Who is involved?

Welcoming Communities Te Waharoa ki ngā Hapori is led by Immigration New Zealand (INZ) in collaboration with the Ministry of Ethnic Communities, along with the Human Rights Commission.

Immigration New Zealand is delighted to welcome eight new councils and their communities into the expanded Welcoming Communities programme.

The new councils are:

  • Rotorua Lakes Council
  • Napier City Council
  • South Wairarapa District Council
  • Upper Hutt City Council
  • Marlborough District Council
  • Hurunui District Council
  • Westland District Council
  • Waitaki District Council

These councils will be joining eighteen councils and communities already taking part in the programme:

  • Hamilton City Council
  • Tauranga City Council
  • Western Bay of Plenty District Council
  • Hastings District Council
  • Palmerston North City Council
  • Whanganui District Council
  • Rangitīkei District Council
  • Horowhenua District Council
  • Masterton District Council
  • Nelson City Council
  • Tasman District Council
  • Ashburton District Council
  • Selwyn District Council
  • Queenstown Lakes District Council
  • Central Otago District Council
  • Gore District Council
  • Invercargill City Council
  • Southland District Council

Welcoming Communities – Tauranga

Welcoming Communities – Western Bay of Plenty

Welcoming Communities – Whanganui

Welcoming Communities – Palmerston North

Welcoming Communities – Ashburton District

Welcoming Communities – Selwyn District

Welcoming Communities – Southland

Welcoming Communities - Central Otago

Immigration New Zealand is continuing to grow membership of  the Welcoming Communities programme. Councils and communities that would like to be part of the programme are invited to submit an expression of interest.

Join Welcoming Communities

 Welcoming Communities coordinators

Janice McKay

Welcoming Communities Advisor, Ashburton District Council

Originally from Kirikiriroa (Hamilton) Janice completed her Bachelor’s Degree of Communication Studies with a major in Public Relations from the University of Waikato. Since then, her career has been focused on relationship building and engagement within the marketing and communications space.

Prior to working for Ashburton District Council Janice was a public relations practitioner with a strong community focus and was a volunteer for the Mid Canterbury Newcomers Network. Her passion for Welcoming Communities comes from growing up watching her Mum settle in New Zealand from the Philippines and befriending migrant newcomers from all over the world. She is passionate about promoting how diversity enriches life in New Zealand and the positive effects on everyone in the community.

Stephanie Velvin

Stephanie Velvin

Welcoming Communities Coordinator, Palmerston North City Council

Stephanie is from Palmerston North, and a graduate of Massey University’s politics and social policy programmes. Along with travelling overseas, Stephanie previously worked for Immigration New Zealand. Her love of her hometown is a driving factor for her now working for the Palmerston North City Council on the Welcoming Communities programme. The programme is a great opportunity to showcase the city, its lifestyle and its people.

Through Welcoming Communities, Stephanie is celebrating the current excellent newcomer support work, as well as building connections between locals and newcomers. 

Interview with Steph Velvin: Welcoming Communities Coordinator — Welcoming International

Haidee Kalirai

Haidee Kalirai

Diversity and Culture Advisor, Tauranga City Council (Tauranga/Western Bay of Plenty)

Haidee was born in Cambridge, and completed her graduate degree from University of Waikato’s psychology faculty. Her working background has been in community development, with a focus on refugee resettlement and supporting migrants.

Haidee recently completed a three-year community development scheme project with the Department of Internal Affairs and New Zealand Red Cross on the social participation and integration of refugee background communities in the Waikato.

Her passion for working in this area stems from her family background, in which her grandparents and father migrated to New Zealand from northern India. She is keen to showcase the positive contributions of migrants and the benefits diversity brings to an area, along with establishing ways to build a greater sense of belonging for newcomers.

Mark McCann

Newcomers Network Coordinator, Gore District Council

Mark is the Newcomers Network Coordinator at Gore District Council. He also coordinates the ‘Mayoral Taskforce for Jobs’ and the Youth Council in Gore, a role in which he works with a diverse range of people, including newcomers and youth.

