Creating Pasifika leaders of tomorrow

April 2016


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Four inspirational Pasifika students came away from Victoria University’s international leadership programme with a drive to put their newfound skills to practical use in their communities.

Pasifika leadersChelcia Gomese has big dreams of helping the children of Solomon Islands discover that there is a wider world out there full of opportunities for them. The 29-year-old student from the Solomon Islands is passionate about promoting the importance of education and the environment. She is currently building a library as part of her work in the community.

Gomese has already discovered first-hand the opportunities that lie beyond her homeland. She is currently working towards a Master of Environmental Studies at Victoria University of Wellington and was one of four Pasifika students to graduate from the Victoria International Leadership Programme (VILP) last year.

VILP has been running since 2012 and is the first of its kind in New Zealand. It is an intensive, extracurricular programme aimed at making students more globally aware and building the skills they need to have international careers.

Being extracurricular, there’s a reasonably high non-completion rate as it’s additional to students’ studies and doesn’t contribute to their degrees.

The four Pasifika VILP graduates represent Niue, Tokelau, Timor-Leste, the Solomon Islands and New Zealand. Their diverse backgrounds and connections to small or remote communities have made their contributions to VILP all the more valuable. To approach global issues fairly and intelligently, the programme needs voices from all over the globe.

“Some of these students come from challenging backgrounds,” says Victoria University spokesperson Jolene Williams. “They’re not necessarily academically gifted, but are inspirational in the way they want to use their skills and knowledge to be involved in world affairs and development.”

Gomese joined the programme because of its international recognition and the chance to put her skills and knowledge to use back home in the Solomon Islands.

“I wanted to achieve more than just an academic qualification because I wanted to be able to give back to society and my community,” she says.

“I hope to work in both the government and the local level in the Solomon Islands. I want to be part of those who will make better policies for environmental issues in the Solomon Islands.”

At times it was a challenge to manage the commitments of VILP around assignments and study, but Gomese says it was definitely worth it. She broadened her networks and feels she has improved her self-confidence and communication skills. VILP has given her the opportunity to see how different people perceive and approach
global issues.

Anderias Tani, from Timor-Leste, also benefited from the programme. The 34-year-old, who is currently completing a Bachelor of Arts in Development Studies and International Relations, says VILP allowed him to make connections with people from foreign embassies, the United Nations and other political agencies. It taught him the importance of nurturing a “volunteering spirit”.

Like Gomese, Tani hopes to utilise his education, leadership skills and new contacts back in his home country.

“I came here with a promise to support the development back home. I’m thinking about going back to state administration to help with local development. Timor-Leste is undergoing decentralisation, hence local government in Oe-Kussi really needs some human resource to support its strategic development planning and implementation,” he says.

He plans to initiate leadership programmes in his community, the Youth and Students’ Association, and possibly in universities in Dili.

Tani said learning alongside people from a vast array of different backgrounds was amazing.

“This is because we are not only learning about a global issue, but we actually learn about how to understand each other cross-culturally. Often we see issues and offer solutions differently.”

Fellow VILP graduate Sonnyvehe Togiatama agrees.

“VILP allowed me to participate in discussions, events and activities with other students from all over the world. This helped me appreciate the importance of perspective even more, as well as how complicated something can be when transferred into another culture,” says the

Born in New Zealand and of Niuean descent, Togiatama hopes to use what he’s learned to assist in the development of future Niuean leaders. He is studying a conjoint Bachelor of Arts and Bachelor of Commerce majoring in social policy/sociology and information systems and e-commerce. He says it was a challenge balancing the demands of VILP with his full-time study.

“Every activity and experience was very challenging and worthwhile, but the reflection and write-up aspect means participants are essentially taking on an additional paper each trimester.”

To complete VILP, students are required to attend 12 seminars and five speaker events and submit reflective feedback for each. They also must gain 200 points of experiential activities that are international in nature.

The programme is self-paced and self-directed. It was originally designed to be completed over the course of an undergraduate degree; however, there is no specified timeframe for completion. The required components must be fulfilled by the end of a student’s degree so that it can be added to their final academic transcripts.

New Zealand-Tokelauan student Higano Perez also completed VILP and balanced the programme not only with his academic studies, but also his volunteer work with Red Cross Refugee Services. He worked several hours most days with a former refugee family, helping them settle in New Zealand.

