#StandWithManaaki – What were they thinking? Part 3 (continued)

Hey, Pete and your fellow directors – what are you thinking?

Yesterday I bored you with some dates and facts from the timeline of Callaghan Innovation’s botched procurement process, and the subsequent inaction of the Callaghan Innovation Board in making any attempt to put things right.      

Governance is something I know a little bit about. While boards in the main seldom actually do any of the doing, they definitely set the tone for how things are done in an organisation. To the Chair, Pete Hodgson, and the rest of the Callaghan Board, you need to know that the buck stops here, with you!

While you may not have actually caused the hiring of a conflicted investigator, or the leaking of the reports, or the whitewash that was the EY review, you most certainly are demonstrating, by your silence and inaction, that you condone all of these things. That is not okay.

To what extent have you independently checked the facts of the case and read some of the commentary in social and other media? Or have you relied mostly on management to tell you that all is well? Nothing to see here!

And what have you told your Minister about this whole saga?

Callaghan Innovation has so much potential. An organisation populated by so many talented and motivated people, trying to support innovation in New Zealand. As directors, you have a duty of care to the organisation, to uphold and build up its reputation, to position it to attract the best talent internally, and the best partnerships externally.

In fact, your stated vision is to be “the place where talent wants to be”.

Your behaviour should, and I’m sure is, causing people and organisations to reconsider whether they wish to work for you, or partner with you. What right-minded organisation would put themselves at risk of being ‘hung out’ on the public gallows should your next RFP due diligence process uncover something about them, to which you give them no proper right of reply? Information that you allowed to spread, through deliberate sharing and subsequent leakage, in direct contravention of the confidentiality promise in the tender documentation.

What director in their right mind would consider applying for a position at your board table?

In fact, back in February this year, I did exactly that. After several prompts from people I respect, I applied for an advertised position on the Callaghan Innovation Board – a position which I note has still not been filled. In fact, earlier this month, I received the by now regular update email noting that there was still no selected a short list for the position.

In my application, I noted that:

“As an experienced board director who is fully immersed in the early stage, deep-tech and angel investment ecosystem, I am excited by the opportunity to join a board charged with leveraging Kiwi innovation to create a real impact for New Zealand – our economy, our environment and our society.”

I was genuinely excited at the opportunity, though I was totally realistic that I was unlikely to get the appointment. However, following the behaviour, and particularly the apparent inaction of this Board in the face of the Manaaki situation, I had to rethink. Sadly, I withdrew my application, noting (below) that the reputation risk of joining the Callaghan Innovation board is simply too great!

So, my question for the Callaghan directors is this – while I may not have been your preferred candidate, might there be others who now feel the same way?

In a market where talent is looking to work for organisations that do good, and are good on the inside… how important do you think Callaghan’s reputation is? And is it perhaps worth rethinking your inaction.

You are the only ones who can fix this.

Admit that the investigator was conflicted.

State unequivocally that the due diligence reports, commissioned under the confidentiality of a government procurement process, should never have been shared around other organisations by your then CEO.

Make it clear that you are upset and angry (are you?) at the way the reports have been leaked to all and sundry, including social media influencers and the press.

Clarify that the EY review was not a review of the due diligence findings, nor of the conflicts of interest – but simply a review of the mechanics of the investigative process.

Officially withdraw the due diligence reports.

And above all, tell us whether you really want these documents to be used to drive Manaaki out of business, and to destroy the reputations of its founders. Because if that is what you actually want, you’re doing a great job of achieving your goals.

So tell us, Mr Chair and your fellow directors, what are you REALLY thinking?

#StandWithManaaki – What were they thinking? Part 3

Hey, Pete – what are you thinking?

Last week I pondered the decisions made by Callaghan Innovation CEOs, past and present, in regard to the due diligence process they undertook on Manaaki / We Are Indigo; and the subsequent use of that report, deliberately spread and then widely leaked, as a weapon to destroy livelihoods and reputations.

For those who do not know, “Pete” is Peter Hodgson, former Minister of Research, Science and Innovation some 15 years ago, now the Chair of the Callaghan Innovation Board.

Today I am reflecting on the inaction of the Callaghan Innovation Board under his leadership, in choosing to sit on the sidelines while the battle to destroy Manaaki and its founders continues; a battle which has been partly created and largely enabled by their organisation, its actions and inactions.

So first, let’s recap on some of the flawed actions and inactions. This bit is boring – full of dates, historical facts. Stay with me – once we have the timeline on the table, I’ll move on to governance and why the Callaghan Board should care enough to act. All going to plan – today the “what happened”, tomorrow the “so what?”.

