Introducing our second Emma Lewisham Changemaker – Ranjna Patel. An innovator, businesswoman and community leader, Ranjna has not only developed New Zealand’s largest independent primary healthcare group, and started a domestic violence programme, the Gandhi Nivas Programme. 

Ranjna I really enjoyed meeting you at the Zonta International event in December, to acknowledge the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against women. I was extremely moved by the work you’re doing to eliminate the violence against women in New Zealand (Police are called to a family violence incident every 4 minutes in New Zealand). What struck me was how smart and innovative your progamme is. It takes into account that 90% of women return to the partner, so we needed to start looking at the challenge differently and approach it from how we support the males to stop them from reoffending. Through your programme, you are seeing 60% of men go back into their family situation and not reoffend when previously the reoffending rate was 90%. Your programme is working and is world leading. 

Yourself and your husband Dr Kanti Patel started New Zealand’s largest independent primary healthcare group – Tamaki Health – starting in Otara in the 70s with just one clinic to now 50 clinics, a call centre, over 1000 staff and up to 4000 consultations per day. This is an extraordinary expansion that you must be immensely proud of. 

Could you give us a bit more background on your career and how you came to be such an inspiration for making change within your chosen field?

My grandfather migrated to NZ in the 1920s. I was born in a fruit shop in Herne Bay, where we lived above the shop with my uncle and aunt. I was bought up in a joint family with 4 adults and 7 children. A couple of us worked in the fruit shop after school and the others helped cook the meals. As we were one of the few Indian families in Auckland, we were used as a landing point for people coming from India. I have three children and 7 grandchildren.

Necessity is the mother of all change or innovation – in order to survive. We had purchased a practice in Otara in 1977, and the hours the clinic was open, didn’t match the needs of the patients and wasn’t going to pay our mortgage for the business. People couldn’t afford to take time off to come to the doctors between 9-12 and 3-5 pm, so we opened our clinic from 8 am – 6 pm to meet the needs of working mums and patients that needed care (putting bread on the table was more important than going to the doctor). You could always go to the hospital after hours, so we made the clinic 'no-appointment', so a young mum with three children could walk to the clinic when the weather cleared. 

When you say things like this aloud, you know it's common sense, nothing innovative, nothing entrepreneurial, just plain common sense. And as women, we do a lot of things, that just need to get done.

The only business experience I had ever been taught, was growing up in a fruit shop in the 60s. Working in Pounds , shillings and pence and pounds and ounces. When I went to school, you did either academics, accounting or sciences and I chose sciences. Because of this, I had to teach myself typing, accounting, PAYE, Excel, in addition to being the cleaner, HR and receptionist. You turn obstacles into opportunity. And a little bit of ‘I can do it” attitude.



We are incredibly inspired by your work in preventing domestic violence with your Gandhi Nivas programme. Your way of approaching the problem of domestic violence is a different one in that you set out to prevent reoffending. Can you tell us a little more about the process and why the programme has had such success?

If you listen to people at the grassroots and work out a solution that works for them, you are more likely to get buy-in for a process that's completely different. The people working in this space – police and counsellors, suggested a home would be good after the PSO is issued (Police Safety Order is issued when Police attend a Family Harm incident- removing the perpetrator from the home for 24 hours to 5 days). Apparently, a lot of men sleep in the car and then turn up the next morning, needing clothes or shower and the women let them back in – breaching the PSO. 

What I heard was – bricks and mortar (a home), timely 24-hour services (most services opened 9-5 Mon-Fri, most incidents occurred after hours Thursday, Friday and weekends) and qualified professionals delivering services - counsellors, social workers, alcohol and drug counsellors.

I feel very privileged being in the space where you can join the dots. I am privileged being surrounded by people with a 'can do' attitude. Some amazing Police leadership and ownership (DC John Tims and Srgt Gurpreet Arora) and some passionate counsellors – Sahaayta Counselling services (Sucharita Varma and Zoya Kara) and a proactive Primary Health Organisation – Total Healthcare (lead by Mark Vella).

Together, we came up with protocols and procedures, data collections , Police referral processes and hence Gandhi Nivas was launched. It took several months of tweaking things and within a few months became a mainstream service as there was no other like it.

The programme has been a success because we adapted the whole service to what the client needs (just like we did in health). It is a self-referral service (you have to want to change), the programme is tailored around the client’s needs, they're given a free anger management course, free accommodation and someone is there to listen. When you step back, it seems so logical, if we can help and change the behaviour and give men tools to deal with their aggression, we can make a bigger difference. Majority of women take back the men, as they are good husbands, good fathers, but they want the violence to stop. Women do take the men back because they worry about ‘tomorrow ‘ – if he goes to prison or gets a criminal record, what will happen to me? How will I manage? Who will feed my kids?

From The Massey report – ‘Does it work', - Massey’s research team found that 57.5% of previous offenders did NOT re-offend after engaging with the Gandhi Nivas Service.

What is your vision with this programme and what is the goal you have for the next 5 years?

With the data validated by Massey with Police data, I hope we can transfer this across NZ. I know it’s a small step in the sphere of Family Violence we have here, but if we can get more women to call (more than 20%) and lower the 1 in 3 women that is abused, and change one man at a time, we might have a safer NZ for my 6 granddaughters and girls in future. It’s not just violence with partners we are working with.

From Massey report – Relationship with intimate partners and family members accounted for 95% of family harm incidents. 32% were the intimate partner of the victim, 30% were the parents, 20% were the child of the victim and 7% were siblings. This tells us we have a gender issue - men’s attitude to women. Education and Change behaviour should be our focus and target in the coming years with this program.

At an individual level, what can we do to help bring about the end of violence against women?

We need to teach children from now – Simply- boys should respect girls. And women should be able to speak up.

Awareness, if we don’t see it, we ignore the facts. How can we raise these issues?. Be brave to voice concerns. A few wise words I always repeat:
"If you think you are too small to make a difference, try sleeping with a mosquito" - Dalai Lama
"In a gentle way, you can shake the world" - Mahatma Gandhi

And something I tell my staff all the time:
"People will forget your name, but they will never forget how you made them feel."