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Partnerships for Equitable Systems with Traci Houpapa

As First Nations, I have an experience learned and loved that I think works, because it works for me and my people and communities. But then at the same time, I need to make sure that that also considers the higher order aspiration of improving quality of life for all people.

— Traci Houpapa, SheEO Activator +Board Director at NZTE

In this episode

Join Traci Houpapa, SheEO Activator + Board Director at New Zealand Trade and Enterprise, and Vicki Saunders as they chat about the conditions needed to build partnerships for creating more equitable systems, and the shift towards embedding Māori and First Nations values at the centre of policy and life.

They also discuss:

  • Noticings about partnerships during a time of extreme change
  • Existing barriers built into our systems that we don’t want to replicate
  • Conditions that need to be addressed in order to get people to the start line
  • Strategies for seeing movement towards a paradigm shift
  • Considering the legacy of Māori knowledge as it relates to business models
  • The progress and shift towards appreciating and applying First Nations culture and knowledge

We invite you to join us as an Activator at SheEO.World.

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Podcast Transcript:

The podcast is being transcribed by Otter.ai. (there may be errors, run-on sentences and misspellings).

Traci Houpapa 0:00
As First Nations, I have an experience learned and loved that I think works, because it works for me and my people and communities. But then at the same time, I need to make sure that that also considers the higher order, aspiration of improving quality of life for all people.

Hannah Cree 0:20
Welcome to the SheEO.World podcast, where you will meet women who are transforming the world to be more equitable and sustainable. Your host for today’s podcast is the founder of SheEO, Vicki Saunders. Welcome to SheEO.World.

Vicki Saunders 0:38
Welcome Traci, it’s wonderful to be able to have a conversation with you at this time across this. All these things that are going on from New Zealand to Canada. Hello, kia ora.

Traci Houpapa 0:49
Kia ora, kia ora everyone. Good to see you.

Vicki Saunders 0:52
We were talking a little bit about partnerships, and what partnerships need to look like in this time to create more equitable systems. And as we look at the just the barriers, the structural and systemic barriers that are just built into all of our systems, and do not want to replicate that future anymore. And thinking from your perspective, culturally, about what you see going on right now, what are you noticing, what are you noticing about how people are partnering?

Traci Houpapa 1:31
I think, and I’m sure that our matriarchs and patriarchs over time has said the same thing, that we are living in a time of extreme change. And that requires people of voice and influence in homes, businesses, communities, and country to really lean in to the discussions and uphold the cultural characteristics of who we are, and where we are, in a real and practical way. And so, you know, when I’m—over this last little while being the last sort of 18 months or so as the pandemic hit the world, I’ve really been thinking about what the place and position of people—just hitting all the P’s there—and thinking about at the very minimum, us maintaining place. And recognizing that that is still for Māori in Aotearoa, New Zealand, a deficit position, and then starting to think change backwards and then forwards in terms of the policies, systems or structures that are around us now that we have inherited. And then going forward, what needs to change in order for us to address the inequity and inequalities to get us to the start line. And while some of us—and this is what I’m being challenged by or criticized by some across the place—people, people like you, Māori, like you Traci are doing okay, so why can’t everyone? Or what have you compromised or sold out on in order to achieve the gains that I have? Or we have, all of which is an unhelpful and negatively loaded conversation? And I suppose for me, I’ve been really thinking hard about, you know, you mentioned Vicki, about the partnership between people that is a legacy partnership, in some, especially, and it would be the same at home for you. You know, in New Zealand, we have tribes and sub tribes. That have intergenerational, millennia relationships and partnerships that go back 10, 15, 20 generations or more. And so that’s a real conversation that’s being had and I suppose what does it mean in reality, like practically, what does that mean?

Last year, feels like March or April, I spoke to the epidemic response, the epidemic response committee here in New Zealand and talked about how business as usual is unacceptable for Maori because it wasn’t usual for us and it held us in some parts in a position of deprivation. And then what policies need to change in order to give us, give Māori and Pacifica and people of color, are migrant and other ethnic groups here in Aotearoa a better, a better quality of life. And so, we started to talk in practical terms over this last 12 months Vicki about things like the living wage. So which I think is about $22.75, here in New Zealand compared to about $20, which is the minimum wage, and that $2 or $3 may not sound like a lot for some, but it’s a difference between a meal or rate or power, and then starting to think about how we take our Māori cultural values, and embed them, and center policy systems around that. And we’re having that conversation at the moment around freshwater. So how do we take the Māori philosophy of looking after our environment and our natural resources, so that we can look at business or system change across organizations and communities. And that has been challenging, because it comes at a cost. And not only in terms of time for the rollout of projects, policy or legislation and getting, you know, things like bills through our government, that also it costs businesses. And so as a chair of companies here, and across the world, I suppose what we have been thinking about, my boards have been thinking about the key is, what does if we are going to hold true to partnership principles and values as a partner here in Aotearoa or with Māori, then what does it mean, in terms of our annual budget? How do we change our policies and systems with regards to people health and safety appointments, engagement? Everything? It’s a, that was a long answer to your question. But it’s something that’s really interesting.