Mark’s love of travel carried him from Wales to New Zealand over 20 years ago. During his travels, he had heard nothing but good things about New Zealand, so he decided to settle. In his words, New Zealand is “one of the friendliest places I’ve ever visited”. A staunch rugby fan, he awaits the day he can celebrate Wales beating the All Blacks!

Mark has a background in Special Needs education and advocacy. During his 20 years in the sector, he has developed a passion for supporting newcomers to New Zealand and advocating on their behalf. The warm reception he received as a newcomer to this country inspires his work in creating a welcoming and inclusive environment for all.

Mark currently supports and promotes Gore’s ‘International Connect Group’, which has grown in membership during his tenure. The members, which include newcomers and locals, work together to help foster a sense of belonging, inclusion and cooperation.

Mark is keen to hear from newcomers to Gore about their needs and aspirations, so that, together with the wider community, they can create new and exciting opportunities for the district.

Harriet McKenzie

Community Activator, Whanganui District Council

Harriet is a member of the Community Wellbeing Team at Whanganui District Council. Her role includes supporting newcomers, promoting community safety and growing ‘play’ across Whanganui with Sport Whanganui. It involves, she says, an “awesome” mix of people and play, and it fits nicely with her background in population and community health. Harriet is constantly inspired by the people in her community and their collective effort to ensure that everyone in Whanganui  thrives.

Harriet spent her early years living in Nepal, later moving to Whanganui with her family. Although she loves visiting Nepal, she considers Whanganui home.

Kirstin Dingwall-Okoye

Kirstin Dingwall-Okoye

Community & Economic Development Advisor, Selwyn District Council

Kirstin has extensive experience in the non-government and humanitarian sectors.  Before joining Selwyn District Council, she worked in New Zealand and abroad for a number of non-government organisations with a particular focus on vulnerable peoples.

In the past decade, Kirstin has specialised in older adult health, working with former refugees and migrants to build equity, knowledge and access to healthcare.   She holds a Post Graduate Diploma in International Development.

Kirstin enjoys bringing new ideas to life, collaborating with others and challenging herself to think differently. She values Selwyn District Council’s innovative culture and its willingness to think outside the box to build stronger and connected communities.


Deborah Beange

Welcoming Communities Officer, Central Otago District Council

Deborah is from Texas, but moved to Central Otago 6 years ago with her Kiwi husband and two young children.  She received her political science graduate degree from The George Washington University in Washington, DC and has spent most of her career working in governance, both in the U.S. and overseas. 

Deborah’s passion for Welcoming Communities stems from her own personal experiences as a newcomer.  She sympathizes with how difficult it is to assimilate into a new community and wants to do what she can to make it easier for others.  Living and working in different countries made her realize the importance of making a new community feel like home.  Deborah enjoys highlighting the important role that migrants and newcomers play and helping them to fully participate, contribute and thrive.  She is proud to call beautiful Central Otago her home and wants others to feel welcomed.


Amelie Schuberth

Engagement Coordinator, Invercargill City Council

Amelie works as an Engagement Coordinator for the Strategy and Policy team at Invercargill City Council. She is responsible for building and maintaining relationships with various groups and ensuring that the community has a say on Council’s decision through consultations. She also coordinates the Welcoming Communities programme.

Having moved from France to New Zealand in 2017, Amelie can confirm that the South of New Zealand lives up to its hospitable reputation. She enjoys meeting people from all horizons and  is committed  to help newcomers and migrants to settle down and connect within the community.


Silvia Dancose

Welcoming Communities Coordinator, Queenstown Lakes District Council

Silvia is Canadian-born and comes from a mixed background; her father was French-Canadian and her mother was Mexican. She is fluent in French, Spanish and English.  Silvia moved to Hamilton, New Zealand in 2011 and has been living in Queenstown since December 2019.

Her career pathway has led her to occupy many roles in the NGO sector working alongside and advocating for newcomers, migrants and refugees in Canada and New Zealand.

