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Cultural Trauma and Resilience in the Pacific

The Skoll Centre’s Apprenticing with a Problem awards support individuals to engage in experiential learning and deep immersion around the challenges that they seek to tackle.

Oxford MBA alumna, Laura Taylor was a 2016-17 awardee whose apprenticeship took her to New Zealand to learn about indigenous social entrepreneurship and cultural resilience.

Growing up in Hawai‘i, I learned early on that there are many ways of seeing the world—that each culture encompasses unique values, beliefs, and norms that influence our decisions and interactions. From an early age, I’ve been drawn to the issue of cultural resilience.

In a globalised economy, how can we protect the practices and perspectives that have sustained peoples and environments for generations? In an era of migration and resettling, how can we uplift the humanity that connects us, while preserving the diversity of thought, language and identity that enriches us?

These are questions I brought to my Apprenticeship—and indeed, to the MBA. Midway through Michaelmas term, as I grappled with conflicting worldviews, I was told, “Adding does not mean losing. A beautiful polished table would not be so if not for the wood underneath; rather, each new layer adds onto the next, building depth.” I held onto this reassurance: as I learned new theories, new methods, and new perspectives, I would not lose the knowledge, beliefs and values that I carried with me. Instead I would enrich them through new layers of understanding.

During my four-month Apprenticeship in Aotearoa New Zealand, I focused on social entrepreneurship as a vehicle for healing the cultural trauma of colonisation.

My intention was to learn from the Māori people who, in my home of Hawai‘i, are held up as exemplars in rebuilding an indigenous economy. Sharing similar histories of traumatic disconnect from their land, language and economic base, the Māori of Aotearoa and the Kanaka Maoli of Hawai‘i face similar disparities in health, income and educational attainment. From years of working alongside communities indigenous to Hawai‘i and the Pacific, I saw these disparities as rooted in the loss of identity and culture. And I saw the growth of indigenous enterprise as a key opportunity for restoration and healing.

The Treaty of Waitangi established Aotearoa New Zealand as a land of two cultures, and it provides legitimacy—a metaphorical/political tūrangawaewae (ground upon which to stand)—for Māori people. The right for Māori to be, to own, and to prosper has been embedded within the country’s laws and economic structures, and within Māori psyches, in a way that has not happened for Native Hawaiians.

Indeed Hawai’i can learn from this ownership-based approach, in order to bring greater control and a more equitable distribution of assets to Kanaka Maoli.

At the same time, through my Apprenticeship in Aotearoa, I have seen Hawai‘i’s strengths revealed. These include:

  • Its multicultural inclusivity—built on the value of welcoming that is integral to the Hawaiian culture, and the generations of cultures coming to thrive side-by-side (challenged, yet ever more important, with each new wave of immigration);
  • The hunger of its young people for spiritual and cultural sustenance;
  • And the establishment across the Hawaiian islands of sustainable, reciprocal models of relationship with the land.

While the control of land assets and the ownership of largescale farming, forestry, and fishing enterprises have uplifted Māori iwi (tribes) financially, New Zealand’s economic structure is arguably fueling rather than healing the rift between values and practice for Māori people. Indeed, I have come to believe that in order for healing to occur within business models, it must first take place spiritually and psychologically, within communities and individuals.

In Hawai‘i we are on track to get this right, and to build from this place of reconciliation a more inclusive, restorative, sustainable economy. In Aotearoa, I have found a need for something more.

Although my Apprenticeship is over, this learning and this work will continue for the rest of my life. I have settled in Aotearoa and am working at World Vision in an intrapreneurial role that involves nurturing social entrepreneurship, writing on the role of faith and spirituality in development, and supporting ambiculturalism within this 60-year-old non-profit.

At the same time I am staying connected to Hawai‘i and its burgeoning indigenous enterprise sector. Traveling home again in March I met with friends and former colleagues who are figuring out where enterprise models fit—and where they do not—within their mission to uplift communities. And two weeks ago I received an email from a Māori carver who, while visiting Hawai‘i, had happened upon my former workplace, Ho‘oulu ‘Āina, where his holiday revealed a broader purpose. Now back in Aotearoa, he has committed to fostering an exchange across our islands. His deep knowledge of Māori carving and heritage tourism will be shared with young Kanaka Maoli in Kalihi, while Kalihi’s knowledge of wa‘a (canoeing) will be brought back to Aotearoa to help to revive Māori’s own tradition of navigation. I aim to support this as best I can, serving as a bridge between my adopted lands.

Download the Laura’s Apprenticing with a Problem report.

Read more about Apprenticing with a Problem on the Skoll Centre website.

[image source: ‘Silver Fern New Zealand Icon’ by Simon Falvo via Flickr]