Lessons from Silicon Valley for Māori – and Visa Versa

I’ve just got back from a fantastic trip with a group of Rangatahi to Silicon Valley. Yet rather than feeling jet lagged, I’m feeling energised and compelled to write, reflect and share!

Atawhai Tibble

Atawhai Tibble

You see, I was lucky to be included as part of the crew that supported the pilot scheme designed by Hemi Rolleston at Callaghan Innovation. A disruptive innovation, the pilot involved taking 12 students from Te Wharekura o Mauao (a Māori immersion secondary school) to experience the heart and soul of Silicon Valley. It was funded by Kumikumi Trust (a Whenua Māori Trust) based in Tauranga, and the kids followed a busy, 5 day program, put together by Stanford Design Thinking Lecturer, Anne Gibbon.

The purpose of the trip was simple – to increase the numbers of young Māori enrolled in STEM subjects.

But how do you do this? The good new is, they didn’t wait around for the NZ education system to ‘make it happen’ (which given the track record could be a very, very long time).

Hemi and his partners from Kumikumi Trust (the funders), Te Wharekura o Mauao (the students) and Anne Gibbon (the program architect), did the following:

  • Hemi’s team worked with a Wharekura to select students to travel to Stanford, and Google and other places in Silicon Valley,
  • Anne pulled together a full on program that involves meeting with successful and developing entrepreneurs, hackers, creators and scientists, to share their life stories, mixed in with a few sessions on theory with some practical work, and
  • Anne helped to expose these kids to excellence, curiosity, passion, a never say die attitude – and even some good old fashioned tutu-ing!

It’s actually very hard to describe how inspiring and rewarding I found this trip. Superlatives like amazing fall well short of what occurred.

kura students2

Four of the lucky Te Wharekura o Mauao students

I mean, imagine accompanying a group of bright eyed, curious, and genuinely interested Māori kids to Silicon Valley. Their life is ahead of them. At 14 years of age, it’s completely OK for them to not know what they want to be in the future. But at the same time, it is completely OK to start thinking about it. And think about their future they did.

Moreover, these kids from Te Wharekura o Mauao were a credit to their kura, to their whānau and iwi. These are the types of kids that make you proud: the new generation, that speak Māori with ease, are comfortable in their skin, walk around with pride and confidence, are polite, respectful to adults, and who, without any prompting, will thank their hosts with a mihi, waiata and/or a haka.

Lest I forget to mention the funders: Kumikumi Trust. Just to be clear, this was  not a government junket funded by the NZ taxpayer. The Trust made a bold and visionary decision to forgo dividends for a period and invest in ‘their’ Wharekura on projects that are STEM related, and that encourage innovation among the rangatahi. Now that is leadership!

And the people who spoke to, and shared with the kids made the trip special too. Anne Gibbon pulled together an excellent program based on her personal networks as a Stanford lecturer and a Silicon Valley native. We  met peeps from Stanford, to Google, to the GM marketing of Cross Fit International, to Hackers, Robotic engineers, and serial entrepreneurs. All gave their time and energy freely to our rangatahi. They were generous to a fault.

Stanford University

Stanford University

It was magic.

But, now we are back in Aotearoa, how do we keep this magic in our lives?

One way, small as it may be, is to take the learnings and (a) try and apply them, and (b) share them with others. Here’s a list of things I remembered. There were way more than these, but this is a  start.

1) Being smart and having work ethic is important. But in this day and age it is not sufficient to get the job you want. Networks matter. To get her job, even though she was a big time Kiwi lawyer, Fleur Knowlesly, who is now corporate counsel at Google, was contacted by someone, who knew someone, who knew someone. In short: of course you need to do well at school and uni, but if you really want to get somewhere, you need to be networked and connected!

2) Failure is more than OK in Silicon Valley…its a prerequisite to success! Failing is the battle scars, your callices on your hands, the bumps and bruises along the way to get to where you need to be. So says tech company Pertino CE, and Xero Board member, Craig Elliot.

3) Craig also reminded us that in the real world, you will get more ‘No’s’ than ‘Yes’s’. And, that’s OK. With his latest venture, it took Craig 47 no’s from investors to get to a yes.

4) You can stay in your safe zone, and be comfy, but you will always have that nagging question: what if? Or as Stanford Business School lecturer and marketing expert Baba Shiv challenged us, you can embrace the unknown, have a go at that thing or idea you believe in, and grow and learn….choose powerfully!

Our people have a history of exploration, inquiry, disruption, and innovation. It is part of our DNA. It underpins our legends and traditional narratives. 

6) Confidence is something Americans have truckloads of. I think Kiwis could all do with a bit more of this. Self deprecation is cute. But it doesn’t really help. And I’m not talking about brashness, but self belief manifested. We all need to “raise our hands” as Craig Elliot says. This means we need to confidently speak up, say our stuff, and get it out.

7) We need to do more. We need more Do-ologists: people who get things done practice the art of ‘do-ology’. They have a bias for action, not procrastination. We need to commit to make things happen. This advice came from Baba, the Phil Knight foot print at Stanford Business School, and the crew at Noisebridge Hackerspace.

8) And when it comes to doing things, don’t ‘just’ do it. Do it right. According to Patrick Finnegan.

9) But also, get it done. Say you did it. Be more verbal – focused, intentional, action oriented ..Craig again…

But it was also clear that while we were learning and taking stuff from our hosts, we were, in our own way, sharing with them. More than one of the tutors noticed via the mihi, waiata and haka process that Māori culture is a powerful brand with deep and meaningful values. It is a thing of beauty and a source of strength. We should allow it enable us as Māori to explore the unknown with confidence.

And for me, this was the big takeaway. That the more people over their shared with us, and the more I reflected on our history and our stories, the more I saw the “us” in their “korero”. Our people have a history of exploration, inquiry, disruption, and innovation. It is part of our DNA. It underpins our legends and traditional narratives.

  • Like when we traversed the Pacific, from Hawaaiki Nui, to Aotearoa we took huge risks, we plunged into the unknown, and all we had was our belief and desire.
  • Like when we bought the kumara here, we had to innovate to store them in the ground as a food source.
  • Like our ancestor Maui, who slowed the sun down, we have a tradition of changing things up when we are dissatisfied with what we have. We look to create a better world, and simplify it, and will challenge the status quo and disrupt it if need be.

This is who we are. It is what we have always done. It is what we want to help our kids do in the future. Funnily enough, sometimes we have to travel half way around the world to remind ourselves about this. Mauriora ki a tātou!

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About Callaghan Innovation

Business. Technology. Success.
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One Response to Lessons from Silicon Valley for Māori – and Visa Versa

  1. Kathryn says:

    What a tremendous project, kudos to everyone involved. So very smart. And to the writer: this piece is articulate and clear and a must-read for businesses in general, not only those with an education bent.

    How vital it is to not wait around for the education system (with its inherent biases and bureaucracy) to right itself, but to just DO the things that will make real change happen. I would love govt and the private sector to *pour* cash into strategies and projects like this, and would love to be involved myself. How can I help? (I definitely lack the stacks of cash, but can write and structure a damn persuasive funding proposal, lemme tell ya).

    Thanks for sharing.

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