Sonja DeFriez

Principal Consultant
Auckland

Sonja specialises in organisational change and crisis environments. A strategic thinker and tactical planner, she helps clients create new systems that foster excellence and growth.

Sonja has extensive expertise in public-sector leadership, community engagement, stakeholder relationship management, and organisational change. She’s adept at supporting major internal change through culture-building and skilful communications.

Sonja has spent more than a decade shifting both performance and perceptions for a number of government agencies, helping them to build strategies and manage their reputations successfully – this has included the Parole Board, the Commission for Financial Literacy, the Ministry of Pacific Peoples, and the District Court judiciary.

In those roles Sonja worked closely with internal teams, executives, community groups, the media, businesses, and NGOs. She facilitated productive two-way discussions that were vital for informing policy and for ensuring that projects succeeded.

Sonja’s clients and colleagues all appreciate her empathetic and engaging personal style. The trust she has built in a range of professional relationships has enabled her to have influence in many complex environments.

Sonja is also good at taking complex information and distilling it down for a range of needs. She understands the importance of evidence for sound decision-making, including the need to communicate the data well.

Experienced in working within Tiriti frameworks, Sonja recognises the importance of incorporating mātauranga Māori and Māori-led approaches in order to spot opportunities for change. Her experience in community engagement includes co-designing services with iwi and Māori organisations. She has also worked with Pasifika organisations to help empower their communities.

Formerly a current affairs reporter and documentary maker for over 10 years, today Sonja regularly presents at training seminars and conferences, covering stakeholder engagement, social and digital media, media training, and strategy building. She’s a skilled facilitator, running productive, engaging workshops that have tangible results.

Examples of Sonja’s work

  • Sonja worked with Oranga Tamariki for five years on engagement and communications. Her innovative approach allowed significant internal change to happen while staff carried on with the complex work of child protection. After building a new proactive approach to engagement Sonja led a team to assess and restructure communications and engagement across three government departments – she managed a significant change process while also building a new team structure, systems, and processes to deliver the new strategy. Three years later, Sonja led a structural review as the organisation moved from the establishment phase to the delivery phase.

  • At the Ministry of Pacific Peoples Sonja co-led a programme of change around the Ministry’s community and stakeholder engagement.

  • Sonja worked with District Court judges to create and implement a long-term strategy for the District Court to engage with the community, including new digital platforms.

  • Working with the Ministry of Justice Sonja used her knowledge of crisis management to contribute to the Ministry’s work on their Sentinel Event Learning System.

  • She led the Parole Board’s culture change and internal engagement around the virtual hearing process, reducing risks and lowering costs. She facilitated the Board’s relationships with victims of offending, and developed recommendations that reduced unintentional harm to victims. During this time Sonja was also appointed Vice Chair to the Communications Committee of the Association of Paroling Authorities International, and the Chair of the Association’s Sub-Committee on Issues Papers.

Sonja’s qualifications

Sonja is a broadcast journalism graduate who has lectured at Canterbury University, teaching post-graduate broadcast journalism papers.

She recently completed a masterclass, “Leadership in times of crisis and disruption”, at the University of Virginia’s Darden School of Business.

Sonja is a former board member of Changing Minds, a mental health and addiction NGO. She currently volunteers as the co-lead of the Auckland Community Comms Collective.