Iani Nemani joined the Diversity Works New Zealand team last month in the role of Diversity Manager. Iani has a strong background in labour market development, community economic development and social work. He is an experienced relationship manager and brings more than 20 years of experience across community, local and central government, tertiary education and industry training sectors. We’ve asked him all the tough questions so you can get to know him better.
Tell us about your background. Iani is a Romanian name (and my middle name is English) but I am far from Romanian, nor am I English. I am a child migrant from Tonga but as my surname indicates, I am also Fijian. I am a proud flag-flying Fijian during the Rugby World Sevens and a proud MMT supporter during Rugby League World Cup events. My mother was an only child, but both my grandparents came from large families of 10-plus siblings either side (in fact, my grandmother had an uncle who had 24 children!) I was legally adopted by my grandparents as a child, so I am also my mother’s younger brother. I am the eldest of seven siblings. I was in my early adult life (in Tongan terms one is still a boy at the age of 21) adopted out again in a more traditional Tongan manner where I have another seven siblings. My paternal line has a history of adoption: my grandfather was adopted out, his father before him was adopted from Fiji to Tonga, so I come from a diverse background. My family was among the earlier Tongan migrants to Palmerston North so “home” had an open-door policy and it was not uncommon for me to be woken in the early hours of dawn to serve guests. I often say my grandparents had 40 children because home was a base for Tongan University students over several years. It was also a home for newcomers to Palmerston North, people hiding from Immigration New Zealand and, for my sins, they even built a church from my family home. But it was there that I developed a passion for servanthood, community development, people and social justice – actually it was not uncommon for me to accompany and support people looking for work, applying for IRD numbers, housing, immigration or an unemployment benefit. I went on to study Social Work at Massey University, then later secured other qualifications in social policy, economic development and theology. But that initial social work training sent my servanthood career spiralling in diverse directions and here I am at Diversity Works New Zealand.
What’s the most interesting job you have ever had? I did the milk run when I was at high school. That job was quite the eye opener. I saw things. I heard things and I learned to “see no evil, hear no evil”.
What’s your perfect Sunday? Sleep in. Have a late breakfast made for me. Quiet afternoon. None of that ever happens.
What are you currently reading? I am a real fan of liberation theology so I am currently reading We Drink From Our Own Wells: The spiritual journey of a people by Gustavo Guiterrez.
What’s the one place you have never visited that you would like to travel to? Vulaga in the Lau group of islands in Fiji (closer to Tonga than it is to Suva). They say it is the most beautiful place on earth.
Why have you chosen to work in diversity and inclusion? Because diversity, inclusion, difference and uniqueness all add colour, excitement, flare and vibrance to a dull and boring reality. In fact, the Tongan words “hala kuo papa” (the well-travelled path) resonate with me at this time – the opportunities for a more diverse, inclusive and vibrant economy cannot be found if we continue to follow the same old path.
What are you looking forward to about working at Diversity Works New Zealand? Challenge.
Who inspires you? Every day, somebody inspires me. This morning it was the young 17-year-old man I met at 6am in the bus station, catching three different buses to get to work on a building site. He just wants to earn so he can take care of his partner and daughter. He told me what his dreams were, and I gave him some solid career advice.
What accomplishment are you most proud of? My daughter Angel tells me I am the best Dad in the whole wide world, usually at McDonalds on a Saturday afternoon, so I must be doing okay.
What is the best advice you have ever received? Don’t sweat the small stuff. Iani's full bio and contact details can be found on our team page.