Nicola Says Farewell After 8 Years of Leadership and Innovation

Nicola with Aviva banner

Nicola Woodward has led Aviva since 2011, formerly as CEO and most recently as Director of Strategy and Innovation. She will leave us shortly before Christmas after eight years of service to the agency and the communities we support.

Nicola joined Aviva, known then as Christchurch Women’s Refuge (CWR), following the agency’s decision to change its focus from that of the traditional refuge model. The decision was based on the recognition that it needed to develop a whole family approach and change the way it provides services if we wanted to achieve our goal of breaking the intergenerational cycle of violence.

After 30 years in related fields, Nicola brought a wealth of experience in innovating, leading and transforming government and societal responses to deeply embedded problems. This included her frontline work setting up London’s first needle exchange and harm minimisation service, to developing national policies in the UK to address the multiple effects of social inequalities. Nicola used this experience to explore the contemporary benefits, limitations and unintended consequences of the refuge model CWR founded in 1973. “The public perception, shared by many women, was that we had to leave our relationships, homes and employment, remove our children from school, and enter a refuge to become safe. One of the unintended consequences of this was that it placed the burden of responsibility on women to take action to become safe and protect our children.”

Nicola encouraged another perspective. “Achieving a violence free New Zealand calls for all of us to reflect personally on how we see and behave towards others.” In particular, she elaborated, “Men who are using violence bring their personal stories too. To support individuals and families to become safe, we need to understand all of our past experiences and influences.” In 2012, in partnership with Canterbury Police, Aviva developed the award winning ReachOut service for men using, or at risk of using, violence. Our services further expanded to include specialist youth  services to respond to the growing problem of adolescent intimate partner violence and familial violence, evidence-based specialist peer support services, and microfinance services. In 2014, Aviva and START partnered to  rapidly develop the Sexual Assault Support Service Canterbury (SASSC) following the sudden closure of the Monarch Centre. “Our mindset has changed. Our language has changed. Our name has changed. Our behaviours have changed. But our purpose is the same,” explains Nicola.

One of Nicola’s biggest challenges during her time with Aviva has been co-leading the development of The Loft with other partner agencies. “People and families experiencing violence have a broad range of needs that have to be addressed quickly to enable safety. The Loft’s emerging model of frontline, management and leadership practice makes it much easier for families to access support and much easier for practitioners across multiple organisations to work together,” Nicola explains. “Since opening The Loft we’ve connected with hundreds of individuals and families who would otherwise not have asked for help.” Nicola describes The Loft as a “manifestation” of everything Aviva has aspired to become since she joined eight years ago. “I still go into the reception to welcome the courageous people walking through the door and think, ‘We made it. We actually did it!’”

This courageous and innovative woman has made a significant contribution to Aviva and our purpose to enable New Zealand to become violence-free. “What I takeaway isn’t so much a sense of pride, it’s an inner strength that comes from remaining true to why we’re here as an organisation and what I believe in as a human being.” As Aviva looks to its future, Nicola offers some departing advice, “Keeping hold of our truth means continuing to listen, learn and remain generous; to explore, innovate and partner to achieve more for children and families than we can alone. But most of all, I’d encourage us all to deepen our belief in everyone’s intrinsic goodness and our collective potential to enable Aotearoa New Zealand to become violence free.”