“I underestimated the time it would take up over my holiday period. But it was hugely rewarding to see how the family integrated into New Zealand society despite the difficulties of the language barrier.”

He spent a year on an exchange in Colombia and now keeps in contact with various Colombian families who were resettled by the Red Cross Refugee Services programme.

“I think that initial resettlement is important but long-term ongoing support is critical for the transition from their home country to New Zealand.”

VILP has helped Perez develop a better understanding of other cultures, of New Zealand’s place in the world and how his contributions can make a difference.

“Travelling and meeting many foreigners has really put into perspective how lucky we are to be born in New Zealand and that we have the opportunities and can take our everyday lives here for granted,” he says.

The ambitious VILP Pasifika graduates show that no matter how small, every nation has a role to play in global affairs. The programme is certainly playing a part in helping to build the Pasifika leaders of tomorrow.  


Other tertiary leadership programmes 

Lincoln University: Kellogg Rural Leadership Programme

The Kellogg Rural Leadership Programme aims to develop the ‘contextual intelligence’ and thinking required for leadership in the primary industries through experiential learning with case studies, field trips, discussions and debates with industry leaders and presenters.

Participants traditionally come from all areas of the rural sector, from rural bankers to farmers, vets to rural extension officers, self-employed and consultants to staff of rural organisations.

Its name comes from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, which in the 1960s collaborated with Michigan State University to establish programmes that supported the development of agricultural and rural leaders. The concept was taken up by countries all over the world.

Lincoln University recognised that leadership would be a critical factor in the future performance of primary production in New Zealand and secured the rights to run the course in New Zealand under the Kellogg umbrella. The first course was held in 1979.

Jason Rolfe JASON ROLFE says the Kellogg Rural Leadership Programme has set him up with confidence, skills and a great network of contacts.

Education Review (ER): What prompted you to join the Kellogg leadership programme?

Jason Rolfe (JR): I had heard really good things about the course from previous participants, and I had always wanted to do it one day since graduating from Lincoln University. The time was right last year where I was looking for a new challenge and figured that this would be a great chance for that.


ER: What were the main things you took away from the course?

JR: Confidence, ideas and more importantly a great network of leaders from around the country who had participated in the course with me.


ER: What is your current job and what does it entail?

JR: Currently I work for FMG, the largest rural insurer in New Zealand as an area manager for the Taranaki region. I have been with the company six years in various roles and started this current role in October last year, not long after completing the Kellogg course. My job is a leadership position within the company where I am responsible for managing a team of advisors in the Taranaki region as well as leading the strategic and operational goals of FMG locally. I also look after the graduate programme at FMG on a national level, which I really enjoy as I first joined FMG through one of the first graduate programmes.  


ER: Is what you learned from the Kellogg programme relevant to your work? How so?

JR: Definitely. The information I learned around strategy, governance and in particular public speaking has really benefited my role. Skills learnt around facilitation of meetings are also really key to my current role. I also believe it has given me the confidence to put my hand up for leadership roles within FMG.


ER: Would you recommend the programme to others?

JR: Yes. Anyone who is currently in a leadership role or looking to get into one in the primary industries should look at this course. The course pushes you out of your comfort zone and challenges your thinking, as well as giving you the confidence to take that next step in your career. You are also able to network with rural company executives and senior government people throughout the course, as well as forming a network of rural leaders spread around the country with your fellow participants.  


Canterbury University: Emerging Leaders Development Programme

Canterbury’s Emerging Leaders Development Programme is a year-long programme offered to Emerging Leaders scholars, dux scholars and Ngau Boon Keat scholars who are in their first year of tertiary study.

The programme is student-led and has been running for over five years, so the university is now starting to see student leaders graduate and enter leadership positions both at the university and in the community.

The year-long leadership programme consists of a residential retreat, leadership forums, group service-learning projects, a team programme and a mid-year retreat with a focus on global leadership.


The University of Auckland: New Zealand Leadership Institute

The New Zealand Leadership Institute was established as a charitable trust in 2004 with The University of Auckland Business School as its founding partner.

The institute offers leadership development programmes, including the Leadership Mindset Programme, which comprises three two-day, non-residential workshops spread over several months. It also conducts research around various leadership themes.

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