Vicki Saunders 6:44
It’s fascinating because I, part of the challenge we have is the value set that comes with a culture and a paradigm, which we are living in which no longer serves everyone. And yet, because we don’t have a new paradigm yet agreed upon by everyone, trying to fit new values or different values into this paradigm is just like, crazy. And I wonder if this resonates with you, and if you have any ideas, but I continue to get into these conversations where people are like, just tell us some of the learning that you’ve got from what you’re doing with your approach at SheEO, and and how can investors get better? And I’m just like, you can’t you can’t get from there to here is what I often say, right? It’s just a fundamentally different paradigm to come using your power with, instead of your power over, and not centering you know, a 10x financial return as the thing, but looking much more holistically. And so I just, I wonder, if you have, given that you’ve been in these conversations for so long, really coming at this from a different paradigm, like, I just don’t think incremental is getting us where we need to go. And so I wonder if you’ve had strategies or approaches for seeing movement in people being able to like, leave this pair paradigm behind and start walking in a new way together?

Traci Houpapa 8:21
Yeah. And, you know, it’s a bit cliche, Vicki that people say, be brave, be courageous, be a courageous leader. Well, you know, that means sitting down with the board, if you’re the chairman of whatever gender description you choose, to say, This is what our budget looked like last year. These were our objectives and commitments for the last 12, 24, 36 months. If we are going to sign up to and make a real commitment to philosophies or values based on a principle paradigm from my perspective as a Māori woman, for Māori. And because in New Zealand, we have the Treaty of Waitangi. Treaty Waitangi, then, how does that—How does it change our operating model? How does that change the way our boards meetings run? And our strategy sessions run? And where are we putting emphasis? Where are we shifting emphasis or stopping? So no, is a valid decision making tone and these conversations, and that does mean meeting goals and stuff in Aotearoa at the moment, just starting with the best students in academia, we’ve got two universities who have said, put their hands up Vicki and have said, we’re going to be cultivating it. Māori principles and partnership-led institutions and that is brave and courageous, and I serve on the Massey University Council. And so We are trying. And that’s with a big T, and the loan De Leon. So doing things like putting our karakia or Māori prayers first and last, which is a cultural value for us here. And I’m sure at home for you. And then starting to think about how we address the need to increase the our enrollments for Māori. And then what systems and support are required to ensure that Māori and that Māori in taking cohort, make it through the university learning system. And then starting to think more about academic pursuits in education, in terms of knowledge sharing, and your conversation about to or with, it’s really important here. Otago University is doing the same. And then you have other businesses, Māori led, like a Miraka, which is a milk processing company in the center of the North Island who have always done the same, and who have managed in a really clever and commercial way to balance, commercial and cultural imperatives. So that they’ve got a strong balance sheet. That also reflects Marty principle.

Vicki Saunders 11:18
That’s amazing. I mean, I think this is we’re so almost incarcerated in a in a singular way of doing things. And so having these companies as examples that can show the values led approach that they have with strong balance sheets, to show it’s possible, you know, I think we’re in such a moment of like, show not tell, and I find often that, you know, we’re like, we want to do this and you know, the 0% interest loans that we’re doing and pay back rates that we have, et cetera, and people going well, that’s not possible, and then you show it, and then now that there’s no theory for that. Right? Like, we don’t have a theory for that. So it doesn’t exist if you don’t have a theory. And I just, I can’t even imagine in Māori culture, that you must be like, we have theories for all these things. They’re just not taught.

Traci Houpapa 12:12
Yeah, I mean, recently, there was an article, or an open letter, signed by I think almost a dozen professors from one of our universities that shall not be named in New Zealand should have known better, saying that Māori knowledge, Māori science, in knowledge systems wasn’t real science wasn’t pure, it could be considered alongside of Western or more traditional science theory. And thinking, of course, was just rubbish. And so I think it’s also about acknowledging and calling out that bias and racism in some places. But I think too, you know, there are some other cool things that are happening right now. So New Zealand made a commitment to climate change. Huge. So we have a 2025, Target, and then 2050 targets, and they’re both big. And so watch, government industry Māori have done, said, we’re going to do this together. And we’re all in. Now that’s a challenging table to be at, Vicki, because we are coming with our full selves. And also recognizing that we bring decades, centuries of thinking and learning and what we’ve done for Māori, is we’ve gone, taken a narrow and deep and deep and broad kind of strategy, so very deep on Māori motto and a Māori in relation to climate change and its impact on our people and place. And then also say that every single every other single metric, across network programming strategy has a Māori must consider Māori thinking, and its impact on Māori. So you can appreciate that is a fascinating conversation when it comes to pricing mechanisms, nutrient model, and loading. And so just really starting to say what does what is the Mātauranga Māori, the Māori knowledge system response to a pricing mechanism, when we consider the deficit, the legacy that we have inherited as part of colonization, but then putting a marker there and saying, right, we still need to be part of the pricing or the modeling in the metrics. And then at the same time, how might we consider and front load investment of money time people resource policy structure legislation, on Māori, so that for Māori, and I’m sure it would be for First Nations and Indigenous peoples across the world, a complex, challenging and reasonably straightforward conversation. And so for me, I need to think about how I communicate that in a way that’s easily understood and applied.

