TupuToa - Professional Pathways to Prominence

TupuToa is an innovative internship programme creating pathways for Māori and Pasifika students into careers in the corporate and professional sectors. For co-chairs Rangimarie Hunia, Leopino (Leo) Foliaki and CEO Anne Fitisemanu the programme tackles obstacles faced by our students when entering and succeeding in the corporate world



Studies show diverse teams outperform non-diverse teams by 35% and diversity if a crucial fostering innovation in the future world of work.


And yet, only 17% of New Zealand’s top 60 firms have an executive who identifies as other than European/Pākehā, and even then, that 17% is representative of not just Māori or Pasifika, but the entire spectrum of other ethnicities that aren’t European/Pākehā.


This is despite the fact that Māori and Pasifika comprise around 22% of the general population (a figure which is projected to rise to 30% by 2033).


The absence from the leadership of corporate New Zealand is noticeable, as seen in the lack of Māori or Pasifika CEOs and executives in NZX listed companies. TupuToa is working towards changing the corporate landscape of New Zealand to be more representative of our country’s population and celebrating cultural identity while doing so.


Centred on the student, TupuToa secures internships for students with partner organisations on the expectation the internship will convert into fulltime employment once they have graduated.


“This is around trying to be a disrupter and circuit breaker, and enabling Māori and Pacific leadership in corporate New Zealand,” says co-chair Rangimarie Hunia.



Chief Executive of Whai Maia, Ngāti Whātua o Orākei’s social development arm, and the first tribal member and woman to get the job, Rangimarie is passionate about diversity and about youth succeeding, particularly when emerging out of the tertiary environment.


“TupuToa provides tertiary students still in study with a mechanism enabling them to enter the corporate environment and thrive.”


Loosely translated as ‘growing strong champions’, TupuToa was established in October 2016. It’s based on the Australian programme CareerTrackers, founded in 2009 to increase indigenous representation in corporate Australia. TupuToa addresses the gap by developing a new generation of Māori and Pasifika business leaders who are able to recognise and seize opportunities in increasingly diverse markets, both nationally and internationally.


The internship includes training and support to prepare students for leadership roles in different settings. In addition to the summer placements, they will also participate in TupuToa training and events during the academic year. The programme emphasises the importance of each intern’s culture.


“We’re celebrating one’s cultural identity as a position of strength by supporting corporate environments to respect, understand and work with diversity - particularly with Māori and Pacific.”


Becoming a TupuToa intern is a fast track to a career with one of the programme’s partner businesses and professional firms. These include Accenture, Air New Zealand, BNZ, Fletcher Building, Genesis Energy, ACC, Spark, Microsoft, NZ Super Fund, Department of Corrections, Precinct Properties and SKYCITY.


By 2020 TupuToa will be providing support annually to 300 Māori and Pasifika interns and 300 emerging leaders, achieving a significant increase in the number of Maori and Pasifika graduates hired, retained and developed in their employment.


Rangimarie hopes the commitment and partnership with existing partners will continue to strengthen and thrive, “with longer longterm commitment to seeing a pipeline of talent coming through their organisations”.



A TupuToa Internship will:


• Equip students to succeed in the corporate sector


• Teach them to embrace their culture and to enjoy the benefits and advantages it gives them in the world of work


• Provide them with training and development to prepare them for wider leadership responsibilities in a professional capacity as well as in our family and community settings


• Create an environment of sustained support to enable them to fulfil career aspirations


Uplifting and Inspiring Communities

As a Senior Partner at the global business firm PwC, Leopino (Leo) Foliaki noted a significant absence of young Maori and Pacific graduates from the business and corporate sectors.



Inaugural co-chair of Tuputoa, alongside Rangimarie Hunia, Leo (of Tongan descent) knew they needed help.


“We’ve supported senior women through PwC and interacted with organisations such as Global Women,” he recalls.


“And one of my various roles has been diversity inclusion. But I noticed there was little in the way of Maori and Pacific graduates emerging in our sector. The majority have had little or no exposure to the sectors at all, so they often lack confidence initially, which can lead to them to excluding themselves from opportunities to join the workforce.”


TupuToa is tasked to break down those barriers and shatter perceptions. Leo admits himself he would have benefitted from such an internship.


“It’s quite sad that in some respects that many of our communities sacrifice a lot to get to university and through it, but often end up going to jobs that either don’t match their qualifications or are well below their potential capability,” he says.


“Others just don’t get a hand up or knowledge on how and when to interact.”


Which is why Leo believes the timing of TupuToa is right, with Corporate New Zealand genuinely looking for programmes that are both inclusive and welcome diversity.


“Corporate NZ is hungry for this programme. What makes it special is that it’s a collaboration between the community, the corporates, the universities and the students themselves. Here’s a programme that was primarily targeting Maori and Pacific, but it’s creating pathways beyond that.”


Leo recalls the organisation’s inaugural gala dinner in 2018, where a number of interns told their story. One graduate spoke of having to drop out of university and join his father as a taxi driver because another family member had lost his job. He drove taxis for more than a year, then went back to university to finish his degree.


“He had written to every bank in the country and was turned down every time. The same applied when he tried to get a job in Australia,” he says.


“But by the time he had finished speaking at the Gala dinner, he had already received three or four offers from people attending, including the CEO of one of our major banks, having previously never done so before.”


Leo adds that corporates now hire graduates straight out of university due to the interns’ impact.


“There’s a whole range of areas, such as technology, where we’re looking to ensure our communities are well represented.


Part of the TupuToa journey is that it ignites the values of their own cultures and themselves individually. By doing that their communities see the value, which contributes to the betterment of our society.”


Breaking Down The Barriers

TupuToa CEO Anne Fitisemanu doesn’t hide her ambition to transform the New Zealand business and corporate sectors.



Appointed to the role in 2017, Anne’s work history spans across a number of sectors, notably in health, having served at Counties Manukau Health in South Auckland, containing New Zealand’s largest Maori and Pacific population.


TupuToa Co-chair Leo Foliaki says Anne brings a huge amount of passion and energy as TupuToa’s chief executive.


“She genuinely believes in TupuToa’s purpose of creating corporate pathways for our rangitahi and knows how to relate with people and get them to buy into our vision.”


Anne says the future economic and social prosperity requires the development of a new generation of Māori and Pasifika business leaders who are able to recognise and seize opportunities in increasingly diverse markets, both nationally and internationally.


Of Samoan, Niuean and European descent, she is determined to make a difference by creating career pathways for Maori and Pacific students.


TupuToa’s aim is to have 350 Maori and Pacific business leaders by 2021. For that to happen, Anne says several barriers need to be brought down.


“Initially, some of the younger, newer interns were, understandably, not comfortable enough to step up and put their hand up,” she recalls.


“But that’s definitely changing. We have young, talented Maori and Pacific role models who are leaders within their communities and they’re progressing well through the pipeline. Our students are already experts at navigating multiple worlds. Perhaps in the past they haven’t


had that support to bring that to the forefront. That’s changing rapidly, which it has needed to.”


There’s an increasing acceptance and willingness to embrace what Maori and Pacific have to offer to the nation.


For Anne, the students bring with them a wealth of cultural intelligence, which is only beginning to be acknowledged and embraced at a mainstream level.


“Our interns don’t come alone. They bring a community with them, so part of our role is getting to the heart to the corporates as to why it matters.”




This article was first published in Issue 73 of SPASIFIK Magazine, out now.