6 December 2021 – Manaaki submits an expression of interest in the Callaghan Founder Incubator RFP. This is a significant tender, with a contract value of $2.1 million Callaghan funding over three years.

29 December 2021 – Robett Hollis makes a series of social media posts about bad actors in the start-up system. On the same day, he writes to the then CEO of Callaghan Innovation, Vic Crone. It is clear there had been conversations before this. He offers to introduce Vic to John Borland (an investigator), who he has been talking with about “these issues” and suggests she engage him in the procurement process.

15 February 2022 – Further communication between Robett Hollis and Vic Crone, in which he explains that Borland has specific knowledge that is relevant, and presents ‘evidence’ of bad behaviour by Manaaki, based on what Borland had apparently uncovered in his prior investigations for an unknown party. He reiterates his desire to have Borland connected into the procurement team at Callaghan.

For me, these communications show clearly that Vic Crone was aware of Borland’s conflict of interest, should he be appointed to conduct due diligence on Manaaki. We do not know whether Vic disclosed this knowledge within Callaghan, and if so, why the conflict was ignored.

But we also see from these communications (released under an OIA request) that some of the allegations being “uncovered” were wholly without basis, for example, a suggestion that money from a named sponsor was used to pay We Are Indigo debts. I mention this because I suspect it reflects the quality of the due diligence reports to come. But let’s go back to the timeline:

9 May 2022 – email from Callaghan Innovation (Ryan Challis, from the procurement department) to John Borland and his company Isacorp, in which Callaghan Innovation asks the question – ‘Ýou have no conflicts of interest related to this activity?’.

9 May 2022 – contract signed between Callaghan (signed by Vic Crone) and Isacorp. Section 10 in the agreement states Isacorp has no conflict of interest.

I find this very hard to reconcile with the conversations between Robett Hollis and Vic Crone in December and February. Callaghan has publicly avoided this issue, stating that it is the responsibility of contractors to declare conflicts of interest. (NBR 7 November). A dissembling response?

11 May 2022 – Isacorp produces an initial report.

Two days turn around from the date of contract signing, for what we know from the EY independent review is an open source process. Extraordinary.

At some point, Callaghan requests a second due diligence report.

During June 2022– Copies of the Due Diligence reports are spread deliberately by Vic Crone to other Government Agencies. And then start being leaked more widely.

I have not seen the reports. But there are many suggestions that they lack balance, and that some of the comments are defamatory and untrue. These reports are subject to the confidentiality provisions of the RFP and require Manaaki’s express permission to have them released.

What has Callaghan done to stop the widespread release? What has it done to check the disputed information and allow balance? I am not aware of anything material that has been done by Callaghan to remedy or mitigate. This goes against Callaghan’s values, its principles. And this is not right.

30 August 2022 – EY signs a contract with Callaghan to review the due diligence reports.

As I have previously noted HERE, the scope of the review was set to exclude any conflict of interest issues. The findings of the reports are not tested. And the referee list was padded with extra respondents. Manaaki was not aware of this padding at the time. Callaghan declined the suggestion that Manaaki be allowed to review the reports.

But we do know the actual physical process of interviewing people happened – EY confirmed this, and this was the agreed scope.

Is it okay for the investigator to have made his own social media comments on this investigation?

Is it okay for a referee to publish his response to the due diligence enquiry?

And is it okay for a Callaghan Board member to have entered into the public debate?

The actions and dates give context to my conclusions. In short, it looks to me as if external parties with their own vested interest have captured the process. Definitely not best practice procurement. But this is just my opinion, you may have reached different conclusions. Personally I remain convinced that Callaghan Innovation must act to fix this, by

  • Either commissioning a genuinely independent review of the process, the conflicts, the reports, and the findings;
  • Or withdrawing the reports, and perhaps even; issuing an apology.

I believe that this has real implications for the governance of Callaghan Innovation, raising serious questions about the competency and effectiveness of its Board in fulfilling their fiduciary duty.

But enough for today…. more on that tomorrow, when I will STILL be asking:

Hey, Pete, what are you thinking? Or are you thinking at all?

#StandWithManaaki – What were they thinking? Part 2

Hey, Stefan…  what were you thinking?

Earlier this week I talked about my bemusement at the inaction of the Callaghan Innovation Board, in choosing to sit on the sidelines and watch livelihoods and reputations destroyed, as a direct result of their actions, and inactions.

