South Waikato Investment Fund Trust (SWIFT) appoints three new board members and adopts new strategic focus

South Waikato Investment Fund Trust (SWIFT) has appointed three new board members: corporate lawyer Kate Searancke (Ngāti Maniapoto), accountant, lawyer, director and investor Michael Crawford and kaupapa Māori environmental consultant James Whetu as it plans for trustee retirements and adopts a new strategic focus.

SWIFT was created in 2014 with a fund derived from the sale of PowerCo shares to drive economic benefit across the South Waikato.

SWIFT Chair Bruce Sherman says the three new board members bring a wealth of professional, business and governance experience and will help ensure the strategy steering the Trust’s activities is aligned with a broader range of the South Waikato community. With a number of trustees retiring in the coming months the appointments also ensure continuity in planning board tenure.

Kate Searancke was born and raised in Te Awamutu and has spent most of her professional career working in large corporate law firms in Auckland and Sydney.  She returned to the Waikato to join Tompkins Wake in 2014 and lives in Tamahere with her two children and extended whānau.

“He uri ahau nō te waka o Tainui.  Ko Kaputuhi te whare e tū nei.  Ko Ngāwaero me Ngāti Kapu Tuhi ngā hapū.  Ko Ngāti Maniapoto te iwi.  Mauri ora.”

Michael Crawford has lived in the Waikato for 30 years and has four adult children. He has worked in the dairy industry and for Waikato-Tainui. His diverse governance experience includes the Treasury, Wintec, iwi,  horticulture, construction and the environment.

James Whetu, born and raised in Tokoroa, is of Raukawa, Waikato, and Ngāti Tūwharetoa descent, and lives in Ngāruawāhia with wife Amy and their four children. He has a professional background in resource management policy and planning systems, with expertise to promote and incorporate Māori perspectives. James is Director of Whetū Consultancy Group and The Stream Limited.

Mr Sherman says the SWIFT board last year started a strategic review following the appointment of CEO Amanda Hema.

“Amanda joined us at a critical juncture with two large construction projects underway in Tokoroa for the new South Waikato Trades Training Centre and a new office building for major South Waikato employer Manulife Forestry management. We were also conscious of the changing needs of our local businesses and community following the impact of COVID19.

“Amanda worked with the board to develop a new strategic plan to ensure SWIFT investments were delivering impact in the right areas which includes making substantial loans that will make a tangible, sustainable difference to the businesses we support.  As part of our strategic review we set our business loans at a minimum of $50,000.

“We also increased our grants to a minimum of $25,000. These are available to not-for-profit organisations that either deliver educational and training opportunities to enable people to enter the workforce or support community infrastructure that encourages business investment to improve the quality of life in the district.

“The board are very grateful for the hard work of Amanda and her team. It’s been a trying 12 months, especially across the construction projects but Amanda and her team have worked tirelessly and it’s fantastic to drive into Tokoroa now and see the construction progress. Upon completion they will make a clear statement that the South Waikato is open for business and committed to the development of its young people in to meaningful careers.”

Besides the loans to individual businesses with high growth potential, SWIFT supports a range of workforce development programmes in the South Waikato district including:

  • Access to free driving licence training for all local High School students
  • The Generation forestry training programme in partnership with the Central North Island Wood Council, Te Uru Rākau (New Zealand Forest Service), Forest Growers Levy Trust, the South Waikato District Council, and Toi Ohomai Institute of Technology.
  • Training scholarships through Toi Ohomai
  • A partnership with WorkIT, the South Waikato District Council’s employment agency for young people

Mr Sherman says SWIFT’s new five-year strategic plan will, over the next three years, focus on:

  • Managing and leveraging SWIFT’s current portfolio of investments to deliver the best outcomes for South Waikato
  • Supporting South Waikato’s existing industries and established businesses to succeed and grow
  • Working with South Waikato’s key industries to ensure they can access the workforce and skills they need to succeed

SWIFT’s longer term strategic priorities from 2024 will also include:

  • Making the case for the infrastructure needed to support the growth of the South Waikato economy
  • Developing South Waikato’s sectors of comparative advantage to create a productive and resilient economy
  • Attracting new investment into South Waikato to deepen our capabilities and support new employment opportunities

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