In search of “that missing something” from her career, Seini Jensen joined the team at Pasifika Medical Association. Three years on, she has not only found satisfaction from the work she does, but she has also found her calling, using evidence and evaluation to help the Pacific community in New Zealand to improve their lives in the holistic sense. In the newly appointed role as Director of Performance and Evaluation of Pasifika Futures (a new company established as the commissioning agency for the Pacific Whanau Ora initiative), preparing to attend a course at the prestigious Harvard University, talks about her personal development and what the role means to her.
Evidence, broadly construed, is anything presented in support of an assertion – and the support may be strong or weak.
But to Seini, who is of Tongan heritage (Kotu, Kanokupolu), evidence and its evaluation means so much more. It can mean the difference between throwing weight behind a programme designed to improve the health of a community – or not.
We chat to Seini as she is busy getting ready for a trip to Massachusetts to attend the one week intensive course Using Evidence to Improve Policy and Programs, at Harvard Kennedy School (a graduate school at Harvard University).
“We are always having discussions about professional development at work. Our CEO (Debbie Sorensen) went to Harvard in 2011 and said she gained valuable experience in leadership. She asked if I was interested in going – and of course I said yes straight away – it’s a dream,” Seini says.
Seini will be exposed to a range of different evaluation methods, sharing frameworks, as well as establishing a network with the Harvard faculty. On her return, Seini will share her findings with the newly established Pasifika Futures team, who are working with regionally-based providers across New Zealand to tailor support services to individual Pasifika families and communities.
After three years at Pacific Medical Association working as Evaluations Manager, Seini has been appointed to her current role after the establishment of Pasifika Futures.
Seini studied Law (at the University of Auckland), has a Masters in Social Anthropology and was a research fellow at The University of Auckland and worked on the Starpath Tertiary Project – a Partnership for Excellence led by the university in conjunction with the NZ Government. It aims to address NZ’s comparatively high rate of educational inequality with Maori and Pacific students.
But she found she wanted another opportunity to work with a Pacific organisation “to put my research knowledge to use in a more practical way.”
“When I came into this organisation I found my CEO was half Tongan just like me, and we shared similar experiences and goals,” she says.
“We have a wide range of staff here, and although everyone is Pacific we all contribute in different ways and that’s seen as a strength.
“There is no question either that what we do is about benefitting the community.”
Pacific health collectives – made up of various providers – around NZ will report to the Pasifika Futures team, Seini explains.
“They will do what they do to help families improve their living standards in their regions, and report what is working to achieve good outcomes, and what is not working so well.”
Seini will oversee the Pasifika Futures team, who will monitor a minimum of 3000 families and see how providers help them to achieve their goals according to each family’s priority goals – they have to want to see their situation improve – be it economic, health, education or their relationships, she continues.
After evaluating which programmes are effective, Pasifika Futures will look at where best to invest.
“This is an amazing opportunity for Pacific families in need, and an opportunity for our team to help them achieve goals,” Seini says.
“This is my ideal job – it’s a positive and challenging place to work in – and we’re taking a new approach to how we do things – there is no template to follow”.