Today I’m moving on to the next episode in this distasteful saga.  Yesterday I covered the CEO who presided over the original procurement process, including the use of a contract investigator to conduct due diligence on the RFP respondents.

So many questions about that process – but let’s move on.

In the face of claims of a conflicted contractor, Callaghan Innovation (now with a new acting CEO in place), commissions EY to perform an independent review of their due diligence process.  Sounds like a good plan, I hear you thinking.  This report from EY will subsequently become the shield behind which procurement, management and the board shelter.

But consider this. 

Based on a release of the EY report under the OIA, it seems that the scope of the review was limited to a simple evaluation of the mechanics of the contractor’s process of investigation.  Specifically, the scope did NOT include questions as to….

  • Whether the process to select the investigator met the standards of government procurement;
  • Whether the investigator was conflicted in accepting the contract to conduct the DD;
  • Whether Callaghan itself has appropriate internal systems to manage conflicts of interest;
  • Nor any of the actual claims made in the reports.    

The EY report states several times that Manaaki should have had the opportunity to comment on the reports when they were in draft stage.  As I understand it, Manaaki has only seen redacted copies of the final reports, and still has not seen the full reports.

There were several “referees” added to the investigator’s interview list without Manaaki’s knowledge, including one whom EY says had no business history with Manaaki at all.  The EY report says that this is not right.

To put this in simple terms – Callaghan set the EY brief to exclude all the contentious issues.  EY, as per Callaghan’s instructions, focused on process mechanics only.  Based on the scope of their brief, I suspect EY’s conclusions were valid.  And Callaghan got the report they sought.  The real question is this an acceptable way to do business? 

The EY report also identified other issues with the process.  If you’re interested, the report is available.

It’s ironic that in the preface to their report, EY states explicitly that:

“EY has not been engaged to act, and has not acted, as advisor to any other party.”

Did the investigator, Borland, make the same statement in his reports?  Could he have honestly done so?

And where is the new (at that time acting) CEO in all of this?

Does he really think that commissioning an independent review, that puts the key issues of contention out of scope and then states all is well in the process, is okay?

Now as Callaghan’s CEO (no longer acting) does he consider that maybe, just maybe, it would be worthwhile to sit down with Manaaki and reach some sort of agreement that allows both parties to move on, and continue doing their chosen business, albeit not together?

And when the matter became increasingly public, being played out initially in social media, and then in the national press, did he consider the potential damage this could cause?

Does he think it’s okay that Manaaki is being essentially blackballed by his predecessor’s actions, when she started the leaking (oh, sorry, “sharing”) of the reports by sending them to other government departments.  This surely provided justification for the subsequent flood – a deluge of the reports being shared far and wide to media and influencers?  Reports to which Manaaki has had no real right of reply.

Does he genuinely think it’s a great outcome that Manaaki is driven out of business, as a result of a small number of business disputes, now resolved, despite the good that they’ve done?  And the thousands of small of businesses supported by Manaaki.

And has the Callaghan Innovation Board considered the longer term impacts of this debacle?

More on that in my next post, but for now, think about this.
How comfortable will you be submitting a proposal in the next government-run procurement process, knowing what can happen when things go wrong?

This is NOT about who wins and who loses out in a tender process.
It’s about Callaghan Innovation’s process and decisions that have provided ammunition to those trying to destroy Manaaki and its founders;  ammunition to continue to wage this destructive war.  How can the Callaghan Innovation Board stand by, putting their own organisation’s reputation at risk, and allow this to happen?

The real unanswered question is who gains from the destruction of Manaaki? And did they use their networks and connections to influence the due diligence reports to their advantage? But that we will probably never know.

It’s time to commission a truly independent report, that covers the full scope of issues identified. 
Or just withdraw the reports, and hey, perhaps even issue an apology.

What were, and are, these people thinking?  Or, one has to ask, are they thinking at all?

And what role does MBIE and the Minister have in all of this?

#StandWithManaaki – What were they thinking? Part 1

Hey Vic, what were you thinking?

The more I delve into the campaign to discredit Manaaki, and destroy the reputation of its founders, the more astonished I become.  Much of the activity appears to be enabled and exacerbated by explicit Callaghan Innovation actions and inactions.

My current bemusement centres on the Callaghan Innovation Board, and why they are apparently choosing to double down on the “we did nothing wrong” stance of past and present CEOs, when there are so many things that seem, well, just not right.

Today let’s focus on the role of past CEO Victoria Crone, and what’s come out (in media interviews, and in OIA information releases) about her role or influence in the appointment and direction of the due diligence investigator, John Borland and the work that he did.

