Phil Kupenga, Creator of the Tairawhiti Tech Talent Incubator
From police officer to inspiring the next generation of Māori into tech careers, Phil Kupenga, Creator of the Tairāwhiti Tech Incubator is someone that is not just talking about diversity, he has rolled up his sleeves and set to work.
We caught up with Phil to learn more about his own career journey, as well as the important work he has been doing in Tairāwhiti over the past couple of years and most importantly, how can others in the tech community can support their efforts.
Phil’s early career was with the New Zealand Police, before embarking into the field of Business Analysis where he’s spent the last 13 years. After building a solid foundation with the Department of Corrections, New Zealand Trade and Enterprise and Inland Revenue he formed his Consultancy business “Next Chapter” in 2013.
Since then he has been utilising his expertise engaged as a contract Business Analyst Consultant for a range of government departments in Wellington for the past 8 years. This has seen him work on a range of both Information Technology (IT) and complex business projects. Gisborne born and bred with strong Ngāti Porou and Te-Whānau-ā- Apanui connections he is passionate about getting more Maori into technology as a career choice.
This has seen him return to his hometown of Gisborne in 2020 with the support of Ministry of Social Development, Dev Academy and Taiki E, to provide a programme that trains the local community to gain advance digital skills (coding), with the goal of getting them employment in the region. Phil is passionate about this kaupapa and getting more diversity into the Aotearoa Tech industry.
Firstly, how would you explain to a five-year-old what you do?
My current role is Orawa Tairāwhiti Managing Director, Orawa Tairāwhiti and my purpose is an audacious goal of building a Tairāwhiti (Gisbourne) Tech workforce.
If I was explaining to a five-year-old I would say my job is to sell a dream of the great things we could build and the possibilities.
Was working in tech something you dreamed about doing when were younger? If not, what was?
No, I never knew about tech and the jobs associated with it. I was a Police Officer and took two years of leave without pay and got a role as a Business Analyst (BA) at the Department of Corrections in 2008.
I was introduced to considering a role as a BA by my wife who had recently become an IT Recruiter (a new industry for her as she had been in Sports Admin, for most of her career). The rest they say is history. I hustled hard and went contracting in 2013 and have never looked back.
“I quickly noticed that there weren't many Maori in information technology roles...”
Tell us a little bit more about your career journey and ultimately how you ended up at Tāiki E?
Since 2008, I have been employed as a BA on numerous Software Development life cycle projects and I have worked in a variety of different organisations.
I quickly noticed that there weren't many Māori in information technology roles in Wellington and changing that became my passion.
Around this time, the Ka Hao fund (a fund for initiatives to increase participation of Māori in tech) had come out. After applying and failing to get funding, I saw one of the successful applicants was a group called Dev Academy. They had money to give out Māori scholarships.
I reached out to Dev Academy’s CEO, Rohan Wakefield and started the conversation on whether Dev Academy would consider setting up in Gisborne. At that stage, they had only the physical buildings and no online offering (which changed during Covid).
They were reluctant to set up in Gisborne as they wanted to guarantee jobs, which was a classic chicken and egg scenario.
In the background, I was invited by MSD in Wellington who were looking at initiatives that can be used in the regions, that got communities into high valued employment. Orawa was developed with three other Directors and MSD funded us, enabling me to start up my programme in Gisborne 2020.
At this stage, Dev Academy had developed an online offering and we struck up a partnership. We have got off MSD funding and the partners of Dev Academy and Tāiki E (where my students sit) are running the programme.
“Tairawhiti region has 77% of our community who live in 8 to 10 deprivation levels.”
For people unfamiliar with Tāiki E, what is Tāiki E and what is the problem you are trying to address?
Tāiki E is the first Tairāwhiti impact house which has the slogan of” kick-starting the Aroha Economy”.
This is an economy that believes that the greatest gift is to serve people and whenua. It is generous, generative and generational. We see that entrepreneurship and tech capability will get our community out of poverty. Tairāwhiti region has 77% of our community who live in 8 to 10 deprivation levels.
Our vision for the tech programme is that we build a strong tech capability in our community and join it with the entrepreneurship capability we are growing. We want to have our own companies that use our greatest asset, our Maori cultural capital and creativeness. We want to be an example for our country and the world.
“My ask from the tech community is if you believe in this kaupapa and want to help, we need help in developing our tech capability.”
How can others in the tech community in Aotearoa help right now?
We know that this will take time for our community to know they can enter and thrive in tech, but we have to start somewhere.
My ask from the tech community is if you believe in this kaupapa and want to help, we need help in developing our tech capability.
We have graduates who need experience in becoming solid developers. Are you open to taking on some junior developers remotely as interns or full time?