23 Mar 2018

Barack Obama impressed after meeting Māori wahine leaders

From Checkpoint, 5:22 pm on 23 March 2018

Twenty members of the Wāhine Toa program were hosted by former United States ambassador to New Zealand Mark Gilbert and his wife Nancy Gilbert this morning.

The private briefing was the final visit of a whirlwind three-day visit by the former president.

Lynell Huria, who is New Zealand's first Māori patent attorney, joined a formidable line up of Māori wāhine leaders at a private brunch with Barack Obama.  

She said the brunch with the former president was inspirational. 

"It was pretty amazing, he was pretty awesome - really inspiring - and i'm just overwhelmed to have this opportunity and be in his presence."

Wāhine Toa was set up by Mrs Gilbert in 2015 while Mr Obama was still president - to give emerging Māori female leaders a voice.

Mr Obama told the women they had the ability to be inspirational around the world, she said.

"I think just keep doing what we're doing is really the message he gave - he was really impressed with the calibre of women in the room."

Speaking after the brunch, Mrs Gilbert said she might have given the women a few too many instructions before meeting the president.

The reins of the program have now been handed to Gail Brown, the wife of current United States ambassador Scott Brown.

Plans are now in place to expand the program to include Pasifika women leaders.

But Mrs Gilbert was proud to see how the 20 women who first entered the program in 2015 had flourished.

"I truly felt like a mother sort of giving birth or having a little birdy and giving it wings and watching them all fly away," she said.

"So they were really great and it was a really great honour and a privilege."

Mr Obama reminded the women no issue was too small, Mrs Gilbert said.

"If you have an issue that's in the grassroots and in your neighbourhood that's a good place to start."

Mark Gilbert said he was equally impressed by the stories the women shared with the president.

"The women of Wāhine Toa were so excellent. They told the stories of their lives and growing up in New Zealand."