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A five-point plan to celebrating Te Wiki o te Reo Māori

By Kirstin Te Wao, Head of Māori Development

There’s a lot of learnings one tends to collect over ten years working in the same company, in the pursuit of normalising te reo Māori in the workplace. I’m going to attempt to share some of those learnings over the next week in celebration, commemoration and commiseration of Te Wiki o te Reo Māori.

In July this year, Vodafone announced an employee policy that looks to honour the principles of Te Tiriti o Waitangi by recognising the company’s role as Tangata Tiriti, or people of the Treaty (as opposed to Tangata Whenua, or people of the land). Within the policy one of the principles we’ve adopted is to protect and adhere to Māori customs and protocols, including te reo me ōnā tikanga (the language and its customs).

Strategically, this principle is enabled by ‘Pou Tikanga’ – a key pillar that looks to uplift Vodafone’s organisational culture, capability and reputation.

Tactically, Te Wiki o te Reo Māori presents an opportunity to live our policy, Treaty principles and strategy all wrapped up in a week-long nod towards te reo rangatira (the chiefly language), so we have a lot planned this year.

Although we still have a long way to go, to get to this point has been a lot of hard mahi (work) dating back to 2012 when Vodafone New Zealand first celebrated Te Wiki o te Reo Māori, so I thought I would begin the week by reflecting on how we got started. If you’re in a medium to large organisation and aren’t sure how to get started in your celebrations, hopefully here are a few steps to help you along the way.

  • The Pitch. Do some research to understand your organisation’s strategic drivers. Is there a focus on diversity and inclusion, cultural celebration, reflecting your customers, or all of the above? In our case, gaining support from the General Manager of HR at the time to celebrate diversity and inclusion, and aligning with our global values of “one company, local roots” was a winning combination to get the tick for our plans to progress. We also aligned our activity to the key success metric of employee engagement (and helped towards a two point increase that year).
  • The Team. Pulling together the right team to bring a vision or plan to life is no small feat and requires a broad ‘net’ of relationships in both technical areas and people with passion. Voluntary support can be wonderful and a great engagement play, but it can also be draining on your volunteers which isn’t sustainable, so be wary of this. These days, I work with a different group of wonderful people whose day-job it is to roll out these kinds of kaupapa (initiatives) – i.e. Internal Comms, Marketing, Social Media Care, etc.
  • The Plan. It’s important to have a clear plan of what it is you want to execute during the week. In our first year we developed screen savers, posters, distributed spot prizes for those randomly seen to be speaking te reo and wrapped it up with a Māori Expo that saw a mini-market take place in the ground floor of our then, Viaduct building office. Free hangī, performances by Hato Petera College, Taa Moko artists, art and clothing were all successful draw cards and (back then) unfamiliar yet welcome experiences for many of our Vodafone colleagues. For some, it might be starting with something as simple as incorporating te reo Māori into your everyday office phrases and emails– here’s a helpful resource our Vodafone Business team put together to help you on your way.
  • The Execution. In 2012 our team prepared to make magic happen over a four week period, but I have to admit as the person leading the charge there were many, many… many unexpected extra hours put in over and above a 40 hour week. However, I enjoyed it, I was living my passion, it got me noticed in the business and I guess you could say it led to my dream role as Pou Whakawhanake Māori eight years later.Getting your CEO, MD or senior leaders involved is important and requires early notice to ensure they can attend any events. Briefing your top leader is a great relationship building opportunity that could bring benefits later on down the track so make sure you factor this into your execution plans. Just like a wedding, get a good night’s rest before the event day, drink lots of water, keep your phone charged and stick to your plan but be prepared to adapt as needed. Kia kaha! Stay strong, you’ve got this.
  • Celebrate success! Ngā mihi, well done you did it! You delivered your kaupapa and it was a great success. I find there’s always a few weeks of wrap up in terms of closing out items but try to celebrate and thank the team who made it happen, either with a team lunch or an event ‘debrief’ at the end of the day. Whakawhanaungatanga is important at the end, just as much as it is at the start and during your planning, so make time to do it. Going back to my earlier point, it’s important not to expect your Māori employees to lead this mahi if it’s not something they want to do. If you are asking for their help and to access their mātauranga māori (māori knowledge), then make sure you recognise, reward or remunerate them appropriately.

Nowadays, there are so many ways you can celebrate Te Wiki o te Reo Māori with helpful ideas and resources from Te Taura Whiri i te Reo Māori (the Māori Language Commission), free language courses nationwide from Te Wānanga o Aotearoa, and online tools like the Māori Dictionary and Kupu to help you on your journey.

Celebrating Te Wiki o te Reo Māori can be a gateway to meaningful organisational transformation, not only for your business but also our multi-culturally society right here in Aotearoa, New Zealand.

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