Young leader looks to increase Māori participation in digital sector

By Raewyn Rasch

"I represent my ancestors and I do this for future generations." - Dan Walker

NZ Māori Tourism deputy chair Dan Walker’s career path has been a classic exercise in leadership development. He talks to Raewyn Rasch.

For someone who left school without a qualification to his name, Dan Walker, of Ngāti Ruanui, Ngā Ruahinerangi, Tangahoe, Maniapoto, Ngā Rauru, Tūhourangi, has racked up some impressive achievements – and he has even bigger plans ahead.

Walker, who is an account executive at the global technology company Dell, and deputy chair of NZ Māori Tourism, has just completed Massey University’s ground-breaking Master of Advanced Leadership Practice (MALP).

While academic success escaped him at secondary school, working for Dick Smith in Christchurch opened up opportunities and set his passion for technology alight. By the time he was 26 he was its national commercial manager.

With new focus he returned to study, completing a Diploma in Business and then a Master of Business Administration. He went on to senior positions at Noel Leemings and Samsung and, in 2010, won the Young Māori Leader Award at the Aotearoa Māori Business Leader Awards.

Through all these successes Walker has been very aware of the responsibility that comes with leadership. “It’s a mantle handed down by my ancestors. There’s a reason I have these skills and I need to use them. I represent my ancestors and I do this for future generations.”

It was with this in mind that he undertook the Master of Advanced Leadership Practice and found you need to know yourself before you can lead others.

“There are not many programmes out there that focus on the person inside, as well as their academic and management skills. I really see this programme contributing to changing leadership in New Zealand, because it focuses on the individual so much. It focuses on how we, as people, can challenge the status quo and challenge ourselves to be better leaders.”

Through the programme Walker has developed a framework that could change the way we look at the digital world. ‘Tikanga Māori ki te Ao Matihiko’ or ‘Māori Values as a Framework for Digital Leadership’ addresses the problem of low engagement by Māori in the digital sector and proves embedding tikanga or Māori values and practises can boost engagement and achievement.

Walker says the research also uncovered a complete lack of values for the digital world globally. “The predominant driving force is the value of neoliberalism driven by commercialism and the ‘profit motive’.  The billion dollar American tech giants such as Google, Apple, Facebook, Amazon and Microsoft are the role models in the digital world.”

He says implications around the development of artificial intelligence in the future are frightening. “Do we really want robots or AI software devoid of a value system?”

Walker says Māori could be the first culture in the world to formally define a values framework based on its tikanga for the digital world and that, he says, would be real digital leadership.