Time to move on

16:00, Nov 26 2012
INSPIRING CAREER: Stephen Tollestrup of Henderson Valley is stepping down as chief executive of Tear Fund after 18 years of working in some of the world’s most impoverished areas.

There were just 4 half staff bringing in about $1.5 million a year when Stephen Tollestrup first started with Tear Fund New Zealand.

He's been 18 years at the helm now and the organisation boasts 35 staff and brings in $13 million a year which helps fund its work as one of the world's most recognised disaster and famine relief agencies.

The Henderson Valley man has worked through five different governments, countless natural disasters and crises in New Zealand and throughout the world.

He's seen more than 12,000 children sponsored by generous New Zealanders and he's been through more passports than he can remember.

At one point he'd filled up three passports before their expiry date.

The agency's chief executive, a self confessed "proud westie", will leave his role on December 6 taking his talents from working on a global level to a more grassroots level.


He's travelled to almost every country and is ready for a change.

"I'm leaving Tear Fund because I'm feeling after the amount of experience I've gathered in the developing world, I really need to come back here in New Zealand and use it," he says.

"Issues of development and justice are here - they're not just in Bangladesh or Uganda or the Middle East - development issues, poverty, housing and transport issues are here.

"I've had a great run, and I think it's time for me to put some of the skills back into my community."

Mr Tollestrup was involved in the startup of Tear Fund.

"It seemed to have a lot of potential, it had a great background in terms of it was very open to the church. The church will always step up for issues of poverty and charity."

Mr Tollestrup has lived an eventful and rich working life and has first-hand accounts of some of the world's most memorable conflicts and disasters.

He was one of the only westerners that had access to the refugee camps after the Civil War ended in Sri Lanka and witnessed entire villages wiped out in Cyclone Nargis that hit Myanmar. He was also back in South East Asia helping with the aftermath of the 2004 Boxing Day tsunami.

But the events that stand out are the ones that show human ingenuity.

"We gave a refugee in Java a $100 loan for him to dig a hole and money for plastic sheeting which he poured water in and bought fish. The fish matured and he sold it for food and made an income.

"I've always been in awe of the poor and their ingenuity, courage and their ability to face challenges."

Mr Tollestrup is humble when it comes to his achievements and says the combined passion of his team is what has made it successful.

"I don't think in leadership you need to be the smartest person in the room, you just need to be a good facilitator to make sure the information and skills integrate.

"I will miss the family of Tear Fund, the collective enthusiasm here and I'll probably get a tear in my eye when I do go."

His next journey will be as the director of Ploughshare, a consulting group which focuses on community development and building not-for-profit groups.

"I love community groups because they're driven by values and they get you out of bed in the morning. People are working flatstick for what they believe in."

"I'm proud of the job I've done here, I'm proud of the outstanding team and it's time to launch out on a new adventure."

Western Leader