OIA releases show that she was contacted by a friend who suggested that Manaaki be investigated – nothing wrong with that, assuming his motives were pure.  He offered to connect her to an investigator (Borland) who had prior knowledge of the claimed dodgy dealings.  The friend suggested that Vic pass Borland’s name onto her procurement team.  This conversation started in December, 2021 – before the Callaghan tender process had even begun – with the recommendation reiterated in February, 2022.

Several months later, Borland was appointed to conduct due diligence on Manaaki and others shortlisted for a Callaghan tender.  He produced his initial report in just 2 days after signing his contract of engagement. An impossibly tight timeframe to investigate and report on all tenderers.  The press reports that he had been hired a number of months earlier, by a third party to investigate Manaaki.   A clear conflict.

Borland would have been obligated to disclose conflicts of interest.  Did Borland tell Callaghan that he knew the parties involved, and the details of their dispute?  And if so, what did Callaghan do about it – did they consider using an independent investigator?  Did Callaghan only become aware of the conflict at a wider level when it was reported in the press?  Did Callaghan at that stage seek an independent view of the alleged misdeeds? 

The fact pattern suggests that the Callaghan CEO should have known of the conflict from the beginning.  Did she declare a conflict of interest to her Board, in recommending a friend of a friend for the investigator role?  Did she tell them he had investigated Manaaki before?  If not, very poor practice – particularly for a government organisation.  Or did her friend not disclose to her that Borland had been investigating Manaaki already?

Either way, it then appears (again via OIA releases) that Borland was explicitly instructed by Callaghan Innovation that he should NOT interview Manaaki to hear their side of the story.  It may be that Borland at that point was trying to do the right thing –– but that was not to be.

So on the face of it we have an investigator, recommended by a friend of the CEO, hired without apparent proper process, with undeclared prior knowledge of the matters he was hired to investigate, and who was explicitly instructed not to talk to the accused parties? 

How can this be okay?
We continue to see swirls of fact, innuendo and fabrication.  People’s reputations and livelihoods are being destroyed.  The ecosystem is being deprived of players who have made a positive difference and want to continue to do so.

How can the Board of Callaghan Innovation be apparently unwilling to do the right thing? Commission a truly independent report.  Or withdraw the current reports and hey, perhaps even issue an apology.

What were, and are, these people thinking?  Or, one has to ask, are they thinking at all?

And what role does MBIE and the Minister have in all of this?

#StandWithManaaki – Bullying is not okay

A guest blog written by my husband, Peter Hall.

Bullying is not okay – and we are seeing a lot of it in many different guises in the controversy surrounding Manaaki and its founders.

As we know, there is a concerted and relentless mainly social media campaign to bring down Manaaki and the people associated with it.  People like Andy Hamilton and Pat MacFie. A core allegation appears to be “founder bullying”, with the emotive overlay of a vulnerable, female founder.  I have known Andy Hamilton for some fifteen years and never seen anything like this alleged bullying. 

I will make some broad generalisations.  And I hate making generalisations.  Many founders are hard work.  They see things others do not see – and this is often a key ingredient for their success. At times, their passion helps them to be persuasive.  And it also at times leads to conflict and an inability to work well with others – no matter who the others are – funders, staff, suppliers.

What we have with Manaaki is a swirl of some truth, with a dollop of innuendo and outrageous inferences.  Much of this is founded on two due diligence reports, commissioned by Callaghan Innovation, as part of a tender process.  These reports have been circulated widely, in leaks to the media and others (ethically questionable), but only provided in part to Manaaki.  Very hard to counter.  Manaaki as a minimum need to have a right of reply, which is shared as widely as the reports themselves have been.  This is fundamental to natural justice.

Callaghan is a major enabler of the bullying that is happening.  The two due diligence reports were commissioned from an individual/organisation who had a clear conflict of interest.  When this became clear, as a minimum, responsible management would investigate further – test the findings with the accused party – and dig deeper.  The reports have been circulated to a range of external government departments, individuals and non-affected people.  This cannot be right.  They have thrown hand grenades, and sit and watch the war continue with a shoulder shrug. 

From my personal perspective, what of my private and confidential business information is Callaghan  going to circulate and to whom?  Is this a precedent for MBIE and other government entities?             

The Callaghan approach is fundamentally flawed and manifestly unfair.

