6 Jun 2019

Developing the next generation of Māori leaders

From Nine To Noon, 10:10 am on 6 June 2019

Shay Wright is on a mission to empower and develop the next generation of Māori community and business leaders through the educational social enterprise Te Whare Hukahuka.

Social entrepreneur Shay Wright

Social entrepreneur Shay Wright Photo: shaywright.co.nz

Young Māori can learn governance skills such as business and leadership coaching in a range of programmes such as Ka Eke Poutama, which now has 140 alumni sitting on more than 100 different boards.

Māori youth have a thirst for governance training that could give them access to a range of organisations, Wright says, from corporates to community organisations, to iwi, hapū and marae boards, Wright says.

“When I was setting up Te Whare Hukahuka, governance to me was a really foreign concept. I was 21 at the time and that word didn’t mean much to me until I was invited onto a board to be part of starting up an organisation called Teach First NZ.”

He learned early on that the direction and values of any organisation are determined by its governance.

“I realised at a really young age, the great importance of having young people learning this skill set so that our voices could be heard in that decision-making layer and from that realised 'wow'. There was a great opportunity to make that knowledge more widely known amongst other young people my age of whom I wasn’t seeing in governance roles. Because it’s not something that we’re traditionally taught about.”

Wright and co-founder Travis O'Keefe put the word out and after two weeks they had 100 applications.

“All manner of Māori organisations have governance and all manner of Māori organisations had challenges with governance and they’ve realised that good governance is a key determiner of how successful their organisation is going to be.”

Travis O'Keefe (L) & Shay Wright

Travis O'Keefe (L) & Shay Wright Photo: Rawhitiroa Photography

The young people wanted to be able to contribute, he says. Some were already holding roles in an organisation, others wanted to learn how to work with a board.

“Governance is a little bit of an enigma, it’s a little bit of a difficult one to look at and know exactly what it is and how it works and I think that’s part of what we see our role being as we start to demystify it and focus on some of the few things that will make the greatest difference.”

They started with a 200-page workbook but realised it was much too big to get a handle on while juggling other life commitments.

Now they focus on six key areas – meetings, roles and responsibilities, strategic thinking, monitoring and measuring performance, risk management, and communication.

Communication is particularly important in Māori environments because of the whānau dynamic, Wright says.

He can see why people have a view that governance should be reserved for people who've already had long and established careers in their field and in management, but says it’s a romantic ideal.

“In practice, what we see is that boards are not always set up with those who are best skilled to lead the organisation.”

Young people can contribute new and fresh energy, he says.

“Often times, in some of the organisations we’re working with, [fresh energy] is required because you have older thinking, established thinking, maybe the people on that board have been through many different challenges over their time and kind of have become battle-hardened and gun-shy and risk-adverse and not really focused on innovation.”

In some ways, young people have a naivety that means that issues can be solved in a different way, Wright says.

Boards with outdated ways of working can be refreshed by young people who bring quality skills: “Also, they tap into a different stakeholder base that older people may find difficult to engage effectively with.”

For an organisation trying to solve youth issues, who better to be at the decision-making table than youth themselves, Wright says.

“In total, we’ve worked to close to 1000 Māori leaders, that spans the age group from 20 right up to like the 80-year-old kaumatua who’ve been sitting on governance boards for generations.”

Ka Eke Poutama alumni now represent New Zealand at the UN, speak at international conferences and lead social movements. 

It's important to prepare young Māori with the confidence and skills they need for governance boards so they're ready to step into positions as they become available, Wright says.

“We’ve wrapped around quite an intense programme for them. There’s 15 weeks of learning and that involves workshops where we teach them core concepts of governance, it involves guest speakers – some of the best experts around Māori governance in the country come in an speak on that programme – and I think one of the key things that is always reflected by the participants is that it involves building relationships with each other, with the network of 40 other young Māori.”

The young leaders come from all walks of life – some from very remote parts of the country and many others from central areas like Auckland.

“[Some] are coming from small towns or very humble backgrounds, and [others] are coming from more privileged backgrounds or more urban experiences or have been through a lot of education and now are in high-flying corporate roles. The ability to connect with each other for them is very useful.”

In 2018, Ka Eke Poutama was named Community Based Programme of the Year at the ACE Aotearoa Awards.