North Shore’s Dan Walker has three passions: Māori, the digital world and entrepreneurship. In 2016, he combined them to great effect in a thesis exploring the lack of young Māori in the tech sector. As well as bucking the trend, he hopes his findings will help shape the future of the entire industry.
Part of a new breed
Originally from Christchurch, Walker relocated to Auckland 10 years ago and in April was part of the first class to graduate Massey University’s new Master of Advanced Leadership Practice. A commercial account executive for Dell EMC, he works from his home on Auckland’s North Shore, where he embodies the location’s move toward becoming New Zealand’s innovation corridor.
“I’m a technologist looking after the digital disruption and the innovation requirements of my client,” says Walker, but he wears hats for several other organisations, bringing innovative and forward-thinking solutions to them all.
The Stanmore Bay resident “gives back to his people” as a leader for his South Taranaki iwi, Ngati Ruanui; draws on his own fathering experience as a chairman for Whanau Manama Parenting (which runs value-based positive parenting strategy courses for around 250 parents a year); and as Chair for Indigenous Growth, he helps corporates like Fletchers and SkyCity create better outcomes for Māori and Pasifika employees.
Tikanga Māori values are the key
Māori currently represent less than 2% of the tech sector and it was this that drove Walker’s thesis: Tikanga Māori ki te Ao Matihiko or “Māori values as a framework for digital leadership”.
His case study focused on 2NuiCODE, a year-long Ngati Ruanui-run course that introduces young people to the digital world of coding, programming, robotics and app development. In its first year, the Hawera programme had a 100% completion rate, which Walker puts down to tikanga Māori values being at the heart of the studies. He identified the lack of relatable values in the digital industry as the key reason why young Māori don’t feature more, and why older Māori often seem to suddenly return home to work for their iwi despite reaching a high level in their field elsewhere. Sighting the success of 2NuiCODE as evidence, he concluded that, “If we can create initiatives that have tikanga Māori values at their heart, we’ll get more Māori in there [the digital sector] because they trust it, they value it and see an alignment with their own values.”
Strong values lead to profit
Another key takeaway for Walker was just how evident the lack of any values framework is across the tech sector. He believes that if profit is the sole driver, social and environmental factors will continue to fall by the wayside. He says by adopting values involved in tikanga Māori – things like quadruple bottom line, the environment, their community – the work of digital companies will be more beneficial for everyone. “Get the values piece right…”, he explains, “…you’ll get more engagement from Māori, but also much more engagement from everyone”.
So, what next?
Aside from identifying a core problem and offering a solution, Dan Walker’s thesis has opened the door for further positive outcomes. “We can now move past the negatives and move to the areas of opportunity for Māori in the digital world. The government is looking at a Digital Marae which involves having digital experiences for our kids and our elderly so we can really get that cross-generational wisdom being passed down. It’s been broken but we can use digital to start it again.”
Walker’s thesis works in nicely with the Grow North initiative. If his insightful thesis and the exemplary work of Ngati Ruanui can be championed throughout New Zealand, he will surely be joined on the North Shore by increasing numbers of young and innovative Māori venturing into the digital world.