We talk to Blind Low Vision NZ Chief Executive John Mulka about his expectations for 2021 after the unprecedented year that was 2020.

What are your hopes for the year ahead?

In a Covid world, even though New Zealand is largely an exception with valid reason for optimism, we still don’t know what tomorrow or next month could bring as a result of the new variant strains, so my hope is we can continue as we have been.  No one wants to be forced to take a societal step backwards, and no matter what may in fact occur I would rather continue moving forward and evolving the organisation.

What are the top priorities for the year ahead?

We need to finish our FY21 Business Plan and we are making good progress in that space. We are currently writing the FY22 Business Plan based on the feedback that we receive from the consultation process. We already have some early themes, and one of the biggest pieces of feedback is that we need to do more in the space of communications and awareness – not just internally but externally as well.

And following on from that some things that are in the pipeline is designing a new website, continuing with the roll out of Alexa Smart speakers to our clients and continuing with our property strategy.

Are there any learnings from 2020 that you would like to see carried through to 2021?

The biggest one is how we can work effectively in a post-Covid world. Going into lockdowns has proven that remote working with greater efficiencies and productivity is realistic and achievable. We want to provide people the flexibility to work from a different location if it best suits their needs or work from home.

We also learnt how vulnerable we are as a society. Things could conceivably turn on short notice or warning. I remember very clearly last year when in the first month of the WHO declaring a worldwide pandemic we dropped 18 percent in our revenue, and It was clear that if that pattern carried on then we were going to be challenged. Thankfully, we managed to right ourselves by the third month and we got back on track without any disruptions or necessity for drastic measures.

What are you most looking forward to this year?

We are in the second year of our Strategic Plan. We have made great progress and this year I would like to see us develop our values and the culture further.

I am also excited to see the work we are doing out at Blind Low Vision NZ Guide Dogs come to fruition. We are doing work around how we train dogs to reduce the wait times to get a guide dog and we are in the process of upgrading the training facilities.

What do you think is going to be the most challenging this year?

I think the biggest challenge will be around some people’s perception versus reality of the ongoing needs we have. With the joint venture retirement village being built in Parnell, Auckland, there might be a perception that we are a wealthy charity, when in reality we still need to raise a significant amount of money in the community to deliver our personalised vision rehabilitation services. We need to diversify where our revenue comes from to lessen our vulnerability, thankfully we do have a solid financial base to work from, but there is no way we could do what we do without the generous support of the New Zealand public.

And on personal note, how are you enjoying the role as Chief Executive?

The short answer is I absolutely love the job. When I was given the opportunity I knew I was up for the challenge. The RNZFB Board outlined a mandate and that was to create positive change.  Sometimes in my opinion we haven’t moved fast enough on certain items and on others we may have moved too fast, and now we have to ensure we find a balance of what is the correct pace.

I do wake up every day energised and truly love to go to work and contribute, with the best part being the people I get to work with whether it be the clients, volunteers or staff.  I do wish we didn’t have to make some of the decisions we have had to make as an organisation, simply because of the impact on people, but I have to be genuine and true to the role and what the job calls for and ultimately if we are making decisions that provide clients with better outcomes, then it is all worthwhile.