Shannon speaking at this year's Japan Hui
His introduction to judo piqued a curiosity with Asia, and before long Shannon was learning conversational Mandarin through the Confucius Institute at the University of Canterbury.
“I’ve got an inherent curiosity to learn.
“The countries that I spent time in were very similar to New Zealand’s culture, especially within rugby circles.
“I was cognitive of the fact that I hadn’t really had too much exposure to Eastern cultures.
“I realised the growing importance China was playing, especially for New Zealand’s economic relations, and thought I wouldn’t do myself any harm trying to understand a bit of Mandarin.”
Shannon was born in Invercargill but his whakapapa is Ngāi Tahu and Ngati Kahungunu, in Hawke’s Bay.
A scholarship from Ngāi Tahu helped him attend Lincoln University, where he graduated with a property degree.
He’s worked with the iwi ever since, grateful they left the door open for him after his stints overseas playing rugby.
He joined the Leadership Network five years ago, following his nose after stumbling across an Asia New Zealand Foundation quiz online during a lunch break.
He considers himself fortunate to have experienced offshore hui in China, Japan and Korea during his time with the network.
“There’s no substitute for getting your head around a foreign culture than being dropped in the deep end.”
And the best tour guides? Other members of the network, he says.
“You know they’ve got experience of those cultures themselves. They step up and take the lead, and that’s quite empowering to be around – seeing your peers take on that leadership role.”
Shannon: "The Ainu are on a similar journey to Māori in terms of cultural revitalisation"
Shannon, who is a member of the network's te kahui Māori (Māori advisory group), has also taken a leadership role, being involved with the Asia New Zealand Foundation Te Whītau Tūhono rebrand and the Te Ao Māori Hui in Waitangi in June.
Too long the poorer partner to the Treaty, Māori culture is increasingly being embraced, something Shannon’s stoked to see.
However, if it’s seen only as a matter of internal affairs, it’s a wasted opportunity, he says.
“You don’t find Māori anywhere else in the world.
“ Māori are unique to Aotearoa New Zealand, so why would you not value that just as equally when you’re promoting yourself around the world to other cultures.”
Through travel opportunities with the network, Shannon has made lasting connections with the Ainu from the island of Hokkaido in northern Japan.
“I’ve always had a vested interest in indigenous cultures, minority cultures, and I guess that stems from my Māori whakapapa.
“The Ainu are on a similar journey to Māori in terms of cultural revitalisation…They’ve gone through the process of being labelled as a dying race…having only a handful of native speakers still alive.
“Given that Māori have been through that journey, it’s our obligation to help them through their journey too, as they focus on revitalising the culture, and see them become a strong and independent people.”
Shannon with the Foundation's Māori adviser Tania Te Whenua (left) and Hokimoana Te Rika-Hekerangi (centre) at the gifting ceremony for the Foundation's Māori name: Te Whītau Tūhono
Has he grown in confidence as a leader as a result of his experiences with the network? The answer, unequivocally, is yes, he says.
“To the point where I’ve been working in conjunction with Ngāi Tahu Tourism, who are looking at exploring commercial opportunities with the Ainu.”
The 20 years of commercial experience Ngāi Tahu Tourism has under its belt is invaluable, he says.
“So, we’ve had a few discussions with the Ainu in terms of assisting them with developing their story and their brand on their own doorstep in Hokkaido.
“My experience with the Asia New Zealand Foundation certainly helped facilitate that.”