From charity to social enterprise.

by Honey Rasalan, Manager of Migrant Action Trust and Co-Founder of the Puketapapa Community Driving School (PCDS)

I just got sick and tired of people trying to find work, and the barrier that they don’t have a drivers license, or transport to go.  For Migrant Action Trust (MAT) it’s all about breaking down those barriers, we always gave the suggestion to go to other driving schools but we were not breaking down that barrier.

The data validated what we had suspected a long time ago, that people don’t have the resources, and people are struggling to go through the licensing system, they need to get the resources from their own pocket and also to rely on other people.  It can be easier to get a car than a license.

So we thought, if DL is a huge barrier to employment then we might as well do something about it, so we looked into other models - Hamilton Migrant Services (HMS) and the Community Mentor Driver Programme by NZTA - we loved the idea of having mentors but once the project funding was gone it was over.  The HMS operated just like AA Driving School but with a cheaper fee. So we developed something that integrated the two.

PCDS is really quite special, because we put together two different models, the funding dependant mentor model and the commercial driving school model.  We look into their situations and find the best packages to help them, giving them the support they need to succeed and get their license.

The most rewarding thing for me has been getting it off the ground, getting all the support it needed to have it startup.  When you have the community backing you want, even when you think “what have we gotten ourselves into”, you realise “no, they’ve got our back, the PETER Collective, Todd Foundation, Puketapapa Local Board have got our back”.  You realise we made the right decision, to start up a community driving school that’s not a typical driving school

The mana that is most important is that the whole community has put resources into it, getting the mentors commitment to help other people, taking time off from families or from resting as they’re full time workers, most of those things we cant even compensate.  And then other organisations like Rule Education Trust and UMMA Trust who have played a huge part in this too.

The paying customers, they can go to any other professional school, they have put their trust into PCDS to help them get their license.  We are attracting our intended clients which are ethnic women and young people.

And having the funders support has been huge, giving us funding each year into the PCDS has provided the extra support so we can make this idea, this aspiration, into a reality.

8 months into operations, my biggest learnings are

  • Dealing with haters, sceptical people who have said “why are you charging us?  It’s supposed to be a free service” how do you deal with that? And the people we’re supporting, we have to explain to them the whole system, how it works and why we’re doing it, how do we communicate that?  They think that if one person gets it for $10 a lesson through a subsidy, then we all should, and getting them to understand we’re not making a profit out of this.
  • We knew we had to charge people, $350 for 10 lessons is huge amount of money to pay in one go, one of our learnings is how to meet them half way.  We setup a ‘laybuy’ system which allows them to start their driving with us while they pay us an amount that is affordable, per week.
  • It’s hard to make money as a social entrepreneur. Balancing the social purpose vs the sustainability of the service, it’s hard, we have had to jack up the price and re-arrange the packages.  We just assumed how much it was going to cost but didnt know how to validate it, so we got coaching from Andy (Mustard Seed) and an accountant to do the number crunching for us, and we made the painstaking decision to increase the price, otherwise we’ll bleed.

My highlight so far, has to be getting Amie to run it. The work she is doing is just so incredible, the way she deals with people, not as a client but as a person, I think that’s what makes it special.  Also having fantastic mentor drivers, we have one who does so much more than mentoring and helps us in other ways, like fundraising and marketing. He’s levelled up, and we need people like that. He has ownership and feels like it has to work, finding solutions to our challenges.

We have paying customers from as far as Otara, Mt Wellington and North Shore!  And before we hadn’t anticipated the practice driving car will be used for clients to sit their test, but many of our clients don’t have a car to use so we allow our clients who come through PCDS to book our car and use it.

In 8 months the PCDS has seen:

  • 170 people sign up and have lessons in the PCDS car
  • 112 are paying customers
  • 58 are subsidised
  • 36% of them are former refugees
  • 51 former refugee women
  • 10 former refugee men
  • 25 have sat their restricted license test
  • 100+ are on the waiting list


Story of Impact



Khin Khin Kyaw Wai is a 45-year-old refugee from Yangon in Burma. She has been in New Zealand since 2009 along with her husband and son, with a second son since born here.

As with all refugees, they stayed at the Mangere Refugee Centre on first arriving in Auckland. During this time Khin learned her driver licence theory in her native tongue although she was tested in English. Having successfully passed her theory test, she then faced the challenge of practising her practical driving skills before she could sit her final test and gain her restricted licence. Although she was highly motivated, she also felt overwhelmed by the difficulties of developing her driving skills. Without her licence, she had to rely on her partner to drive her if she needed to go somewhere such as taking her son to school, buying groceries or visiting friends.

As often happens, life’s events such as a new baby also intervened, which meant a delay in achieving this goal. When her second son started school in 2016, Khin renewed her resolve and set out to complete her qualification. She started having driving lessons with friends about 10 months ago. It was very challenging to learn the road codes because her English was still poor and she didn’t know anything about cars.

She bought a driving lesson DVD from VTNZ and learnt all the lessons and road codes. She then took five driving lessons with a private driving instructor, costing her $350 which was beyond her budget. A helpful cousin helped her to supervise her driving at least 2 or 3 times a week. However, she still felt very scared of taking the restricted driver licence test, especially as some of her friends had already failed it four or five times.

An aunty who is a leader in the local Burmese community had heard about the Puketapapa Community Driving School (PCDS) and encouraged her to enrol in the programme.

Following five PCDS driving sessions and three mock tests, Khin finally got to go for her driving test. In spite of being extremely nervous, she passed on her first attempt. With her restricted licence, she is now determined to make the most of her new independence.

She is currently completing an English language course and once she feels she has sufficient language skills, she intends to pursue her dream of training to become a hairdresser.

Khin is extremely positive about her experience with PCDS both for its modest charges and the skilled, supportive help she received from her PCDS-qualified instructor and volunteer mentors.