MBIE has some experience with workplace bullying and gender discrimination at another organisation in the startup ecosystem that it oversees – NZVIF.   In mid-2021, a summary report of an investigation into NZVIF was released.  In August 2021, the then CEO Richard Dellabarca resigned, followed by most of the Board a few months later.  Their annual report shows that very substantial termination payments were made.  There was an earlier report which appeared to be a whitewash, but the groundswell of dissatisfaction prevailed.  I wonder what lessons were learned?  See the attached link NZVIF bullying .

The press has not been blameless in this swirl of information.  In particular, the National Business Review.   In the case of Manaaki and particularly Pat MacFie, we see what appears to be character assassination formed on an incomplete picture and yet more innuendo.  It is hard to see the relevance of something 20+ years in the past, except in a remote tangential way – other than to sling mud.  This is bullying, designed to help destroy the individual and his organisation.   See the link to the NBR article and Pat Macfie’s response.  Form your own opinions.    NBR article     Pat Macfie’s response.

I am a regular subscriber to the NBR.  There are occasional insights that are worth reading.  Recent coverage of the startup innovation sector has been good.  I probably would not have mentioned the Pat MacFie-NBR article but for the fact that it seems to be part of a repeated pattern of destruction aimed at generally younger founders.  I think of past coverage of Jamie Beaton (Crimson), and Jake Millar (Unfiltered),  Always the tall poppies, always picking away at their lifestyle, their past and their foibles, sometimes with catastrophic results.  The relevant articles appear to follow a similar destructive pattern to that in the Pat MacFie article, complete with an inflammatory headline about being haunted by his past. This is not OK.

The swirl of some truth, innuendo and outrageous inferences is not doing anyone any good.  I respectfully submit that Callaghan Innovation, or its MBIE overseers, as the central player in all this, could take actions to either front up with an independent review by a person of substance, or withdraw the reports with a statement that they present an incomplete picture.  There are other solutions. 

Do they have the courage to do what is right?  Or will they be sucked even further into this unpleasant vortex?  And what does our government think?  Do they endorse what is happening?

BULLYING IS NOT OK. 

#StandWithManaaki – Tall Poppy Bashing

The ongoing campaign to destroy the good work of Manaaki and its founders Pat MacFie, Andy Hamilton and their colleagues, is sadly, and simply, a perfect example of New Zealand’s penchant for chopping down tall poppies.

In more advanced economies, they recognise that failure is the gateway to success, that people who have learned from their failures, make better business leaders in the future. But that is not the case here in Aotearoa, where our past misdeeds come back to haunt us, again and again; where the business media is amongst the first to take up the scythe when there are tall poppies to be felled.

The tall poppy in question here is not actually Manaaki itself (who have quietly and humbly gone about their business), but the inimitable Andy Hamilton, who has dedicated the past few years of his life to supporting his co-founders at Manaaki, honing the work he did in founding and building The Icehouse, to support business success. There is no doubt that Andy has made some enemies along the way – he is driven, opinionated, and definitely not always right! Well, I certainly haven’t always agreed with him.

But those of us who know him, whether we love him or not so much, will vouch for his relentless passion for raising up business builders, and in particular his willingness to give freely of his time and his unbelievably vast network of contacts. Andy is a giver.

Seeing him bowed down under the weight of the current campaign to discredit his co-founders at Manaaki, and destroy the great work they have done (and want to keep on doing) to support small business NZ, is simply heartbreaking.

THIS IS NOT OKAY

This concerted campaign, led by a small number of vicious haters – some not even living in NZ – is putting Manaaki’s very survival at risk. Armed with leaked private investigator reports, commissioned by a government agency, and passed on to other agencies, individuals and journalists (probably in breach of every rule in the procurement privacy book!), these bad actors have whipped up support from well-meaning commentators, spouting forth on things about which they are not fully informed.

How could they be, when Manaaki itself has never been afforded the courtesy of access to the evidence against them, nor the opportunity to respond. Despite this, they are taking positive actions to find and redress their failings, as detailed in their post yesterday, linked HERE

This takes courage. This is the action of an ethical organisation.

Here is an organisation, with over 6,500 members, many from the Māori and Pasifika communities, doing good work to support business owners and job seekers to build better businesses, to succeed. 

Now it finds itself a victim of bullying, of tall poppy bashing, at the hands of people with the power to influence whether it lives or dies. Ironically, at the root of the allegations, there appears to be concerns about founder bullying – with the emotive overlay that the founder is question is neither male nor Pakeha, and therefore inherently more vulnerable in the face of the big, bad ‘investor’ guys. Allusions have been made to other founders who were bullied (by other players, including most notably the business media), and the need for more founder protection.

Be that as it may – and more about that in my next post, specifically about founder bullying.

