10 Questions: Gina Rangi

In a tweet sent in 2015, Gina Rangi (Ngati Raukawa, Ngati Tuwharetoa) joked that her superpower was “making beautiful babies”. That may be true, but it’s one of a long list of achievements. After beginning her legal career at Russell McVeagh, Gina has gone on to become a well-respected Treaty of Waitangi settlement negotiator, develop her own consultancy and hold a diverse portfolio of governance roles. She lives in Rotorua with her husband and three children.

1. Where did your career begin?

“When I was growing up I was always a stalwart in the kitchen at my marae. It’s a great training ground because that’s where you learn to work in a team, you learn about the marae hierarchy, you work out how to take the initiative within your role and you’re all volunteers. You can be catering for a group of 50 people or 400, so you have to be ready for all possibilities.

“When I was at university my iwi contracted me to support two consultation programmes for the Raukawa Trust Board. Both meant that I was going out to marae, taking notes and explaining issues. They did that really deliberately to expose me to a wide variety of marae and to the kaumatua.

“Then when I graduated as a lawyer I went to the Auckland law firm Russell McVeagh to join the Māori legal team. As a young lawyer, that was an incredible opportunity and it gave me a level of professional expertise and credibility.”

2. What's helped you get to where you are today?

“The support of my community has been so important. I have had a lot of privileges – I went to a Maori boarding school, then to university – because my whanau and my marae supported me through all of it. I worked hard, because I love my community and I want it to succeed; and also because I had an obligation to give back to people who had given me so much even though they had so little themselves.”

3. How did you get into governance?

“When I was 22 I was made an associate trustee of the Tuaropaki Trust, which is a Māori land trust formed by 50-odd families in the Mokai area who had pooled their land together. There is about 2000 hectares, made up of farmland and (since the 1990s) a geothermal power station. The trustees knew me through my work within the marae, and they knew I had professional expertise as well. I’d done the strategic plan for the marae and they knew me as someone who was passionate about the community. They wouldn’t have asked me if I hadn’t been involved at the community level. Trustees are appointed for life, and all the others – five men and one woman – were all in their 60s and older. It was a total privilege to sit alongside them. They always involved me in decisions; they wanted me to be a part of the team. A year later, they nominated me to become a full trustee and I was unanimously appointed by all the owners.”

4. How do you define leadership?

“Leadership is all about service. If you are not serving a kaupapa or community, you’re not doing it for the right reasons. You’ve got to have something that’s bigger than you, or it’s not leadership.”

5. What's the most valuable advice you've ever received?

“I once asked my uncle, a highly experienced company director and trustee, why he always treated me as an equal when I was so inexperienced and only in my early 20s at the time. I was genuinely interested, I suppose because he was in his late 60s and from a different era. His answer was powerful: “When you speak, you represent the owners who elected you. I respect you because I respect them.” That made a real impact on me. Women in roles of responsibility have a duty to speak up on behalf of the people we represent. And we have a right to be respected.” 

6. What do you do when things don’t go to plan at work?

“In the sort of work that I do, you are butting your head against the law all the time, and New Zealand law is, on the whole, not friendly to Māori aspirations. You challenge that status quo anyway because it's the right thing to do and you don’t always expect to win. You are challenging big issues because of a principle that matters and sometimes your job is simply to hold the line, even if you are on a hiding to nothing. If you are aligned with your values and principles, then you can cope better if when things don’t go your way because you have done the right thing, in the right way, for the right reasons.”

7. What advice would you give your younger self?

“When I was younger I was much more of a bridge builder, much more of the sort of person who would work hard to bring everyone together. I got really good at couching my opinion so it would be politically acceptable to those around me. I think it was a confidence issue – I was very young when I got into governance and I would sit back and observe before I said what I thought.

"Now, I wish that in my 20s I had been more upfront about things that concerned me. I think that I held back my opinions too often. As I have got older I’m much more willing to hold the line or express my opinions on really difficult or sensitive issues. But I feel like I haven’t had enough practice! If I’d started earlier I think I’d be better at it.”

8. What are you most proud of?

“On a personal level, I’m most proud of my children. They’re pretty awesome! On a professional level, I haven’t done it yet. I’ve still got lots of things I want to achieve.”

9. Who is a woman you admire - and why?

“I really admire my aunty Ngaire George, who has sadly passed away. She was on the Tuaropaki Trust at the same time as me, plus she was the chair of our marae and the chair of the Tuwharetoa Settlement Trust. She was an absolutely ethical woman. She was undeviating in her advocacy for our tribe and our marae. I admire her for her strength, her honesty and the respect she had for others. It’s really difficult to tell people things they don’t want to hear in a way that they still respect you, but she could do it.”

10. How do you want to be remembered?

“As someone who loved my community and who was fully a part of it."

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