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Massey grad encourages more Maori into digital pathways

02 May 17

Dan Walker (Ngāti Ruanui) was one of the first students to graduate from Massey University’s Master of Advanced Leadership Practice, now he’s working with major global technology companies.

Now, he wants to see more Māori move in this exciting direction.

Walker analysed the success of a digital initiative implemented by his iwi in his master’s thesis, ‘Māori Values as a Framework for Digital Leadership’. This aimed to understand how to encourage greater Māori participation in the tech industry.

Walker says he wanted to bring his two worlds together and make sure he gave back to his iwi.

“I wanted to merge what I know and love – the Māori and digital worlds. I am lucky to have had a successful career and I wanted to utilise my experience and knowledge to give back to my people in Taranaki where employment opportunities can be scarce and the digital economy can offer us huge benefit.”

The subject of his thesis was an innovative initiative developed by Ngāti Ruanui called, 2NuiCODE. Launched in 2015, the programme builds coding, robotics, programming and development skills in its young people.

Through 2NuiCODE, Walker discovered that it’s key to success was the focus on a tikanga Māori framework. Having tikanga at it’s heart brings with it a lot of investment and trust, says Walker.

“2NuiCODE showed that tikanga Māori was a way to get participation and trust. The parents were more likely to let their children get involved because they knew tikanga Māori was at its heart – they knew their children were going to be protected.”

This resulted in immediate success working with the young people of South Taranaki, as there was a network of support and tikanga values, says Walker.

“For the young people participating in the programme, it just felt right immediately. There was maximum engagement because they had whānau support and there was no misalignment of values. They felt they could be successful in this world.”

Though success has been found in bringing the Māori world view to a digital platform, Walker says it will take time to encourage higher participation rates for Māori.

“While we have had a few success stories, engagement is low across all age groups within Māori. The interviewees said it was because we don’t have people we can trust in the digital sector. Māori are not achieving at the highest levels in the digital economy because of a values misalignment. This presents iwi with the opportunity to take a leadership stance in this area.”

This leads to a call for more tikanga based leadership to influence the digital sector. Currently, there are concerns around the digitisation of stories, and ancient knowledge as there is the risk of misuse and misappropriation.

With more Māori engaging in leadership in the digital sector, that trust can be built and those fear assuaged.

The key, says Walker, is to establish digital initiatives and platforms that adhere to the values and rules of tikanga Māori. Instead of trying to apply cookie-cutter approaches to digital implementation, which come at the issue with a ‘one size fits all’ mentality.

By engaging in the digital sector iwi have a direct connection to young people, and are able to engage them in a way that is relevant to them. Walker says it could be an opportunity to bring in those who have not had any interaction with their marae.

“Some of our young people do not have a connection with their iwi and some have never been to their marae.”

As people move outside of the tribal boundary, digital initiatives like this offer a way to stay connected, says Walker.

“2NuiCODE embraced new technologies like virtual and augmented reality and the rangatahi involved in the programme are keen to use that technology to build a way for people to connect and belong to Ngāti Ruanui without having to be in Taranaki.”

Walker says his research shows that tikanga Māori has a lot to offer the digital world, and how exciting it would be to see more Māori move into this sector.

Initiatives like this can light the fires of a passion for digital technologies that set young people on a pathway to great things. Walker hopes that more young Māori can step out on this journey too. 

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