But meanwhile, consider this. These are people who founded a business to support their people, who built a community of mutual trust and support. They have a “past” (don’t we all?) that they do not deserve to have trawled through the media. They have been successfully supporting small business – the lifeblood of the New Zealand economy – funded mostly by government contracts, won in fairly contested procurement processes, creating real impact for the business owners they support.

In the words of a small business owner posted on the Manaaki platform this week:

“I find it sad when others have to tear down people who are doing so well and helping others get ahead in life. It is hard enough at times just living life on your own terms. When you have someone who turns you down time into some horrible monster, they should be ashamed of themselves, as we all have a story or 2 or 3 that can be told. I for one have learnt so much from this group, and the support has been really great”. …Hold your heads high as you have a lot to be proud of. 
The old tall poppy syndrome! Sad but often true.”

If you, like me, want to take a stand against the destruction of yet another #TallPoppy, please #StandWithManaaki and show your support by sharing, speaking up, and telling the haters that this is not okay.

#StandWithManaaki – proud to be whanau

I am proud to be a member of the Manaaki whanau

In March 2020, when many small business owners saw their world falling apart, Manaaki.io stood up an army of volunteers, successful business people, mentors and advisors, to show their support for SME owners by answering their questions, providing advice, and just being there for them. I was (and still am) one of those “helpers”.

Motivated by a desire to help businesses survive, exhorted by the determined and passionate Andy Hamilton, we responded, often within hours, to desperate calls for help and advice. 

Could we save all those businesses – probably not. Did it help that we were there to listen, and suggest survival strategies – I do hope so, and the many, many messages of support on the Manaaki platform suggest that we made a difference (and continue to do so).

That was the genesis of Manaaki… and the platform for filling what in 2020 turned out to be the digital capability void in small business NZ. Vast swathes of retail businesses had no idea how to serve contactless coffee, promote and sell their goods and services online, email their customers, or even build a simple digital presence.

In March 2020, I stood up for Manaaki because I genuinely wanted to help, and because Andy Hamilton asked me to help. I have known Andy for more than a decade. While we have often disagreed on things, I know for sure that he is a good man, who has dedicated most of his working life to building a better New Zealand. When Andy asks, you KNOW it’s for a good cause.

In November 2022, I am standing up for Manaaki now because there are forces of evil out there who are trying to destroy them. A swirling torrent of rumour and innuendo, around what appears to be a business deal gone wrong, is literally sucking the lifeblood out of this incredible community. Thanks to the wider leakage of the Callaghan Innovation commissioned private investigator reports, the allegation of ‘unreasonable bullying’ is being played out in social, and now national media, with the founders of Manaaki the targets of this dirt-digging, value destroying campaign.

The fact that they have not been given details of the evidence against them is patently unfair, especially when “Confidential” reports have apparently been shared widely between government agencies, essentially black-balling them from any future contracts. THIS IS NOT OKAY. Everyone has a right to face their accusers; a right to defend themselves.

The personal attack by a national newspaper on Pat McFie late last week – to which he has responded in the article I’ve linked here – means that I can no longer stand by without raising my voice in their support.

If you, like me, are one of the many volunteers supporting the Manaaki kaupapa…

If you are one of those many SME owners who gained a faint ray of hope (or even some practical business-saving advice) from talking to us, or watching the many inspiring live interviews on IG celebrating business success…

If you are one of the  army of digital doers that Manaaki helped to create, supporting SMEs to go online…

Or if you simply believe that people, and organisations, should be judged by ALL their deeds, not just the things that went wrong, please join me, and #StandWithManaaki by making your support visible to the haters and the knockers.

I leave you with a quote from one of the many businesses that has benefited from Manaaki, posted in response to the current attacks on the organisation:

“It’s soo sad to see this in 2022! God bless you and your team as you navigate through this. I have experienced the impact of your program and today have an award winning business that was only possible through employing a graduate of your program. We’re here for you. Don’t give up!!!!”

We will not surrender

They say we buy gifts for others that we covet for ourselves – and that is indeed true of this painting.

Serendipity has a lot to do with it. When we found Keith and Tallulah, our wonderful housesitters, to look after Koki while we visited new grandbaby Alfred and his parents in London this year, little did we know that our diningroom would be transformed into an artist’s studio!

Tallulah calls this painting “I Surrender”, and I loved it from the very first photo she posted of the work in progress. As it developed, I knew I must have it.. So here it is, soon to be hung on our wall, with a message and a poem that I wrote to Peter for Christmas.

