The Kumara Vine – creating a channel

Kumara Vine image

Origins of the Kumara Vine
The Kumara Vine is a term used by many Maori iwi, hapu, people referring to the communication system they use to get news (good and bad) out through their families and networks as soon as possible.  My memories of the Kumara vine started back at Hongoeka Marae when I was just very young.  It consisted of a phone list on our wall at home which had our famly responsible for receiving and passing on any messages (calling) four other families and then each of them would pass through to four others etc quickly spreading word of an event around the whanau at Hongoeka Bay.

Using this knowledge and having researched the fact the Kumara Vine was still active at home and confirming it was also used by many other Iwi, Maori groups I decided to create a Kumara Vine to help Treasury spread the word that it was very keen to have more Maori and Pasifika people apply for vacancies within the organisation.  Treasury were very keen to balance staff numbers to better reflect the population of New Zealand while also developing a more diverse workforce thus expanding its knowledge base and understanding of the people.

Why create a Kumara Vine?
Treasury had struggled to attract Maori to apply for roles, in fact during my first few weeks on site at the organisation.  They had tried traditional recruitment  methods (which were pretty much the same as most organisations in New Zealand) and got poor response and no success.  The roles seems exciting enough as they were key Maori specific roles.  These roles are critical as they would be the beginning of having Treasury staff equipped to develop strong relationships with Iwi as well as help change the Treasury internally.  The goal for this change in Treasury being to work closely with Iwi, Maori business (which economically makes up in excess of 20% of all Kiwi business) and key Maori groups.  The ultimate goal of this activity is to help acheive higher standards of living for all New Zealanders.

I was also please to discover that Treasury’s Executive leadership team were very much invested in this work and that this would not just be a never lasting fad.  Being onsite for some months I also knew this change would be a long time in the making and any solution I came up with would need to be sustainable.

More than just a recruitment tool.
I understood that if we were going to attract more Maori to apply to key roles at Treasury we would need to spread the word throughout Maoridom that Treasury were sincere in looking to change the makeup of its staff (become more diverse) and the people who filled these roles would work proactively to make life better for Maori in the process.  Not only would I create this communication channel for Treasury but it would also need to follow some very clear Maori values in my mind. The Kumara Vine had to be  totally independant resource that’s key purpose was to promote Maori and Pasifika acheivement and helped counteract the negative press which mainstream media seemed always keen to make stories of.

Kotahitanga – For the Kumara Vine network to work it had to be available for use by all those willing to join and participate in it.  That it needed to be reciprocal or it would fail. Which ultimately mean’t other people and their organisations would also be able to tap into this resource.

Manaakitanga – The Kumara vine would be mana enhancing, it would focus on only positive news and consist of information beneficial to all those participating.  It understands tapu (sacredness) and mana (dignity).  The Kumara Vine would need to be acutely aware of how it worked with other ‘vines’ and not seek to replace them but proactively look to work with them.

Rangatiratanga – Possibly where our biggest challenge would come.  The Kumara Vine would look to acheive a positive message by  profiling stories of successful people across a variety of career paths or business ventures showing Maori and Pasifika doing awesome things.

Rangatiratanga looks at leadership considering the following attributes; humility, diplomacy, generosity, resilience and empowerment.  To practice humility is not to push your personal story, in fact there is a very famous Maori proverb “Kāore te kumara e kōrero mō tōna ake reka” or “The kumara (sweet potato) does not say how sweet he is”.  So we would need people to understand that they were still being humble even though we were telling their story.

We would have to enlighten successful people so they understood that by the Kumara Vine celebrating their success they are helping to inspire others, while also sending positive messages into the universe.

Wairuatanga – The final value I placed on the Kumara Vine was that of my personal understanding there is a spiritual existence in addition to the physical.  The Kumara Vine would not only nourish those whom embraced it, it in fact would become its own entity with the messages it told affecting those connected, in our case lifting their spirits and making them proud. Wairuatanga for me connects all the values with how we “feel” about something and if it feels right then it is more than likely a good thing.

Creating the Kumara Vine
Once I understood clearly what the Kumara Vine was about and how it would operate my confidence in growing this communication resource grew stronger.  I initially set up the Kumara Vine as a on-line newsletter supported by a website that would hold all the content.  I approached key contacts I knew to help get it all started, these people helped identify more people who would “join the movement” and the ‘vine’ started to grow.  It is important to note those invited into the community also believed in the cause and understood we were creating a resource with a strong postive kaupapa (agenda).

I supplemented this activity with some good old fashion recruitment search work and also tapped into LinkedIn finding that the majority (over 90%) of people approached were happy to be included in the network.

Within 30 working days we had over 300 people who would receive and distribute the Kumara Vine to potentially thousands of Maori and Pasifika contacts.  These contacts included key communications people from Iwi and wonderful organisations like the Maori Womens Welfare League.   I had also specifically targeted the Policy community and started to build a talent pool of this resource from this initial activity.

In terms of results for Treasury we increased from 1-2 applications for first Maori roles before the Kumara Vine to developing a solid talent pool of 50+ well qualified candidates for both immediate and future Policy and Economic opportunities within the organisation, all within 60 days (2 issues) of the newsletter being distributed.

Treasury has since hired 7 people from this pool and continues to support the Kumara Vine and JobCafe (the supporting talent pool).

2015 moving forward
In 2015 we decided that a monthly newsletter was no longer going to be our main communication resource and developed the Kumara Vine facebook page.  Since its inception in Feb 2015 it has grown to over 3300 followers (likes) and has become our main way of distributing daily information.  The website still hosts all our stories and is now looking to expand beyond just hosting people stories. We still send out monthly newsletters to our core networkers but view social media as our main communications asset.  Although much more work the Facebook page enables us to reach out to our community on a daily basis.

In 2016 we look forward to promoting not just people, we are looking to also promote successful Maori and Pasifika businesses and because I love art the plan is also to feature a gallery that introduces Maori and Pasifika artists and their art to our community.

To join the Kumara Vine movement visit

The Kumara Vine has been hugely successful.  I would personally like to thank all of you who have joined, ‘liked’, featured in and shared our stories with your networks.  My hope is our positive stories keep inspiring and helping those people and organisations that choose to work with us.

For those of you going to RHUB in Auckland (20th/21st October 2015) I will be chatting about the Kumara Vine and He Waka Taura our Talent Management framework providing more insights on how to make a real difference to recruiting and retaining staff.

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