Having lived in New Zealand for 15 years, he had a desire to learn more about Māori culture. But, aside from this personal interest, he did not have a pre-determined idea of the knowledge he’d gain on the course or how it might benefit him or his work.
Matt talked to us about what he learned, what he enjoyed most, and what lessons he’s been able to put into use since graduating.
Why did you nominate yourself to attend Te Ara Māramatanga?
As an Englishman, I felt it was important to immerse myself in the culture. I did a little bit when I first emigrated, but living in the South Island means I have had less exposure. So, when the programme came up, I jumped at the opportunity.
How did the programme challenge you?
I found it difficult feeling ignorant. I was in a marae full of people who probably had more knowledge than I did, but I was made to feel so welcome. I was happy to give my pepeha a go and nobody laughed, so that was good!
What did you enjoy the most?
The session with Debbie Kirby (GM People & Culture for T&I) where she talked about the treaty and equity. After that session, I felt that I really connected to the “why”. Prior to going I'd felt ignorant of Māori culture, the land claims, the connection to land and sea, and so on. I couldn't understand it.
The other thing I enjoyed was connecting with a range of people from different parts of Downer, we were all there as one.
Has the experience impacted you?
I think it had an impact yes, you always reflect on work and life. Jarrod (Telford) took us through a lot of concepts, and it made me more supportive of the various programmes Downer do. I have always been supportive of social procurement, for example, but after the programme I understood why we should do it better.
I've encouraged a lot of people to do the programmes the Corporate Social Outcomes has on offer, and I’ve seen them come back for the better. It has certainly given me a bit more confidence in an area that I wasn’t very confident in. I also started learning te reo Māori after Te Ara Māramatanga, and although a busy life with four kids has intervened, I plan to get back into it!
Do you have any advice for colleagues who might be considering the programme?
I think there are a lot of people that would benefit hugely from it. They think they ‘know what they know’ so they have preconceived ideas. Until you go and embrace the culture, those preconceptions can’t be changed. I encourage any leaders and future leaders to do it. To me, it’s an integral part of what we do at Downer.
My advice is to be open minded and prepared to immerse yourself and learn. I think even the born and raised kiwis who attended were blown away by what they learned. Some were a bit embarrassed by their lack of awareness!
Tip: Bring hearing protection - you need your sleep! Make sure to bring an empty stomach as well.