Serving the public
Alumna Debbie Power started her public service career in the 1980s as a frontline case manager at the former Department of Social Welfare. Now Chief Executive of the Ministry of Social Development, she reflects on the value of upskilling and challenging yourself to do things that scare you.
What did you study at Victoria University of Wellington?
I completed my Executive Master of Public Administration (EMPA) through the Australia and New Zealand School of Government (ANZSOG) in 2007. ANZSOG is a partnership between the New Zealand and Australian Governments that focuses on providing education and development opportunities for people in the public sector. It’s studied part-time over two years and includes intensive residential blocks with elective modules.
How would you describe your experience?
It was really the first formal qualification I’d done since I left school, apart from a diploma through Massey University. Even though I was in my early forties, I was completely daunted by the notion of completing a Master’s in a couple of years. I went through all the concerns that a lot of people have when you’re in situation where you don’t feel you have the capability. I was an operational person from Northland and I thought I might not be able to foot it with people from a policy background. I remember my first day in a room with 100-odd others and thinking ‘They all look so confident and I am going to fail’. What I found, of course, was many others felt the same way! It turned out to be a fantastic opportunity to broaden my thinking and perspective and learn from others. I established what have become long-term relationships with people from across the public service. I found that you can do a lot more than you realise if you put your mind to it—even Economics papers! The EMPA gave me the discipline to think about issues from not only an operational perspective but to take more of a systems approach and think about challenges and opportunities in a multi-dimensional way.
What have you done since graduating?
Since I graduated I have spent the last few years in Wellington doing a range of jobs within the Ministry of Social Development (MSD) and I was appointed Statutory Deputy State Services Commissioner with the State Services Commission in 2015. Recently I was appointed as the Chief Executive of MSD. Being appointed as a public service leader is a real privilege. MSD in particular is an agency that holds a very special place in the public service. It deals with over a million New Zealanders each year, many of who come to see us at very difficult times in their lives. We have to be utterly focused on the needs of our clients and remember that we can always do better. Our role is to work alongside our clients, with our partners in the community and business sectors, to help them realise their potential.
What’s your advice for adults thinking about further study?
My advice for people who have never done any formal qualifications is grab every opportunity you have to do some study. You will not only gain learnings from an academic perspective, but by interacting with a range of people throughout that time you will get a much broader perspective on life. If it scares you, that’s a good thing!