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Getting more rangatahi into tech: The Southern Initiative’s Michelle Wilson on Techweek’s significance to the next generation

Māori and Pacific people are two groups that are underrepresented in New Zealand’s technology industry, but a raft of Techweek events hope to change that. Ahead of the southtechweek18-XLR8 event, the Southern Initiative project manager Michelle Wilson shares why it’s so important to show Māori and Pacific youth the career opportunities in the tech industry, as that underrepresentation is costing the industry diverse viewpoints and new ways of innovating.

Southtechweek18-XLR8 is being hosted by the Southern Initiative at the Vodafone Events Centre in South Auckland. The inaugural event aims to get more young Māori and Pacific youth into the digital industries by exposing them to Māori and Pacific leaders in the tech industry, as well as sharing examples of cultural stories told in the digital space.

The Southern Initiative project manager Michelle Wilson says the organisation is aware of the divide between the ‘haves’ and ‘have nots’ in these communities, so getting more Māori and Pacific tamariki into the digital space may help bridge that divide and alleviate socio-economic issues impacting them.

She says the event’s location is also significant, considering South Auckland’s cultural make-up is more than half (60 percent) Māori and Pacific islander.

“Anything and everything is being digitalised and there’s a whole lot of innovative things happening within the technology environment, so what we’re wanting to do is excite, enthuse and entice our young rangatahi – young Māori and Pacific youth – into these career opportunities,” Wilson says.

Those in the digital industry have pointed out the lack of representation of Māori and Pacific groups has led to a lack of diverse viewpoints in tech.

Enspiral Dev Academy co-founder Josh Vial spoke of the shortage to RNZ last year, saying Māori students had told him the IT world was missing an app to keep in touch with local kapa haka groups, share waiata and check out the competition.

That’s an example of a point-of-view that’s currently missing from the industry due to the lack of diversity, he said, which led Enspiral to create 43 web development scholarships for Māori students.

Wilson says Māori and Pacific people approach problems with a different worldview, and therefore bring a different kind of innovation to the table when it comes to technology.

“That’s something that Microsoft and Datacom have talked about in regards to that innovation – that thinking is a different design, as well as a new way of identifying a challenge and solving that challenge.”

She says events at Techweek such as southtechweek18-XLR8, Digital Moana (a showcase of Pacific people succeeding in the tech sector) and the DIGMYIDEA Ideation Weekend (an event for Māori digital entrepreneurs to make their ideas a reality) help show Māori and Pacific youth that innovation is readily available and within their genes.

“We have various examples within te ao Māori around our ability to innovate,” she says.

“An example is Māui who was both an innovator and a disruptor. We want to tap into that innovative gene that we have – to get our tamariki, rangatahi and whānau into the digital innovation space.”

One of the headline speakers at the event, Animation Research founder Ian Taylor (of Ngāti Kahungunu and Ngāpuhi descent) has also previously said that while there’s a lack of Māori in tech, once they get their hands on it, they adapt very quickly.

“I believe that Steve Jobs, he didn’t realise it – but he designed the iPad for young Māori. It wasn’t in our DNA to use paper and pen, never has been. We use our hands, we carve, we tell stories. We’re great storytellers and technology has allowed us to engage in that way,” he said.

Wilson says having inspirational speakers such as Ian Taylor, Reobot’s Jason Lovell, Code Avenger’s Michael Walmsley and Kidscoin’s Brittany Teei on board is hugely important, as it shows young people there are role models just like them to look up to who carved out a pathway in the industry before them.

“Creating these types of events shows young people a reflection of themselves in regards to these Māori and Pacific digital innovators speaking, and that it isn’t a hard pathway to take,” she says.

“It’s showing them that this is actually a really meaningful career journey you could take, which in turn helps these tech teachers nationally, as what we’re seeing is not enough young people coming into this industry, especially from Māori and Pacific communities.”

The Southtechweek18-XLR8 event isn’t just a one off, either. It marks the start of a series of different workshops and activations around Auckland in places like Manuwera and Mangere to kickstart enthusiasm in the digital space.

Wilson says she hopes those in attendance come away with a better understanding of digital innovation and where that can take them in their careers.

“That’s one of the biggest takeaways from this – helping kids looking at alternative options than the status quo,” she says.

Find your tickets to the southtechweek18-XLR8 event here, or see below for a description of all of the events mentioned.  

Southtechweek18-XLR8
​Details here.

21 MAY 2018 - 22 MAY 2018 — 8:00AM - 5:00PM 

Southtechweek18-XLR8 is a two-day workshop which aims to harness the potential of young Māori and Pasifika in the digital innovation space by:

  • Inspiring them to study, learn and work in the digital space, whilst retaining and/or expanding on their cultural heritage
  • Enabling them to discover available pathways into education and career opportunities in the digital space;
  • Exposing them to Māori and Pasifika digital innovators, leaders and practitioners who can inspire and support rangatahi
  • Sharing and tell our unique stories in the digital space on both a global and local stage

Speakers include:

  • Ian Taylor
  • Jason Lovell – Reobot
  • Michael Walmsley – Code Avengers
  • Neria Brewerton – Auckland Tourism, Events and Economic Development (ATEED)
  • Maru Nihoniho – Metia Interactive
  • Michelle Dickinson – Nanogirls Lab Ltd.
  • Ira Munn – Ierospace Industries International
  • Isaac Warbrick – Manu’s Stories
  • Brittany Teei – Kidscoin
  • Aupito Tofae Su’a William Sio – Minister for Pacific Peoples


Digital Moana Forum
Details here.

TUE 22 MAY 1 — 6PM 

This forum will showcase Pacific people who are succeeding and navigating the different parts of the tech sector. It will open up the world of opportunities that already exist in the tech sector and cast our eyes to the horizon to anticipate the new technologies and opportunities that are emerging for Pacific people to participate in.

At the forum you will meet, learn about, and hear from Pacific leaders in:

  • Programming, web development, gaming, creative technology, as well as Pacific entrepreneurs in the tech sector and many more.
  • Learn about their career pathways into their current roles and what it takes to be successful.
  • Successes of our Pasifika people in the tech industry.

DIGMYIDEA Ideation Weekend
Details here.

19 MAY 2018 - 20 MAY 2018 — 8:30AM - 3:30PM 



The DIGMYIDEA Ideation Weekend is a two and a half day event designed to bring both aspiring Māori digital entrepreneurs and mentors together to help develop and grow ideas into quality business ventures using technology.

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