The role of kapa haka in the corporate environment

By Kirstin Te Wao, Head of Māori Development

There’s a lot of lessons 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 – feel free to read the previous posts here:

A five-point plan to celebrating Te Wiki o te Reo Māori
Some learned “Do”s and “Don’t”s of adopting a project or team name in te reo
Organising a company pōwhiri in the age of alert levels
The In’s and Out’s of developing a language plan

In 2001, members of Vodafone’s Customer Service teams came together to farewell the Service Director at the time with a send-off that reflected the many Polynesian cultures within our teams. Fast forward 19 years and members of Te Hā Whero, Vodafone’s kapa haka team have held the kaupapa and tikanga within the business on many occasions for going on ten years.

The purpose of Te Hā Whero is to provide a platform for Vodafone people to engage in te ao māori through the medium of kapa haka, or Māori performing arts and celebrate our national culture.

This time last year to celebrate Te Wiki o te Reo Māori, Vodafone launched our company waiata (song), Te Pā Harakeke with the support and leadership of kapa haka legend, Tapeta Wehi from The Haka Experience. We were fortunate to have had the creation of our waiata captured in this Newsroom article including a kōrero from Tapeta.

We took our waiata and shared it at the 2019 Te Waiata-Off, a pan-organisation kapa haka kaupapa based in Tāmaki Makaurau that saw businesses like; Air New Zealand, ATEED, Panuku Development, BNZ and Vodafone come together in celebration of the week. Sadly, Covid-19 put the plans for Te Waiata-off 2020 in the Air New Zealand whare to pasture.

Thankfully, one of the great things to have come from Covid was the opportunity to work with Tapeta once again and connect with other businesses to learn a haka that unified and inspired Aotearoa to stand against the Covid-19, Kia kotahi tātou. This initiative saw organisations including; Air New Zealand, Microsoft, Sky TV, Indigenous Growth, ATEED, Auckland Council, University of Auckland Engineering School challenge each other to share each of our teams haka, with Vodafone having the privilege of kicking off the Haka Challenge.

Below I’ve provided some suggested actions, based on the learnings and challenges over the years in growing, and even maintaining Te Hā Whero;

  • Be clear on why your organisation is establishing a kapa haka team. This should have some form of strategic business alignment, whether it’s; connecting with Aotearoa, diversity & inclusion or wellbeing. Having a clear line of sight mitigates the risk of appearing to “dial-a-Māori”.
  • Enlist an Executive Sponsor. In our case it was important for our Customer Service teams to be able to participate in our day-time practises so we enlisted the support of our Customers Operations Director who provided approval for frontline members to be able to participate by arranging other cover.
  • Like any other initiative that brings business benefits, you may require some investment. Pre-Covid, the team had access to funds for things like uniforms, celebrations and tutors. Things are a little tighter these days but where tikanga is involved (i.e. kai whakanoa or manaakitanga) we make it a priority.
  • Support – no encourage, your people to participate. Employee engagement AND wellbeing is so important in our Covid age. People need things that help them connect at a social, cultural and spiritual level and kapa haka provides all of these things.
  • Sometimes, the answer is no. Timing is important, depending on what support you’re asking for from your team there may not be enough people available to tautoko a kaupapa on any particular day. On the odd occasion if there’s a lack of authentic engagement, or your team feels they might be culturally unsafe, that may also render a ‘no’ as well. If so, take it on the chin and see how you might be able to improve your relationships, understanding or processes for future opportunities.

If you needed a ‘why should we encourage kapa haka in our business’ then reach out to some of the people in these organisations who have been getting involved. From a personal perspective, kapa haka is part of my wellbeing plan. It keeps me connected with people across the business I don’t work with on a day to day basis. While in previous roles, it kept me engaged with the company when my technical role wasn’t quite cutting the mustard.

This article wraps up the last of my blogs for Te Wiki o te Reo Māori. It’s been quite an experience writing them, mostly I feel proud of our team and grateful to the many, many wonderful souls who have, and continue to contribute to Vodafone’s journey of strengthening our connection to Aotearoa.

Nā reira kia kaha te reo māori, let the māori language be strong!

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