Vanushi Walters is an experienced international human rights solicitor and has been appointed as a Trustee of Foundation North. We asked her a few questions to find out more about how she got interested in taking on governance roles.
Tell us about yourself?
For as long as I can remember I’ve been passionate about social justice and the impact individuals and communities can have influencing the injustices that happen here in New Zealand and globally. It’s because of this perspective that I decided to study to become a human rights lawyer two decades ago.
I’m proud to be a Sri Lankan New Zealander and when I’m not busy with work, I enjoy spending time with my husband and our three small sons. We live in the bush in Titirangi and there’s always something beautiful to see or a new place out west to explore.
Tell us about your governance journey. Why did you pursue a career in governance?
My governance journey began as a teenager. I heard a story about my father’s second cousin, a journalist in Sri Lanka who had been killed in 1990 for expressing his views about the then government. It led me down a path of volunteering with Amnesty International and I quickly gravitated to policy discussions and governance decision making. I was elected to the New Zealand Board of Amnesty while studying law and when I took up my first legal practising role I was elected onto Amnesty’s Global Board.
Tell us about your board success to date. What are you most proud of achieving while on your board?
I served on Amnesty’s International Board for six years in my twenties and it was a time of a lot of change for the organisation. I’m most proud of the human rights policy work I was part of leading at a governance level that included developments regard to a sexual and reproductive rights policy, the shift deeper into campaigning on economic social and cultural rights and the beginnings of policy discussions about climate change and its impact on human rights. I also had the privilege to work alongside leaders within Amnesty globally but in particular in Mongolia, Nepal and the Philippines to develop the governance capabilities of their Boards.
If you could give one piece of advice to new directors/board members, what would it be?
Good governance requires a broad skill set. That’s why it always requires a team. It’s about mapping out the strategic direction for an organisation or entity to achieve the best it can for stakeholder as well as being the rudder to provide a steer if waters get choppy or a new opportunity presents. Importantly it’s also about supporting your operational leadership team. Knowing when they should be taking the lead and when you as the governance team should take the lead and of course being a good employer. Despite these general reflections I do think each governance role is different. Share the skills you bring, be open to learning and enjoy the important role you hold in your new tribe.
Who is the person that has influenced you most?
There have been so many people who have had a positive influence on my life. One person who stands out is my mother. Not only has she always supported and encouraged me but there’s a little intervention she made when I was five that I’ll always remember. I was walking to her office after school when a man started following me. I remember he was fully suited and looked like he was on his way to a meeting. He followed close behind me and said repeatedly “Go back to where you came from. You don’t belong here; this isn’t your country”. When I eventually told my mother, I expected that she would be as angry as I felt. Though she initially looked shocked she quickly softened and said “That poor man. Just imagine what sort of life he’s living that he would say something like that to a little girl”. What stuck with me is that if I wanted to change behaviours or realities, I needed to look more closely at the reality I’m trying to change. It’s easy to react in anger or frustration but to think through how to address discrimination in a deeper way, that requires a deep breath, reflection and lots of conversations.
If like Vanushi, you are interested in learning about State sector boards and governance then visit our Nominations Service webpage and get in contact with us.