Vicki Saunders 14:52
Yeah. And it is a moment in time where I I increasingly am seeing everywhere. And I don’t know if you see this too. But this just recognition that First Nations knowledge, Māori knowledge, has been living in harmony with the environment with peace technologies that we all need to learn and understand because it’s the answer for us at this moment of concurrent crises. And so are you seeing more interest or more openness to understanding different approaches?

Traci Houpapa 15:30
Yeah, absolutely. And it’s encouraging. Because people have said, we’ve always wanted to, we’ve never known how we want to engage in a respectful and honorable way. We don’t know what we don’t know. And that step into the bond, that vulnerability for professional in corporates in this case, and government to a greater or lesser extent, is empowering for all of us. So it gives, we’re giving one another permission to have a conversation about things that we don’t, we might have part of the answer. And so as First Nations, I have an experience, learned and lived, that I think works, because it works for me, and my people and communities. But then at the same time, I need to make sure that also considers the higher order, aspiration, of improving quality of life for all people in the interests of our planet and future generations. And that’s the cool thing about this. And I mean, one of the other things that we’re doing here and alongside of our brothers and sisters in Canada, and across the APEC economies right now is talking about an Indigenous peoples economic cooperation arrangement, which recognizes our respective cultures as a platform, and DNA, like a blueprint for engaging in trade, and exchange? And so when we’ve talked about that, people have said, What do you mean exchange? What does it look like? What is you know, what is the national take home for that? How might that increase GDP? And do you know, we’ve said, well, we don’t really know you. We can run economic models and metrics, but then what does the economic modeling look like for First Nations, Indigenous peoples, and Métis in Canada, or First Nations, you know, Peru, all that all across the economy. So that’s another really neat, and I mean, that with respect and neat conversation to be having across both economies. And of course, New Zealand has the chair at the moment. And so we’re making the most of promoting First Nations engagement.

Vicki Saunders 17:51
This is fascinating, because we’re about to do with the Asia Pacific Foundation, about to do a trade mission with New Zealand and Australia and Canada, in December. So the and the concept of exchange continues to come up this trade has been happening forever, far longer than any of us understand what this isn’t. And so what are those new mechanisms, as you say, and metrics around exchange and trade that are lifting everyone up? Fascinating. I will, I’d love to see if you’re available to participate in that and speak out just to talk about that. I think that really starting to learn across our different cultures, how we might do business differently.

Traci Houpapa 18:37
And I think, you know, when I was in Canada, I was fortunate enough to be in your home. Wow, it feels like a long time ago. 2019. It’s not so long. But it feels like another time. We talked then about how, because it’s always it’s too hard. Or there aren’t enough of you, or economies of scale? Or what is it going to add to and I suppose and one of the things that we had talked about in the past was previously was using existing free trade arrangements or agreements as bolt ons, you know, as the architecture by which we might slip strings. So there are lots of different ways. And I think if you start with ‘Yes, and,’ then doors open and minds open too which is really important.

Vicki Saunders 19:30
So much so. I just have a final thing I wanted to ask you about because I don’t know if you saw there was article a couple of days ago that Kiri Nathan took a year from her business to go back and learn Te Reo Māori. And had said it was a lifelong ambition and there’s just so many complexities behind it. But are you seeing more of a trend for people to come back and learn their language? Yeah.

Traci Houpapa 19:56
Absolutely, for Māori is about learning the language. And it’s about reclaiming our culture. And it’s about addressing intergenerational hurt in healing. I’m sure you know, Kiri talks about this as well. And it’s also about setting aside the shame that was imposed. Because if you’re Māori, you should know your language or your culture. So giving ourselves a wee pause and recognizing that we are enough. And if you know, Kiri’s journey and story is magnificent, we’re also seeing more Māori women and Māori men taking on moko kauae. And for men, tā moko, which is the facial tattoos for men and women, and that’s becoming commonplace, which is fantastic. And it’s just now Māori language classes are full, there are waiting lists, which is amazing, amazing. Well everyone’s, Māori and non-Māori are learning.

Vicki Saunders 20:57
Yes. Well, here’s to more of that. I’m so grateful for your leadership, and for all that you do in the world and so thankful that you spent a bit of time with us today. This getting in relationship, understanding each other and figuring out how to partner to create a more equitable world is that’s all there is. So thank you.

Traci Houpapa 21:15
Oh, look, spending time with you, my friend does my heart and soul good. So thank you.

Hannah Cree 21:23
Thank you for listening to the SheEO.World podcast. Like, comment, subscribe and share this podcast with your friends. We invite you to join a global community of radically generous women at SheEO.World.

Transcribed by https://otter.ai

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