Women encouraged to find strength in cultural diversity

Patea Area School students Tasiah Marino, Te Anahera Maraki, Maruata Cribb, IronMaori founder Heather Skipworth ...
Catherine Groenestein

Patea Area School students Tasiah Marino, Te Anahera Maraki, Maruata Cribb, IronMaori founder Heather Skipworth (speaker), Shivana Eru, Sylvia Marino and speaker Liliana Gil Valletta at the Impact Wahine conference in Hawera.

Māori women are more powerful than they know, a woman who uses diversity as a tool for business success says.

"Coming from a diverse background actually gives us a cultural advantage in the marketplace and society in general, instead of trying to assimilate," Columbian-born entrepreneur Lilian Gil Valetta told 90 women gathered for the Impact Wāhine forum in Hāwera on Monday.

"New Zealand gets its diversity and heritage from the Māori culture, and the country would be that much poorer without that. It's so easy to try and fit in and forget where you came from, but there is strength in diversity, I call it cultural intelligence," she said.

Keynote speaker Liliana Gil Valletta at the Impact Wahine Conference
Supplied

Keynote speaker Liliana Gil Valletta at the Impact Wahine Conference

"A lot of people think diversity is just skin colour, but it's actually the diversity of thought, the way that you filter things around you, the way you do problem-solving, it's much broader than the label.

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Valetta, who is an award-winning entrepreneur and World Economic Forum Young Global Leader, came to New Zealand as the guest of Wāhine Toa, an initiative of former United States ambassador's wife, Nancy Gilbert, which was set up to showcase the achievements of Māori women.

"We have something that most people don't realise, it is our responsibility to keep it alive, elevate it and turn it into opportunities. I'm originally from Columbia, and now I am a business owner in New York city, but I will never, ever forget where I come from," she said.

"We found out Lilian was coming, and we were keen to host something, to grab the opportunity to have her here," Te Rununga o Ngati Ruanui kaiarataki Debbie Ngarewa-Packer said.

The day-long event was intended to empower women who want to make real change in their communities, she said.

Some people had travelled from outside Taranaki to attend.

"The timing post-election is good, a time of new beginnings," Ngarewa-Packer said. 

Other speakers included  IronMaori founder Heather Skipworth,  Parininihi ki Waitotara chair Hineangi Raumati and iwi leaders Ngarewa-Packer and Puna Wano-Bryant (Parihaka Papakainga Trust chair).

One of a group of students from Patea Area School, Shivana Eru said she was feeling very inspired by what she had heard.

"I've learned that women are actually more powerful than people make them out to be," fellow student Te Anahera Maraki said.

 - Stuff

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