2021 - a poem for Peter from Debra

A year when the world surrendered to a pandemic. 

We surrendered our freedoms, our free will,  
our rights to the very things that make us human. 

The hugs, the shared laughter, 
the celebrations and the mournings. 

This surreal surrender emerges from the shadows, 
from the forest of fear they have built around our lives. 

We emerge not whole;  
as hollow beings with arms held high, 
searching to recover our loss. 

Emerging with determination, 
a resolve to live in the moment, 
ingesting the beauty to fill our transparent soul. 

We will not surrender. 
We will emerge, and be whole again. 

A Christmas gift from Debra to Peter,  
with love and eternal thanks for being at my side through this, the most difficult of years. 

An unforgettable year, in every possible way.

That, I think, is the only way to sum up 2021.  

Each time I’ve sat down to write my “Christmas letter”, I’ve been overwhelmed by the mish mash of conflicting memories, thoughts and feelings of a year with so much to celebrate, yet so very much to lament.

Asked recently to nominate my “word of the year”, I chose “languishing”, framed in this NYT article as the dominant feeling of the year.

Languishing is the neglected middle child of mental health. It’s the void between depression and flourishing — the absence of wellbeing.

Adam Grant, New York Times, April 19, 2021

With New Zealand’s borders remaining effectively closed – yes, even to our own New Zealand citizens abroad, apart from the lucky few who ‘score’ a ticket to hotel-based quarantine, and can afford to pay for it – there are more family than ever that we will be missing at our Christmas table this year.

It’s a global pandemic – I know this, and I’m deeply grateful for the early response in New Zealand and Australia that kept us safe while the scientists worked in truly miraculous ways to deliver not one but many vaccination (and now treatment) solutions.  What happened next in this part of the world has been bemusing, distressing and just plain dumb.  Bumbled efforts to get early access to the vaccines – explained away under the “be kind” mantra of allowing them to go to  other countries that needed them more than we did – meant we were late to the vaccination party, and virgin territory for the new variants that crept in during the year.

This allowed fear and misinformation to spread – making it harder to vaccinate vulnerable populations, and providing a rationale for even more fear-based government control of our lives.  Having grown up in a country where a regime ruled by fear, I recognise the signals.  The one line mantras, the orchestrated press conferences, the compliant media…  but then I take heart from the knowledge that at least our politicians are well-meaning, and that ultimately, New Zealanders are not genuinely as compliant and sheep-like as we have been made to appear in the past two year.  Hope springs eternal.

And while I fear the consequences of building public compliance on a culture of fear, I am paradoxically pleased that this has ultimately resulted in massive uptake of the vaccination when it did finally arrived, with over 90% of eligible New Zealanders now double vaxxed. A cause for celebration indeed.

There was also much to celebrate personally this year. 

Isabel & Matthew enjoying our Christmas decorations!

Isabel and Matthew – now 9 and 12 – took to home-based learning like the proverbial ducks to water, and both had stellar school years despite the challenges.  Lockdowns meant that we saw far too little of them in person, truly missing the hugs, the always interesting conversations  and the sleepovers.  

Alfred Ernest Hall arrived in March, a lockdown grand-baby, in London.  Having missed Rob & Jenna’s lockdown wedding last year, Peter and I set off on what was perhaps our most adventurous trip ever, navigating international travel in covid-times, to spend a glorious two months with them in London (with a side trip to Greece) midyear. 

Seeing your own children turn into amazing parents is perhaps one of life’s greatest joys, and both Pip & Howard, and Rob & Jenna continue to make us so very proud.  We are also deeply grateful that all of them have been able to continue working, in jobs that sustain them, not just financially, but emotionally as well.

The challenges of 2021 were many, with so little to be certain of, and so much damage all around us, at a global, societal and personal level. 

I did not cope well with lockdown – turns out that although I say I work from home, being forced to do so (as opposed to working from cafes, shared office spaces and other people’s offices) really does not work for me at all.  The real meaning of being an extrovert – taking your energy from interactions with other people – was laid bare, and I know I became that crazy woman, constantly outraged about something, large or small.

Through 107 days of lockdown in Auckland, I kept myself sane with the small challenge of writing a limerick each day. Some were good, some were truly awful – and some prompted friends and family to chime in with their own contributions. This taster from my last one on Day 107….

