An olive tree on a bare section in Plimmerton was the unlikely inspiration for executive coach and mentor Mena Antonio to live in Wairarapa.
Now she has her own olive orchard and meets Aucklanders who say they’d love to trade places with her.
“I was working in Wellington, with two young children, and we realised we wanted to have that lifestyle in Wairarapa,” says Mena. The family settled east of Masterton, becoming early adopters of the olive tree craze. This year they had a bumper crop, doubling their harvest of table and oil olives from last year.
But right now, Mena’s main focus is her work as an executive leadership coach, facilitator and mentor in her own business The Diaspora Way - “a self-leadership navigation system to help people connect with their core purpose at home and at work”.
“I’ve got a strong desire to help people be the best they can be,” says Mena. “It’s a buzz seeing people performing at their full potential and the flow on positive impact in their community and relationships.”
Last year she was awarded a prestigious Tindall Foundation Pacific Scholarship to attend the year-long Global Women Break Through Leadership Programme 2016. Established in 2009, Global Women is a New Zealand organisation that champions the role of women and cultural diversity at management level. This intensive course sees her travelling to Auckland for a week once a month for workshops, seminars and networking.
“At first I wondered‚‘What the hell am I doing here?’ among some of New Zealand’s top business women and executives. But I’ve found that I have a lot to contribute because of my community background and cross-cultural experience. Some have said they’d love to be living in the country instead of the ‘rat race’!“
Mena’s parents immigrated to New Zealand from Samoa in the 1960s. “They modelled a hard work ethic and were active with their church community. Speaking no English, my mother cleaned offices in Wellington when we were little and later went on to open a Samoan language nest after graduating with a diploma in early childhood education. We were proud of her,”says Mena. Her father was a lay clergyman and worked as a Watersider in the capital.
After high school, Mena spent five years in the New Zealand Army and qualified as a lawyer, becoming the first in her family to graduate from university. Her first job in Wairarapa was at Toi Wairarapa, the arts advocacy group where she spent three years. She has also trained with the NZ Institute of Directors and sits on boards associated with health, social housing, community funding and the arts. In 2013 she was elected as a Masterton Licensing Trust Trustee, one of only two women to hold this role in 30 years.
There have been many challenges along the way, as a woman, a New Zealand-born Pacific Islander and moving from the corporate world to raise her daughters in a rural town. “I know how it feels to stand outside of the mainstream, and straddle multiple cultures. I can relate to Michelle Obama’s speech on having to be ‘twice as good’! The message is both inspiring and a burden,” she says.
But this is only adding to her effectiveness in her business. “People are trying to find a way to operate in this chaotic world and I help them become more mindful about the patterns that keep coming up for them, own their part in what is happening around them, and become accountable for their issues.”
Mena works with young people, people going through life changes such as women re-entering the workplace, and Maori and Pacific women in management roles. She’s currently facilitating a retreat for a group of local businesswomen: “They are all friends who wanted to have a weekend away together but also wanted to make the time meaningful so they are going to explore what they are facing in their lives and how they can help and support each other.”
“When people connect with their ‘true self’ they get clearer, communicate purposefully and gain inner confidence which is really appealing. Authentic people are effortless to be with,” she says.
Mena is also carving out a niche helping organisations develop “cultural intelligence” and increase diversity at management level: “Diversity is linked to positive economic performance and is actually an advantage in business, something the Government’s chief economic and financial adviser Gabriel Makhouf has recognised.”
“I help organisations connect with the huge, largely untapped consumer base of Pacific and ethnic communities, and communicate effectively in this space.”
Maori and Pacific women need to take their place at the decision table, says Mena: “Pacific people inherently understand social enterprise. We bring a collaborative approach to leadership and an incredible richness to the mix.”
Something the Global Women high flyers have been finding out this year, thanks to Mena. www.thediasporaway.co.nz.