At last year’s Hi-Tech Awards, NZ’s top event recognising technology industry success, the challenge was laid to ‘get more Māori in the room’. Hemi Rolleston, Callaghan Innovation’s General Manager Maori Economy & Business Innovation Services, writes about how Callaghan Innovation took up that challenge.
Blogs and acronyms have become the norm these days. It takes something really big to inspire me to write a blog, and my staff will tell you I use acronyms all the time. One that I use with them often is SBD – same but different. I use this to explain in simple terms why we have a Māori economy team and why we have many Māori economy initiatives. The suite of services for firms is generally the same; however the approach, tactics and initiatives used to engage and inspire Māori are very often different. One such initiative was launched on Friday 20 May in Auckland – the inaugural Māori Hi Tech Award at the 20th anniversary of the NZ Hi Tech Awards. The launch of this award and the impact that Ian Taylor and Dr Mary Quin had on the audience when launching the award is the inspiration for my blog.
To put the awards into context, they are the premium New Zealand event for technology entrepreneurs. Last year I was privileged to attend and witness a Māori success story – Grant Straker from Straker Translations took out one of the premium Hi Tech Awards. When accepting the award, Grant put the challenge out to Māori as follows: “We need more Māori here tonight, not just working behind the bar”. This was both thought provoking and challenging. Fortunately I was sitting next to my Chief Executive, Dr Mary Quin, and we accepted that challenge with both hands. Grant was spot on – there wouldn’t have been any more than ten Māori in the audience. So along with Ian Taylor and Grant, we went about changing this by creating the Māori Innovation Hi Tech Award.
Fast forward 12 months and here we are, sitting at the awards again. The stage has been set; the Chair, Wayne Norrie, opens the evening in Te Reo, providing a great scene setter for Ian and Mary, who are about to launch the new Māori Hi Tech Award in front of a full house. Ian is on familiar territory as he is among his friends from the mainstream entrepreneurial world, but this time he is proudly wearing his Māori hat. He uses his innovative animation technology to tell the Māori story of the creation and the great migration, ending and beginning his korero in Te Reo – a language he has not grown up with and which he does not feel confident in.
Ian explained the significance of the launch of Māori Innovation Hi Tech Award, recalling as a child being taught about Captain Cook’s arrival in New Zealand, but not hearing anything about the great Māori entrepreneurs of the great migration, the risk takers, the early adopters that Māori were. “As a Māori kid, we grew up without Māori role models. Well, tonight that’s about to change,” Ian emphatically told the audience. “Now some might ask why we need a separate award. Are we not good enough to enter in the mainstream categories?” He then showed that Māori were indeed able to go up against the very best by acknowledging Grant Straker as a finalist in the new award and a winner in the awards last year. Ian then noted that there were a huge 22 entries in the new category, marking a record that should be celebrated. “Watch this space for Māori – tonight is only the beginning,”
Mary Quin began her speech by acknowledging local iwi, those prominent people in the audience and the late Sir Paul Callaghan, as well as all the Māori businesses that had entered the awards. No reading from notes and perfect pronunciation – and all in Te Reo. This was from a non-Māori Chief Executive who had spent all her career overseas, speaking to a predominantly non-Māori audience. Mary had intended to then translate her speech into English, however the occasion beckoned for her to be bold – and she was, by letting the Māori words stand for themselves. The impact in the room was powerful; two well respected leaders in the mainstream environment embracing Māori leadership to a predominantly non-Māori audience.
As the names of the six finalists in the Māori Hi Tech Award category were read out – with all of them doing amazing things in the technology world – one couldn’t help but warmed by the positive kaupapa of these entries. They included improving Māori health, teaching young Māori to code, and focusing on education, culture and sustainability. The winner on the night was Tiaki, a collaboration of Māori fishing businesses embracing technology for sustainability in the fishing industry. Although Tiaki took out the award on the night, all Māori were the winners. This included the 22 entrants, the Hi Tech Trust for embracing, without question, the new award category, Ian Taylor, and the formidable leadership of Ian and Mary combined. Finally I want to acknowledge Grant Straker for being bold. As I said to him on the night “Be careful what you ask for, as you might just get it”.
It was therefore fitting to end the launch of the award with the Callaghan Innovation haka Rukuhia!!, which is about being bold in pursuit of excellence and making a difference. From my perspective the words in the haka certainly summed up the night.