Jannat Maqbool, Chair - Waikato Intercultural Fund

The fruits of weeks of intense planning come together in late May and early June as teams of University of Waikato Management School students hosted a series of events around Kirikiriroa Hamilton to support the Waikato Intercultural Fund.

This first public outing by the Fund was a simple and enjoyable experiment in designing, running and promoting public events aimed at creating social situations and interactions that generate greater mutual awareness, understanding and respect between communities and cultures.

A scavenger hunt, a photography demonstration, a backpackers’ race, a cultural arts exhibition, a crafts-and-culture experience and a pub quiz, there was something for everyone!

We engaged with the event management course students throughout their semester, providing them with insights into our purpose and approach. It was fantastic to see their understanding and appreciation of the importance of inclusive societies grow over those weeks.

The Waikato Intercultural Fund is a still-forming giving circle that aims to build an endowment that uses its resulting income to invest in initiatives that practically support inclusion for all. As one student put it, learning about our mission was a chance to “create a story which the public can invest in to get them on board”.

Most of the events were well attended, with our Board members present to provide background and context and to support the students in encouraging dialogue and exchange between the guests.

Students hosting the photography demonstration ‘Perspective’ held at Trust Waikato described their event as being “designed to embrace all cultures through the form of art and display to the community that all cultures are beautifully different and therefore we should celebrate through the willingness to learn and embrace them as our own”.

Perspective photography demonstration at Trust Waikato

Board member Jovi Abellanosa attended and acknowledged the effort team members put into welcoming people and engaging with them as they arrived. “Team members were proud to talk about the photos and their project”.

On the weekend, families taking on The Great Backpackers Race at the Hamilton Gardens braved stormy weather for some ‘Amazing Race’ style fun and games, with different activity stations set up around the Rhododendron Lawn representing a range of cultures.

As Fund Chair, I attended and reflected on how encouraging it was to see the willingness of participants to try something new. I remember a lot of laughter and even when it started spitting many just carried on, taking their next clue and edging closer to the opportunity to win the race.

The ‘Expression’ cultural arts evening at the University’s Performing Arts Centre saw people try various arts and crafts for the first time, from learning a new dance, or making a stylishly decorative flower headband, to screen print traditional designs. This was all thanks to volunteers from the University’s student cultural clubs, with a different combination of clubs then contributing to the ‘Crafts and Culture’ event at the University’s Student Hub the following night.

Expression cultural evening at the University of Waikato

The semester-long experience has seen both the Fund Board and the students learning from each other, with our journey together itself being a great example of an opportunity being created for people in the Waikato to develop a deep and respectful intercultural relationship with each other.

One student commented they “had learnt the importance of eliminating intercultural barriers, whilst having fun and creating an awesome event”.

With another talking about the experience as a “realisation that being in a multicultural society is not enough...our community should be striving to embrace interactions between the cultures, and we should all be aiming to create an intercultural society”.

As part of the planning, students approached small businesses and other organisations around the city for sponsorship and it was inspiring to see so many brands displayed to recognise their contributions. Momentum Waikato was also acknowledged for supporting the students in promoting the events and generally powering the Waikato Intercultural Fund.

The event series culminated with a packed house for the ‘Around the World Quiz Night’ at the Good Neighbour in Rototuna, where teams battled it out for prizes donated by sponsors. The evening was a roaring success, with many staying well after the close of proceedings to further connect and converse.

One of the organisers of the Pub Quiz felt it was “an exciting way for the Fund to get involved with the community to spread awareness about interculturalism and how everyone plays a part in the process.”

Around the World Pub Quiz at Good Neighbour

Achieving real community connectedness requires us all to find common ground and getting the message out about a new giving circle like the Waikato Intercultural Fund is similarly needing us to reach out and understand.

Students at the University were looking for an opportunity to gain real world experience in planning and delivering events, and we were lucky enough to be able to work with them as they dedicated their academic efforts to raising greater awareness, understanding and respect for the diverse communities of the Waikato.