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Auckland Council The Auckland Plan

The Southern Initiative

The Southern Initiative (TSI) was established through the 2012 Auckland Plan to provide a focus for work in an area covered by the four local board areas of Māngere-Ōtāhuhu, Ōtara-Papatoetoe, Manurewa and Papakura.

​The purpose of The Southern Initiative

The purpose of TSI is to plan and deliver a long-term programme of co-ordinated investment and actions to bring about transformational social, economic and physical change in this area.   

It was set up with six priorities:

  • early childhood intervention and strong family attachment
  • education, training or employment for all young people leaving school
  • an outstanding international gateway and destination area
  • economic development and jobs for local people
  • increased public transport services
  • housing development.

TSI is responsible for kick starting, enabling and championing social and community innovation in South Auckland.

It tackles complex socio-economic challenges and creates opportunities that will benefit the people of South Auckland.

It focuses on purpose-designed effective innovations that make better use of current resources and empower local people. It tests solutions lightly, quickly and affordably to understand what works and why it works before implementing them more widely.

By applying a 'think like a system, act like an entrepreneur' mind set we do not attempt to take on grand societal challenges in their entirety, instead we look to identify nimble opportunities for change within the system, seed innovations, test prototypes and support successful efforts to grow and influence other parts of the wider system. (Conway, Masters & Thorold, 2017)


The Southern Initiative's focus

Working towards the same priorities, there is now a particular focus on social innovation and entrepreneurship.

This is evident in the following streams of work:

  1. Lifting incomes through quality employment opportunities and establishing businesses that create shared prosperity. 
    The vision: South Auckland will be an example of inclusive growth where social and economic development is explicitly integrated.
  2. Building resilience and adaptability to use creativity, culture and technology to harness opportunities from climate change, technological breakthroughs, shifts in the economy and major demographic changes.
    The vision:  South Auckland will be known for intergenerational creativity, entrepreneurship and innovation and its young people will be sought after in an increasingly globalised and technological world because of their advanced skill base.
  3. Supporting whānau, especially those with very young children, to develop their own solutions to thrive and set the foundations for positive lifelong outcomes for their children.
    The vision: children and young people in South Auckland will be given the best start in life.

How The Southern Initiative started

This initiative was started in 2012 to unleash human and economic potential in an area of Auckland with high social need, yet with significant economic opportunity. 

Its aim was to drastically improve the quality of life of local residents, reduce disparities between different parts of Auckland, and grow businesses and jobs in the area.   

20 per cent of all Aucklanders live in TSI area. At the 2018 Census, the area was home to almost a quarter of all Auckland's children and young people, and 40 per cent of people living in south Auckland were 25 years or younger.

Three out of every five residents is from a Pasifika ethnic group, or is Māori

The area is part of New Zealand's largest centre of economic activity. However, as Auckland grows, so too does the risk of South Auckland not fulfilling its potential (New Zealand Institute of Economic Research, 2016). 

Given the mix of a young and ageing population, coupled with the current low wage, low productivity economy, complex social and economic challenges need to be tackled.

These challenges include:

  • low incomes, high unemployment and underemployment
  • poor housing quality
  • many social and health harms caused by hardship and poverty.

At the same time, South Auckland's economic importance, abundance of talent and creativity and large, diverse and youthful population are strengths and assets waiting to be unlocked.

TSI recognises that a different approach is needed – one that sufficiently lifts personal and inter-generational outcomes, rather than trapping people in ongoing poverty.

Solutions lie within local communities themselves. Rather than creating more services to 'fix' South Auckland, the initiative works with whānau, local social change agents, grassroots entrepreneurs, businesses and agencies to explore, create and test radical and innovative solutions.

To create deep change, TSI has concentrated on improving people's lives in real time and making change to systems that affect population groups.


How the Auckland Co-design Lab supports The Southern Initiative

The Co-design Lab is an integral part of the project's innovation capability.  It is funded by the Auckland Council and sponsored by eight central government departments. 

The Lab was established to provide a neutral space to explore the use of co-design and other innovative approaches to address complex social issues.

A key focus is to provide space for multi-agency teams to collaborate, work alongside citizens and to support and broker innovative ideas and solutions.

It also focuses on unlocking people's capability to participate in designing their future, while advocating for system-level change.


Highlights of The Southern Initiative

  • Training more than 400 people in pre-apprenticeship construction, infrastructure and allied trades through its Māori and Pasifika Trades Training programme.
  • Supporting the business growth and development of more than half a dozen Māori, Pasifika and community-led enterprises.
  • Developing sustainable procurement practice, to the point of being recognised as a leader in New Zealand.
  • Creating the UPsouth online platform. Here young South Aucklanders can contribute their ideas, in any creative medium, to questions about opportunities and challenges facing South Auckland. It develops and nurtures a network of young people who lead together and support one another's development in a way that is both entrepreneurial and altruistic. Visit the UPsouth website for more information.
  • User-centric co-design with families experiencing some of the toughest housing and poverty challenges. This has led to valuable insights and prototypes, designed by the very people who are affected.
  • Turning South Auckland into a Maker City and part of the global maker movement. Events include days where locals fix, upcycle and repurpose items. The Fix Stop initiative transforms bikes from the landfill to new. Others have involved young makers in shared projects including Mbots (a way for kids to learn electronics and programming), coding, gaming, virtual reality and 3D printing. Read more on the Maker City website.


Conway, R., Masters, J. and Thorold, J. (2017) From design thinking to systems change: How to invest in innovation for social impact. The RSA Action and Research Centre: London.

New Zealand Institute of Economic Research (2016) Resilient south. A strategy for closing income gaps in South Auckland. NZIER: Wellington.