Tricia Walbridge: taking care of business

Many chairs and centres at Ōrauariki—Wellington School of Business and Government came into being largely through the determination of Tricia Walbridge.

Photograph of Tricia Walbridge

Tricia was appointed as the first Executive Director of the Victoria University of Wellington Foundation in 1990. The Foundation is a charitable trust governed by a Board of Trustees. It is responsible for prudently investing the funds provided through private donations to the University and ensuring they are correctly managed and spent in accordance with the donors’ wishes.

According to a plaque on the wall in the Hunter building, “Universities are unique in providing knowledge and leadership, critical comment and a conscience for society. In a world where sufficient government funding for universities is no longer assured, the University of Wellington Foundation exists to raise money for priority projects at Victoria University that would not otherwise be funded.”

The Development Office manages all charitable giving to the University via the Foundation. In the early years there was a staff of three—Tricia, along with Executive Assistant Deb O’Sullivan and accountant Yun Ting Pang, both of whom still work there.

Raising funds for significant projects

Tricia set about fundraising for projects that would improve the educational opportunities offered at the University, using her extensive contacts and knowledge of the Wellington community and business sector to link interested donors with significant projects.

Tricia helped to establish some of the University’s most loved institutions such as the International Institute of Modern Letters and the Adam Art Gallery. She also raised funds towards the First Light Solar Decathlon project, the Weir House extension, and numerous student scholarships and prizes, many of which are still offered today.

When funds are ‘endowed’ the principal sum is kept intact and invested so that scholarships or awards can be made with the investment income each year in perpetuity.

Partnership chairs for the Wellington School of Business and Government

When it came to the Business School, formerly known as the Faculty of Commerce and Administration, and then Victoria Business School, Tricia could see that the University could extend its offerings by focusing on issues of relevance to the government and business sector. A professorial Chair provides academic leadership and develops a whole area of research, teaching, and public engagement.

Tricia coined the term ‘partnership chairs’ which she describes as a great example of ‘win-win’ projects. The University gains a senior academic position that attracts academics from around the world which it could not fund on its own, and demonstrates its commitment by providing some of the funding.

The public and private sectors can address an area of significant practical need, relevance, and interest at the highest levels of academic research and teaching.

The first partnership chair was the Chair in E-Government, subsequently named the Chair in Digital Government and held by Professor Miriam Lips. Tricia was ably assisted by Emeritus Professor Bob Buckle who was Pro Vice-Chancellor and Dean of Commerce at Victoria Business School from 2008 to 2017. Professor Buckle provided the academic leadership for all the projects and was closely involved with fundraising.

Tricia says it was sometimes challenging to get all the parties over the line. Once the Chairs were established, their Advisory Boards, ususally chaired by one of the public or private partners, were effective at ensuring all of the partners’ needs were met.

The Wellington School of Business and Government currently has the following externally funded Chairs:

  • Chair in Public Finance
  • Diana Unwin Chair in Restorative Justice
  • Aritahi—Brian Picot Chair in Ethical Leadership
  • Te Āwhionukurangi—Chair in the Economics of Disasters and Climate Change
  • Te Tāmaku—Chair in Regulatory Practice

A partnership with philanthropy and the public sector

Te Ngāpara Centre for Restorative Practice, a multi-disciplinary team led by the Diana Unwin Chair in Restorative Justice, is a successful model of a partnership between philanthropy and the public sector. It focuses on collaborative, interdisciplinary research and teaching on restorative justice issues of interest to all the organisations.

Sponsors have included:

  • Ministry of Justice
  • Ministry of Education
  • Department of Corrections
  • New Zealand Police
  • Oranga Tamariki
  • Accident Compensation Corporation
  • MBIE

The Chair is named after Diana Unwin, one of New Zealand’s least known philanthropists who died in 2014. Diana had a lifetime of involvement in restorative justice, the international peace movement, homelessness, poverty, women’s refuge, and refugee services. In 1992 she established the Grace Memorial Trust, named after her mother.

The Trust sponsors the Diana Unwin Chair in Restorative Justice, currently held by Dr Jane Bolitho, the Professor of Restorative Practice.

Helping people meet their philanthropic goals

Tricia has made a career from helping people to meet their goals and make a difference through philanthropy. She graduated from the University of Birmingham with an Honours degree in Social Science and came to New Zealand in 1981. Prior to leading the Foundation, she had worked in economic research and the NGO sector.

“I loved being involved in building external relationships for the University, achieving results and being part of a team bringing great projects, whether Chairs, research programmes, scholarships or facilities, to fruition,” says Tricia.

One of Tricia’s favourite memories stems from when the Foundation was fundraising for what became the International Institute of Modern Letters. American philanthropist Glenn Schaeffer had told her that that if the Foundation could raise NZ$1 million towards the project by the end of 2005, he, would match it with $US$1 million of his own. A few days short of the end of the year, Tricia was at her wit’s end as there was still $58,000 to go. Then US-based philanthropists Bob and Timi Morey contacted her out of the blue asking how far they were from the target and offering to make up the difference. These donors just loved completing challenges which taught Tricia a valuable lesson about people’s different motivations for giving.

Continuing to serve the University and the community

As well as her service to the University, Tricia has given her time to many charitable organisations including the JR McKenzie Trust, Wellington Rotary Charitable Trust, Change Makers Refugee Forum, and the New Zealand Institute of International Affairs.

Tricia retired in 2017 and in 2018 the University Council elected her a Hunter Fellow. This award—one of the highest the Council can bestow—recognises outstanding service to the University.

Since retiring from the University, Tricia has kept busy with projects. She was a founding trustee and is now an advisory trustee and secretary for Te Mana o Kupe. This charitable trust is committed to the digital empowerment of young students in Porirua East by providing affordable devices for their school and home learning. The aim is to raise educational achievement and help break the cycle of poverty.

In her rare moments of spare time, Tricia is a keen cyclist and tramper and enjoys visiting her family members who are based overseas. She is well known in the Wellington community and meets many people she knows whenever she attends an event.

Tricia is continuing to contribute to the University—in 2021 she joined the Foundation’s Board of Trustees. The University is lucky to continue to benefit from Tricia’s vast knowledge and experience of fundraising, business, and the government sector and her dedication to making a difference in Aotearoa New Zealand.