Silvia worked for nearly 9 years for New Zealand Red Cross in the areas of settlement and employment of refugee background persons. 

Silvia describes herself having a natural inclination to connect with people from all ethnic backgrounds and walks of life. Her upbringing has a lot to do with the fact that she lived in many developing countries as a child and teenager because of her Dad’s work. She is passionate about diversity, inclusion and equity and considers them as integral parts of any welcoming community. 

Silvia completed a Certificate in Intercultural Studies to complement her Post-Graduate Diploma in Adult Education and bachelor’s degree in Education. 

Birte Becker-Steel

Birte Becker-Steel

Welcoming Communities Officer, Tasman District Council

After living on the wild West Coast for the last eleven years, Birte recently moved to the Tasman District to start her new role as the Welcoming Communities Officer. The gentle hills and vineyards of the Upper Moutere area remind her of her birthplace – the Rhineland in Western Germany.

Birte is a fully qualified Social Worker. She has been a Workshop Facilitator and Coach running her own company for many years offering trainings on topics like Cultural Intelligence, Stress Management & Wellbeing and Workplace Resilience.

In her previous role as the Settling In Service Coordinator for the Westland and Grey Districts, Birte supported newcomers from over 60 different ethnicities to settle into the community, engage in local activities and develop friendships. Diversity is very important to her; it reflects in all areas of her life – even the dinners she cooks are usually very colourful.

Birte is looking forward to establishing many meaningful connections and making the Tasman District more inclusive and welcoming for everyone.

Bill Huppler

Welcoming Communities Coordinator, Nelson City Council

Ko Pukematawai te maunga e rū nei taku ngākau

Ko te Maitai te awa e mahea nei aku māharahara

Nō Ingarangi ahau

E mihi ana ki ngā tohu o nehe, o Te Tauihu

Ko Terry toku matua

Ko Jude toku whaea

Ko Sarah toku wahine

Ko Bill Huppler toku ingoa

Nō rēira, tēnā tatou katoa

Bill moved to Aotearoa New Zealand  from the UK for the 2011 Rugby World Cup. He lived in Tāmaki Makaurau (Auckland) until moving to Whakatū (Nelson) in March 2021. Prior to moving into the Welcoming Communities Coordinator role with Nelson City Council he was previously a Community Partnership Adviser working closely with former refugee and migrant communities. Bill has a background in community sport and recreation and is a strong advocate of the universal language of sport as a way of connecting communities.

Bill is very passionate about improving the experiences of newcomers to Whakatū through collaboration with communities and the pre-existing agencies across the city, to explore solutions to some of barriers these groups face upon arriving in our beautiful city.


Maria (Maki) Rodriguez

Welcoming Communities Coordinator, Tauranga City Council

Maki is originally from Colombia. After leaving Colombia in 1998, Maki lived in Costa Rica before moving to New Zealand in 2007. She now calls Tauranga home.

Maki has two bachelor degrees in Business Administration and Social Work and has a Postgraduate in Human Resources. For over ten years, Maki has worked with refugee and migrant communities. Her roles included Senior Settlement and Social Worker with the Red Cross and Director of the Shama Ethnic Women's Trust in Hamilton.

Maki is passionate about supporting vulnerable communities, empowering women, advocating gender equality, and supporting the LGBTQI+ community.

Maki believes the Welcome Communities program creates an opportunity to continue celebrating diversity, equity and inclusion in the various regions, pushing Aotearoa to be a country for all.


Rhianna Flaherty

Welcoming Communities, Officer, Rangitīkei District Council

Originally from Canada, Rhianna has lived in New Zealand for over 8 years. She has spent most of her time living in Otago and the North Island.

Rhianna holds an Education degree from the University of Alberta in Canada. She has worked in Community Services, outdoor education, and adventure tourism both in New Zealand and abroad.

Rhianna’s interest in the Welcoming Communities programme stems from her personal experiences as a newcomer in New Zealand and from her various volunteer roles. Rhianna loves supporting people to find meaningful ways to engage with their environment and community. She is interested in finding ways to support diversity and improve equity within her own community.