Toni Grace is International Relations Manager at Palmerston North City Council. In this profile she shares a little about her work including the challenge of promoting Palmerston North’s international relations in the post-COVID environment, her work for Sister Cities New Zealand, as well as her passion for the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals. She also shares why convenient, green, and fun Palmerston North a great place to be.

Tell us about your role at Palmerston North City Council

I do a range of things from managing our Global City Partnerships (such as Sister Cities), hosting international visitors (though not so much lately!) and promoting Palmerston North to the New Zealand-based Diplomatic Corps. We recently had a group of 30 diplomats visit our city for our annual Festival of Cultures and we offered a tour of our world-class AgriFood science and innovation facilities while they were here. Since borders have closed we’ve pivoted a lot of our global city partner effort to online engagements, which is both an exciting and cost-effective opportunity to grow international relations. For example, this week I am helping our Mayor to take part in a Smart City Summit Roundtable with counterparts from around the world.

Can you tell us about some of your current projects which you are particularly excited about?

Lately I’ve been really interested in the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and how we can connect city-to-city cooperation through this framework. No single country or city can manage these big environmental, social and economic issues on their own, and our best chance of success is through a joined-up approach – so I’m a big SDG advocate and have even started studying a Masters at Massey University on the side to develop my knowledge in this area.

I’m also on the Board of Sister Cities New Zealand, which is currently undertaking a strategic review in light of COVID-19 disruptions and the 40th anniversary of the organisation. There is a great opportunity to modernise our approach and foster more collective capabilities across New Zealand in local-global international relations.

What is the most challenging part of your role?

Maintaining a strategic and long-term view. Building international relations is a long game and keeping that alive with varying political cycles and priorities can be difficult. Also, New Zealand cities are very popular with international partners. If you’re not careful you can end up with a list of sister cities as long as your arm! But it’s no good to spread yourself too thin as you need to be able to focus on following up and getting value from the relationships you have.

Why did you decide to work in local government?

Prior to this role I worked in International Strategy for central government. My family and I moved to Palmerston North to set up a business and just as the Council was looking for a brand new International Relations Manager, so the timing was good! In local government it’s been rewarding working so closely with the community that I serve, including businesses, iwi, community groups, education providers and students.

In what ways have you been involved with Taituarā so far?

I enjoy being part of a professional local government community. There’s huge value in being able to learn from each other and take on professional development opportunities. Last year I entered our Palmy Global Ambassador programme in one of the annual awards categories. It’s great to be able to see how other Councils are innovating in the delivery of community services and initiatives.

When you are not working, what do you enjoy about living in Palmerston North?

My family and I love living here. Convenient, green, fun and connected to everything! My husband co-owns a brewery so we’re never short of a social event. Plus, a big privilege of my role is seeing how globally connected Palmy really is. Not just our wonderfully diverse community (over 120 different languages are spoken here!), but the fact that we have world-leading science, research and innovation right on our doorstep. You wouldn’t know though, as Palmy is quite a humble place, which is another reason I love it.