Thinking it seems, is a very lost art
So easy it is to deal just with one part
they taught us to fear
death of those we hold dear
at expense of society breaking apart

Worse than my first world angst, however, was the impact of lockdowns on Mum.  Aged care facilities were particularly fearful of the virus getting in, seemingly unaware of the devastating mental effects of isolation on their residents.  During much of the lockdown periods, residents were not even allowed to form small support groups to have a simple cup of tea or conversation with each other.  Technology challenges meant that video calls were difficult.  This took its toll on Mum’s cognitive function, and her quality of life.  And while things are better now we can see each other again – the long term damage remains.  Very sad.

My brother Don in Melbourne has been a pillar of support during this time – somehow, it’s been possible to grow closer despite the forced being apart.  With several trips to Auckland booked and then aborted at the last moment during the year, he hasn’t seen Mum, or his two children here, in almost two years, and will be missing out on being at his firstborn son’s wedding in March.  His lack of a NZ passport means he can’t come in, even if he did get an MIQ spot or the long-promised self-quarantine is introduced – that’s all for NZ citizens & residents only.

And so we head into our annual Christmas feast with depleted numbers, and with a firm resolve to live each day to its fullest.  In 2022, we will take our opportunities to do what we can when we can, especially things that bring us closer together.  We will accept unpredictable outcomes – and be flexible and agile in making our plans.  We will vaccinate, and self-test…  and be careful but not fearful. 

We will avoid stupid people like the plague – because they may actually be carrying the plague – and we will hug those we care about, in the knowledge that we and they are doing all we can to stay safe.

It will be a year of travel – cautious, unpredictable  travel, but travel nonetheless – as the world re-opens, with or without the Hermit Kingdom of Aotearoa.

From our whanau to yours, we wish you the merriest of merry Christmases, wherever you may be, and may all your wishes for 2022 come true.

Noho ora mai | Look after yourself

Debra

MIQ Day 14 – departure!

Saturday.

And just like that, it’s done.

For future inmates, you need to know that checkout is a process, with systems and paperwork.

We were at the “easy” end of the scale – not going far, someone to pick us (and our copious luggage) up at the appointed time. If you’re not isolating in your ‘final destination’, I believe they will organise transport for you, at least back to the closest airport (including flights).

You have a 15 minute slot in which to exit, and you must not leave your room before your transport has arrived, and it is the appointed time! In your room, you are asked to bundle up all the linen and towels into big plastic sacks, and not leave anything in the room – apart from your keys.

Some anxiety as the departure time loomed and the nurse still hadn’t appeared to do our final healthcheck. Without those forms, you’re not going anywhere. And a post-departure chuckle as I read the form more fully and noticed the “do you have joint pain” question – I’m assuming Peter’s consistent, persistent arthritis doesn’t count?

You’re on your own getting your luggage to the lift and down to the lobby – once there, the army guys are standing by to help, which was awesome. We had a LOT of luggage – 3 checked suitcases and 2 cabin suitcases, plus handbags, 2 bags of leftover food & drink (I wasn’t about to abandon my beautiful supply of cheese), the bucket of cleaning materials I’d bought to keep our space habitable, the bicycle, windtrainer (super heavy) and back with footpump and cycling shoes.

At the appointed hour, we ferried it all to the lift lobby on our floor, and then when Pip arrived, I held the lift door open while Peter packed everything in. It was a mission!

Paperwork completed in the room (including a health check from the nurse) to be handed in, passports presented (they have to be sure the right people are escaping), and then as you leave, put your mask in the bin, sanitise your hands and THEN exit the gate. Peter caused much consternation by choosing to put on a new mask – we all thought he’d forgotten to bin the ‘hotel-contaminated’ one… he was unco-operative, and only crossly explained when things got heated!

The only missing piece of the process was the bill. Because we chose to leave, knowing we would have to isolate on return, we have to pay for our two weeks in a 4 start hotel – apparently they will send the bill in the due course. Okay. At least the hotel made sure that we paid for all those barista coffees before we left.

And then, just like that, in the car and away we go… home sweet home! Hugs from Izzy and Matthew, hugs for Koki – the realisation that there is NOTHING in the fridge or pantry, so Uber Eats to the rescue (oh dear!)

And the million dollar question – was it worth it? Or put more directly, asked by Pip: “If MIQ is still a thing next year, will you go to visit Rob, Jenna and Alfie again?” My answer – “hell yes!” While I am hopeful that Fortress NZ will be a little less “fortress” this time next year, we simply don’t know. But having experienced the sense of mental wellness that has come from reconnecting with family, I can honestly say I would do it again without hesitation.

In the words of my good friend George, reflecting on the Mark Twain quote below, “Now I see why the world looks more prejudiced, bigoted and narrow-minded, after no overseas travel for about two years.”