Lani Evans

You’d be forgiven for thinking that Lani Evans was New Zealand’s own Superwoman. She heads the Vodafone New Zealand Foundation, co-chairs Thankyou Charitable Trust, chairs Thankyou Payroll and is on the committee for the JR McKenzie Trust’s Peter McKenzie Project. Not to mention being involved in the first all-female traverse of the South Island, proposing to her partner at the end of the 100km Oxfam Trailwalker and fighting the crime of wastefulness through dumpster diving – plus being an amazing 1% donor and Future 50 member. Phew!

Like most people, I am not a single-issue person so it’s a lot of different hats to wear! I want to see a fairer world; one where equality, equity and liberation are the norms. Where we think about the world in holistic terms and we consider intersectionality – the way in which different systems overlap to raise people up, or push people down – in our approaches.

When I was growing up my mum introduced me to this way of life – she managed a volunteer programme, was the primary caregiver of our family and sat on the board of Women’s Refuge in the evenings. She was always thinking about others and engaged the world with compassion and empathy. My upbringing definitely had a huge influence on my life and the career path I chose.

My first interaction with the Vodafone New Zealand Foundation was in 2009, as a World of Difference grant recipient. It was an incredible experience and when this job came up the relationship I had with the Foundation and my fascination with philanthropy made it irresistible. My role is very diverse – I work on strategy, communications, grant-making and government relations, while looking for ways to leverage the power of Vodafone. Since I began the role, we’ve completely reformed our strategy and we’re on a 10 year, $20 million journey to halve the number of excluded and disadvantaged young people in Aotearoa. It’s an ambitious goal, and one that I am committed to achieving.

But I’m probably most proud of the Thankyou Charitable Trust. It’s a modest organisation my husband and I set up in 2012 to redistribute a percentage of the revenue earned by Thankyou Payroll in the form of small grants shared in Dunedin, Christchurch and Wellington. When we set up the Trust I saw it as an opportunity to do something different. I wanted the funds to go to grass-roots community organisations all over the country and I wanted to do it well, which meant accepting the fact that I actually had no idea what’s important in Wakari, or what’s working well in South Dunedin. The people who live there do. So we set up a participatory process that enables people from the community to decide where the money goes. People with lived experience, deciding what a good investment is in their place and doing it together. I love it. It’s super joyful.

About eight years ago, my mum began a battle with depression, anxiety and suicidality. It’s tough having a loved one experiencing something terrible that you can’t stop or fix for them. And it must be so much harder for her. There’s a Rupi Kaur poem that says ‘and here you are living, despite it all’ and that really resonates for me. I honestly can’t think of anything more brave and badass than battling with your own mind every day. I am so proud of her and proud to be her daughter.

Her struggles motivate me to work harder. We need to strive for a different world, one where equity, justice and kindness are at the heart of everything we do. And to get there we need philanthropy, but we also need activism and structural change and hard work and love. Keep giving, and keep giving in all possible ways, but never forget that philanthropy is not all there is.

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Words by Jd Nodder. Image by Pat Shepherd. Article originally from The Generosity Journal Issue Five.

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