Passionate champion for Maori Women – Story by Tony Cutting
As I waited for Awhimai to arrive at my place in Waikanae so we could do the interview for this story I reflected on the first time we met. That was about two years ago, I was just establishing the Kumara Vine network and she was the General Manager of the Maori Women’s Welfare League. I remember being nervous in the reception, looking at the photos on the wall brought back memories of my ‘Nane’ (Great Grandmother) a long time member who was absolutely dedicated to the league. I felt her looking over my shoulder and I knew there was more to this meeting than the ‘normal’ introductions I had with other contacts for this project.
The moment we met, Awhimai immediately went out of her way to make me feel welcome and given her IT background fully understood the project and willingly gave her support to the kaupapa. She immediately looked at how the project could help Maori Women and we shared thoughts and potential plans on how we could achieve this. This was the start of what I am proud to say a very strong personal friendship driven by common goals and ideas. It was the beginning of adding real mana and momentum to the Kumara Vine and where we are heading in the future.
Back to the beginning
Awhimai Reynolds was born to be a leader, she grew up in Waikato, and her whakapapa is Tainui waka, Waikato & Ngati Maniapoto iwi, Ngati Mahanga hapu. Mum, Ngarongo “Nancy” and Dad who worked in Saw Mills most of his life was David. Life started in Te Awamutu with the whanau settling in Hamilton when Awhimai was four years old. She remembers it being a very happy childhood, like many of her whanau and friends they grew up growing and eating a lot of their own fruit and vegetables and life was pretty simple back then. Awhimai is a middle child of a large family, eight kids mostly girls and a brother. Dad would ensure all the girls were brought up to be independent and determined wahine.
Awhimai was a motivated learner and excelled at school initially attending Rhode Street primary, then moving on to Maeroa Intermediate and Hamilton Girls High. Maths was one of her strengths and this would play a big part in her early career days. She enjoyed learning and was a very successful student academically, this was balanced out with her passion for playing sports. Keeping active is something she has always done throughout her life.
At college a careers counsellor pointed out to Awhimai that with her strong maths background she could look at a career in Information Technology, so Awhimai pursued this pathway moving from college to Waikato Polytech where she would start learning all about computers, data processing and programming. This led to her first job as a computer operator for Datacom and would setup a career and promotions in a number of IT organisations early on in her life.
Leadership roles came on early for Awhimai with her accepting a role at Coal Corp as a Systems Manager not long after being in the industry. She was 26 married and went on to have two children, a son and a daughter. After a couple of years, she decided to take voluntary redundancy and use this time to develop her skills and qualifications having gained some papers part-time at Massey she would move to Waikato University and study social sciences. She left Waikato with a Hons Degree in Political Science and then committed herself to total immersion in the Te Tohu Paetahi programme to ensure she fully developed her te reo ability.
The shift to Wellington
Her path was set for securing and developing her management skills, which led to a move to Wellington. So off to the capital she went with her two tamariki now at primary school age and a senior role at Crown Forestry Rental Trust. During this time, she started working with Maori claimant groups assisting them through the treaty settlements process and developing an understanding of project and contract management.
A move to the Ministry of Education as a Contract Manager looking after one of the largest payroll contracts in New Zealand became her next move. During this time, she continued her passion for furthering her education and became a PMP certified project manager.
With two children to raise life was not just about work, she kept up her active lifestyle and sporting interests participating in dragon boating, waka ama, running events and the Special K women’s tri series. She is proud to have completed the Rotorua marathon in 2001 and the New York marathon in 2011.
Senior roles with Te Kōhanga Reo National Trust, NZ Guidelines Group and Pharmac would be her next career moves.
Te Ropu Wahine Maori Toko i te Ora (Maori Women’s Welfare League)
Awhimai’s passion for helping advance Maori wahine would lead her to the role of general manager of the league. She would not only use the skills developed throughout her lifetime but she would start a journey which is at the essence of where she feels she can be most effective. Enjoying her time with the league and completing research on Maori women leadership for her Master of Business Administration degree would lead onto her next major move – leaving to build her own business to help coach Maori women to be as successful as she has been.
Awhimai is now entering into her ultimate challenge, working for herself but dedicated to her mission to inspire and support women to shape their futures. She is absolutely committed to this kaupapa because she believes that when wahine are strengthened, whanau and families are strengthened and communities are transformed.
Her business is truly dedicated to the encouragement of wahine to be proactive and positive. To take charge of their lives and live to their highest, truest and fullest potential.
I have been so impressed with Awhimai’s passion, and given the crossover kaupapa of the Kumara Vine and my talent pool JobCafe, with her business I am very happy to say we will be working together to help achieve our collective goals.
I would thoroughly recommend that any women looking for support to either build their career or build their business to visit her website www.iwahine.nz and get in touch with this talented, educated and highly experienced lady.