One of our main speakers for the conference is Mike Paku. On behalf of the Society Jess Soutar Barron sat with Mike recently and shared conversation about his early years at the Freezing Works, his family, his work over many years in service to his community and his current role as Chair of Te Taiwhenua o Heretaunga.

Mike Paku’s career has a strong thread running through it, although his various ‘hats’ are of diverse hues. “Service to the community,” he says, when asked if there is a theme to his many and varied roles. Mike is Chair of Te Taiwhenua o Heretaunga, the Heretaunga representative at Ngati Kahungunu Iwi Incorporated, a member of associated iwi committees and working groups, a member also of the Hawke’s Bay Regional Council’s Maori Advisory Committee, involved too with the Hawke’s Bay PHO and Te Matau a Maui Voyaging Trust. Dig deeper and that service to community picture is focused on Mike’s desire to improve outcomes for his community in Hawke’s Bay, in whichever way he can, by putting his skills, experience and energy wherever it is most needed.

Mike has a practical, down-to-earth nature and an ability to be a conduit between Maori and non-Maori. His young working life was spent at the freezing works. It was there he learnt how to communicate and connect with people from diverse backgrounds.

“I was exposed to a whole range of people with a whole range of views. It gave us that sense of whanaungatanga,” Mike explains. He says that being dyslexic was also an important part of who he was growing up. He believes it made him a good listener, sympathetic and empathetic to what people were saying “even when they’re not saying it! It’s all in their body language.”

Through his thirties Mike was immersed in Maoritanga in his study, work and volunteer roles. He took on leadership positions and acted as a spokesman for others.

The coming together of these opportunities and experiences has seen Mike hone an ability to see a vision of the future, to see what is possible, and to put in place actions and plans to make that vision come to fruition. Much of Mike’s work is values based and it’s through those values that he has helped bring organisational sustainability and a bright future to Te Taiwhenua o Heretaunga in particular, although that kaupapa underpins all the projects he is involved with.

“You have got to live the values, values give weight. They need to be embedded and lived. Our growth is very organic and done with purpose and it is the values that see us through any hard times to the other side.”

Mike articulates specific values he holds dear including manaakitanga (support), aroha (love) and pono (truth). He has brought into practice concrete ways to live into these values, on a daily basis, within the organisation. These include morning karakia involving all the cultures working at Te Taiwhenua: there are almost 20 ethnic groups represented among the staff.

“We encourage all our staff to bring their own identity, their own reo. The door is one of aroha and it is always open. I believe different-ness brings value and something unique to our organisation,” says Mike.

Mike agrees that the values he brings into his work are an extension of those he carries within his own home and whanau. Strong connections, reciprocity, empathy and mutual respect are all hallmarks of his work across the many organisations and groups he impacts.

Jess Soutar Barron for the Anthroposophical Society in New Zealand