She says her journey into leadership was accidental, but now Sita Selupe is literally changing lives and growing a whole new generation of Maori and Pacific leaders through her commitment to education.
A primary school teacher by trade, Sita started a Saturday morning home-school in her South Auckland garage initially to help her own children and then extended whanau.
A decade on, the Rise Up Trust has helped over 200 families across South Auckland and is a first-of-its-kind charter school to raise the achievements of Pasifika and Maori children.
Raising leaders, one child at a time
Sita says 70% of the founding students were Pasifika and 30% identified as Maori.
“I’m just am a woman who’s passionate about my children, all children, my community, and I love teaching.”
The school's vision: Sharp minds, strong bodies, good hearts. Its mission: Raising leaders, one child at a time.
Sita believes education and relationships are the key to breaking the cycle of poverty, and through her own education philosophy, parents are empowered to be active participants in their child's learning.
“Over the years, I've really come to understand that we've got some needs in our Pacific and Maori sector, and we really need to help families and help whanau engage with their children.
“When parents really understand their children and the schooling system, we can prioritise their education. Our children need a quality education to have a quality life.”
Rich history of women leaders in New Zealand
The mother-of-four was named the NEXT Woman of the year in 2014 and a 2015 Blake Leader (Sir Peter Blake Trust), and says it’s an exciting time to be a woman in leadership in New Zealand.
“There are certain things and ways that women can walk into spaces and speak into that I think New Zealand really needs.
“As a country we have a history of amazing women in leadership and I think let that be our encouragement and inspiration to know that we may live at the bottom of the Southern Hemisphere, but remember the sun shines first on our country and that we can be a real light to the rest of the Pacific and possibly the world when we step up into our places.”
She says organisation, budgeting, and raising children, nieces and nephews are all qualities that make for excellent leadership.
“Our grounding and our experiences as mothers and aunties and daughters really give us a lot of the skills to be effective in the workplace.”
Iron sharpens iron
Sita says the biggest challenge for women leaders reaching their potential in New Zealand is finding the work/life balance.
She believes it’s crucial that women look after themselves and are surrounded with other great women.
“It’s really important that we encourage each other in the work that we do and celebrate each other which provides encouragement and inspiration as well.
“Make sure you have a resolve that when things get hard, you continue to surround yourself with those women.
“I like that quote…’Iron sharpens iron’.”