Leadership Network member fostering diversity and inclusion behind bars

Working in inclusion and diversity for corrections in the South Island, Leadership Network member Kauri Tearaura helps prison staff to recognise and understand an individual's unique circumstances and needs. Kauri, who joined the network in 2022, travelled to Asia for the first time this year as part of the Leadership Network's Singapore Hui. They say the experience helped them feel more connected to the region and prompted them to reflect on their whakapapa.
Kauri talking to a woman

Kauri was part of the Leadership Network's 2022 intake and has thrown themself into network activities

In an organisation that by its very nature is designed to exclude, Kauri Tearaura is responsible for inclusion.

Confused? The 23 year old works for the New Zealand Department of Corrections – Ara Poutama Aotearoa.

For plenty of people that equates to prisons – designed to segregate people found guilty of breaking the law from the rest of society. 

But Kauri says its work is much broader than that.

“It’s actually out in the community - we have around 9000 people in prison across the country, and a total of 27,000 people on sentences out living in the world.” 

Within the organisation, Kauri works as a senior inclusion and diversity advisor, based in Ōtautahi - Christchurch. They look after the South Island, which has five prisons and up to 30 community probation service centres.

“When you think about diversity and inclusion, right, it's all about acknowledging and respecting each individual for their differences and creating an environment in which all of those differences can be respected equally – so that a person feels included, that they belong.

“A correctional service, a prison, for example, is a structure that's designed to exclude, and so on a fundamental level, it is actually at odds with diversity and inclusion as concepts.” 

Kauri arm in arm with three other people at the Tangata Moana Hui

Catching up with friends at the Tangata Moana Hui in Auckland

It makes Kauri's job interesting, and demands creative thinking, they say. 

Kauri’s work is predominantly staff focused.

“The thought behind that is that if we look after our people then our people are in a better position to look after prisoners and the people who we manage out in the community.”

Kauri is tasked with a huge responsibility – creating safe places for people who could be made to feel marginalised. It’s a feeling they understand intimately. 

“You know, being young, being Māori, being Pasifika, being takatāpui - a queer person, gender diverse – pick a struggle.

“It is really fulfilling that it is my job there to create a working environment that means that all of my identities, and more, everyone, gets to feel safe and that they belong.” 

There is a strong business rationale for an inclusive and diverse workplace, too.

“Businesses, organisations get to benefit from perspectives that they otherwise would not have either had represented or considered in the first place.

“And when diverse communities are represented (within the business or organsation), that means they are better able to serve those diverse communities that they are working with.” 

Kauri joined the Asia New Zealand Foundation’s Leadership Network last year, motivated by a curiosity for the ancient links between their cultures and Asia. 

“Through our ancestors, migration, that sort of thing - that’s what drew me in, I think, the prospect of learning more about my whakapapa.” 

They describe a trip to Singapore, hosted by the Foundation, as a “deeply spiritual experience”. 

“I wasn’t expecting it.” 

Kauri with four fellow Leadership Network members with the iconic skyline of Singapore behind them

Kauri says spending time in Singapore with the Leadership Network led them to ponder their whakapapa and connection to the region

They says they had perhaps expected the experience to be more clinical, or business-like. 

“I found that just in that week that I was there, I really felt a real connection to the people and the place and it made me reflect on my whakapapa and my journey with that.

“I was able to learn more about its history, its people, and have conversations with indigenous Malay people.”

Kauri wonders if there is untapped potential there. 

There’s vital high-level talks and trade missions, for sure, but perhaps “a second layer underneath that’s often neglected”. 

“The relationship or the potential for relationships between Māori and the indigenous people of the nations we are engaging with....I think that that is a really important thing.”

It was Kauri’s first trip to Asia, yet their first taste of the continent felt familiar, thanks to their Cook Islands Māori heritage.

“Stepping out into the world at Changi Airport you’re hit with this wave of humidity...the climate, the foliage....That helped to make me feel really at home.

“And, oh my god, there could be a whole other conversation about the food.” 

The manaakitanga, the hosting, the way kai was divvied up – it all fitted comfortably with their cultural traditions.

The Asia New Zealand Foundation Leadership Network equips New Zealand’s next generation of Kiwi leaders to thrive in Asia. We provide members with the connections, knowledge and confidence to lead New Zealand’s future relationship with the region.