though I have had spells out to bring up my own family.

It’s been a rich journey that started with a professional journalism background, developed into community outreach, then to environmental education and finally to national partnership practice. There are so many good times so this is a massively potted big shout out to all of you who have been part of so many highlights like…

Chauffeuring one of the first kākāpō to Maud Island by helicopter. Sitting in the dark alone on Long Island and D’Urville, listening for kiwi thanks to Rogan Colbourne. Landing a pacey job with Helen Clark, who was then Minister of Conservation. She wanted me to stay on when she moved up into the Health portfolio but at that stage I was keen to become a journalist and see things from the others’ side for a while. Writing features alongside the roguish Jim Kidson—DOC National Media Officer, who used to bang out press releases on an old manual typewriter swearing oaths in his broad South African accent about the incompetence of this or that. An eight year stint as Media Officer with Wellington Conservancy, and a year’s secondment to East Coast Conservancy—a fabulous time. I had a ball designing and delivering media training courses and producing a national ‘Newspapers in Education’ series, with the Dominion Post newspaper.

When daily journalism wasn’t changing things fast enough—and the same old stories rocked around again and again—I was eager for impact and initiated and managed Wellington’s Wild City Neighbours campaign, supporting urban community involvement in seabird and marine mammal conservation. It was new face-to-face stuff, which led to the incredible 10 year experience at a national level including producing and directing educational films and videos in collaboration with such talented folk such as Natural History NZ and Ruud Kleinpaste.

The most beautiful and mysterious DOC moment I’ve had so far is…

Albert Einstein said, “The most beautiful thing we can experience is the mysterious. It is the source of all true art and all science.”

A window into this other world opened on Mana Island one afternoon. I had assembled TV crews, Radio NZ and print media to profile an unusual experiment: a colony of concrete gannets luring the real seabirds to nest and breed on the island.  No gannets had been recorded there before. The 100 or so concrete models, crafted by a local model maker had been painted by Ngati Toa school children and placed on the cliffs in waiting. The children, faces lifted to the sky, floated their waiata out into the winds of Cook Strait. Slowly, faintly, unbelievably, two white specks then began to hover in from the wide blue horizon. Time itself suspended. The stunned crowd choked, suddenly found their voices and yelled “real gannets, real gannets!” The pair landed as though it was the most natural thing in the world, stayed almost half an hour inspecting the new colony and one even offered nesting material to a concrete imposter. It truly seemed as if the pair had been called by the song in the ether.

‘Ab-seal-utely, Postively Penguin, Whale-ington’: My take on a cunning rebrand for Wellington—as part of a marine campaign. Photo: Dominion Post.

‘Ab-seal-utely, Postively Penguin, Whale-ington’: A cunning rebrand for Wellington—as part of a marine campaign

The DOC (or previous DOC) employee that inspires or enthuses me most is…

Dave Para. When I rocked up to the former East Coast conservancy on secondment to raise the DOC profile and provide communications advice around proposed possum control, Dave provided the most natural and skilful leadership I had come across. He is genuinely interested in what others have to say, is open to new thoughts, has the big picture, says what he thinks and feels, and is respectful—all with a wonderful sense of humour. A massive road trip of marae based hui right around the coast to discuss 1080 options, with all its inherent problems at the time, became a learning joy due to Dave’s ability to open doors and bring people of opposing thoughts together and ‘transcend’ the immediate into the bigger outcomes for everyone.

On a personal note…

Most people don’t know that I…

Grew up in Zambia, spending my childhood unintentionally camping in hippo wallows, watching cheetah climb over the bonnet of our old Landrover and finding cobras in our backyard. There is something about the wide horizon, heat, white grass and crackle of leaves underfoot that, once under your skin, never leaves you.

Grab a seat and hang on for dear life. Our family trips “bundu (bush) bashing” in Lusaka Zambia are legendary. I’m the one lurching off the back, my sisters atop.

Grab a seat and hang on for dear life. Our family trips “bundu (bush) bashing” in Lusaka Zambia are legendary. I’m the one lurching off the back, my sisters atop

The song that always cheers me up is…

Oohh so many! At the moment my 9 year old son and I are learning ‘Bring Me Sunshine’ on our ukes. It makes me laugh out loud remembering legendary British comedy duo Eric & Ernie (Morecambe & Wise) doing their silly ‘skip dance’ to exit the show. Just makes you feel good.

My son Cassidy and I are part of a ukulele group and love to inexpertly bash out a few tunes of an evening.

My son Cassidy and I are part of a ukulele group and love to inexpertly bash out a few tunes of an evening

If I could trade places with any other person for a week—famous or not famous, living or dead, real or fictional—it would be…

Long time heroine Dame Jane Goodall. Internationally renowned primatologist, ethologist, anthropologist and UN Messenger of Peace and founder of the Jane Goodall Institute. Such inner strength, courage, and sublime ability to connect people together for change.

My best ever holiday was…

An 18 month overland trip though India, Nepal, Tibet, China and Russia. Fond memories of camel riding safari in the Rajasthan desert, trekking to gaze at the breathtaking Himalayan peaks, joking with monks in the exiled Dalia Lama’s Potala Palace, practicing my terrible Chinese accent on anyone in China who would listen, and drinking vodka with local Russians on the Trans-Siberian Railway from China to Moscow—the sheer scale of the place dawning on me as large parts of the journey were bleak forests and ice for days on end.

The best piece of news I’ve heard lately is…

The Mara elephant project in Kenya is going high tech in a bid to stop the most serious poaching threat in a quarter century. They are fighting the slaughter now with iPad, GPS tracking collars and drones to spot unusual activity and herd the elephants away from danger.

My favourite quote is…

Heaps of them. At the moment I quite like “Be who you are and say what you feel, because those who mind don’t matter and those who matter don’t mind.” ~ Dr. Seuss

Deep and meaningful…

The best piece of advice I’ve ever been given is…

“The important thing is not to stop questioning. Curiosity has its own reason for existing,” with thanks to Einstein. And “Whatever you can do or dream you can, begin it. Boldness has genius, power and magic in it. Begin it now.” ~ Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

In work and life I am motivated by…

The immense possibility for change always, wherever, across communities and cultures.

My conservation advice to New Zealanders is…

Immerse your kids, grandkids, nieces, nephews in any part of the natural world now—climb a tree for the view or squeal together at a dramatic David Attenborough feature—because they are the future.

Any excuse for a laugh—with a family of actors nutty-ness is all too close. Me and Liffey centre, and who the heck are those other drongos?? Husband Tim, my parents, and sister Tandi!

Any excuse for a laugh—with a family of actors nutty-ness is all too close. Me and Liffey centre, and who the heck are those other drongos?? Husband Tim, my parents, and sister Tandi!

3 responses to Jobs at DOC: Nikki Wright, Senior Partnerships and Participation Advisor

  1. 

    You are a great enabler of other people and a fantastic organiser. I love the stories about Bruce Dix, Ruud Kleinpaste, Jim Kidson, Jane Goodall and the talented and inclusive Dave Para who had that ability to draw Maori and Pakeha together, as you do. Most of all I love the story of the gannets on Mana Island . How lovely. !!
    Your negotiating skills, your love of art and writing will sustain you in your free lance flight.
    “Take time to thrive my ray of hope”

    Love Dinahji

  2. 

    Beautifully put together.
    What a star you are, dear friend.
    There’s so much joy in the story of your journey…mmm……
    X Fey

  3. 

    Brilliant Nik,

    Its a lovely lively summary of your life.
    What a great thing to do. Fantastic photos too!!

    Love Mama Dinahsaurus.