A community focus through the pandemic

A community focus through the pandemic

Executive Master of Business Administration (EMBA) student Jennie Smeaton is a Ngāti Toa community leader with a passion for helping people get through the pandemic. In this myView post she talks about the mahi her iwi are providing in response to the latest COVID-19 outbreak and how her studies play a big part in helping her make a difference.

EMBA student Jennie Smeaton at a hui at Hongoeka Marae, Plimmerton the night level 4 lockdown was announced.

MyView: What’s your role with Te Rūnunga O Toa Rangatira?

Jennie Smeaton: I’m the Chief Operating Officer of Te Rūnunga O Toa Rangatira, the mandated iwi body for Ngāti Toa. We have a responsibility to our iwi members that whakapapa to Ngāti Toa and as manawhenua in the Wellington region have kaitiaki responsibilities that we undertake across our whole community. A couple of the areas where we provide outreach and support to our communities is through our health and social services arm, Ora Toa. This is the largest iwi led/Māori primary health care organization in Te Upoko o Te Ika.

MyView: How’s it been going for the community after the August COVID-19 outbreak?

JS: This level 4 lockdown has impacted whanau across our community differently this time round. We now have a vaccine and we have seen an increase in the whanau/aiga within the Porirua basin wanting to protect themselves and their whanau.

Through Ora Toa, the iwi has been at the very frontline of the response. We provide testing and vaccinations in Porirua. During the Level 4 lockdown we very quickly stood-up an additional COVID test site and ‘pop-up’ drive-thru vaccination site.

In addition to this we provide wrap around social service support to our iwi and wider community plus ensure that the work we do is communicated to our wider iwi population.

MyView: What’s the response of the community been like in Porirua?

JS: We have a high Māori and Pacific population and it’s important that they’re able to access the vaccinations. That’s one of the priority groups we’ve been working on vaccinating, particularly with the pop-up site. Our target is to have whanau Māori and Pacifica vaccinated with at least their first COVID shot.

Jennie meets with other Rūnanga staff helping with the COVID-19 alert level 4 response in Porirua.

MyView: What’s the turn out been like?

JS: Pretty phenomenal. The pop-up opened last week and we were able to do almost 1200 vaccinations across the two sites in one day some really impressive numbers. We’ve got a really dedicated team of health professionals, Rūnanga staff that have been re-deployed including a volunteer workforce.

MyView: And alongside this mahi, how does your study fit in?

JS: I’ve just finished the postgraduate certificate for business administration and I’m still studying for the full EMBA. I’m doing one of the MMBA papers at the moment, Change Leadership. The EMBA has helped me with my strategic thinking and to apply it in a number of settings. In regards to the COVID response – it has enabled quick, and I like to think rational, thinking in a somewhat reactive space.

MyView: How much more study do you have left? Do you enjoy a mix of study and work?

JS: Study will be ongoing. I’ll study and work for a long time. It’s good having access to the business school and being able to network with students that often come from diverse professional backgrounds. It’s not too uncommon to reach out to them outside of the ‘class’ setting. Study provides a different challenge to those faced in the workplace and I find the practical application of what I have learnt to my mahi very rewarding.   

MyView: During alert levels 1 and 2, do you go in person or do you learn online?

JS: I go in person. It’s good to be there with the whole class and hear from the other students and get their lived experience and how it all applies to whatever paper we’re studying. And the group work is learning in itself. I’m working with people, understanding how they work and adapting to be able to work in a group effectively.

MyView: Were you studying in the last lockdown? What advice have you got for other students who are learning online in this new lockdown?

JS: I started studying during COVID, I don’t mind online learning but my preference is kanohi ki te kanohi (face to face). The key is to put time aside. To maximise the benefits of online learning I’d recommend creating a network within your study group or cohort that you can regularly connect with to bounce ideas off. The beauty of the EMBA is the group work so you need to connect regularly which is often online.  I’ve been fortunate in the papers that I’ve done that we’ve had really good class leaders that are good at corralling the students and getting them to stay together and connected through either a Slack channel or a Teams group where we can stay up to date with what is going on. Really important in times such as COVID.

MyView: What do you like doing outside of study and work?

JS: Community based things—we live in Takapūwāhia, where my iwi Ngāti Toa is. We have a lot of activities that centre around our marae and our families here. We’re very active in our community wider than our work and study. Relationships and connections are very important.

Jennie Smeaton, Ngāti Toa, is studying for an Executive Master of Business Administration (EMBA) at Wellington School of Business and Government. She is the Chief Operating Officer of Te Rūnunga O Toa Rangatira, Ngāti Toa.

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