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Opening meetings with a mihi and using te reo and tikanga Māori in everyday interactions are new strands to Downer New Zealand’s DNA.

The company is proud of its New Zealand history and employs 12,000 people providing services across several sectors including transportation, telecommunications, facilities management, hospitality, laundries, water, open spaces and energy.

In 2017 Downer developed a business strategy around growth and sustainability that identified five points of difference; New Zealand Inc., Engagement and Growth of our People, Right Partners, Easy to Work With/For, and Diversity.


Photo of Downer New Zealand staff at a maraeThe cultural competence initiative was developed to strengthen both New Zealand Inc and Diversity, with the intention of embracing the company’s heritage and culture, and integrating aspects of te reo and tikanga Māori in interactions with employees, customers and business partners.

Specific goals included embracing diverse cultures, recognising that Downer’s large government client base has a requirement to work in partnership with Māori and increasing its capability would be helpful, and enhancing established relationships with Iwi through existing employment and development programmes. Additionally, recognising that Māori make up 24 per cent of the Downer Transport Services workforce, it was important to attract and retain Māori in a tight labour market.

Cultural competence activities built on a foundation created by Te Ara Whanake, a Māori Leadership programme developed three years earlier focussing on developing Māori leaders in a Māori context. General Manager Human Resources Transport Services Debbie Kirby says that through the nine-month programme, participants have strengthened their Māori identity and been empowered to role model this within both the organisation and their communities.

Photo of Downer staff walking onto marae“The success of Te Ara Whanake, which is a multi-award winning programme, has provided the catalyst for broader culturally-focused programmes. Its core principles provide the foundation for all cultural competence activities to ensure alignment across the organisation,” she says.

“A large number of Māori leaders have started learning te reo and have extended this learning opportunity to their fellow workmates and whanau.”

While non-Māori leaders have always been invited to participate in Te Ara Whanake, growing demand for the programme led to the development of a new programme, Te Ara Maramatanga. This 24-hour marae-based immersion programme is designed and facilitated by Downer employees. It includes powhiri, tikanga, waiata, Te Whare Tapa Wha model, an introduction to the Treaty of Waitangi and poroporoaki.

In launching the programme, CEO Steve Killen said, “As we are a growing diverse business, I want our senior leaders to be more informed and educated when it comes to Māori protocols, culture and history.”

Both programmes have been embraced by senior leadership, who have attended themselves and showed support for participants, and are overseen by Nga Kaitiaki o te Ara Whanake, Downer’s Maori Leadership Development Advisory Board. The Board was created at the same time as Gabe Moana was introduced as Downer Kaumatua. It is made up of 10 members from across all Downer business streams and includes three Downer Executives as well as Gabe and two participants from the very first pilot Te Ara Whanake programme.

Cultural competency initiatives have been included in key leadership events, and a full-time role has been established to support all the activities that have grown out of the programmes.

Feedback from staff has been positive. “A fabulous experience and one that helped my understanding of Māoridom in general, but also the Downer connection and its importance to our business. I really felt connected,” says a Te Ara Maramatanga participant.

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