Purpose and the PhD Journey

Embarking on this journey of completing a PhD particularly about rangatiratanga (sovereignty, self-determination), through the Faculty of Business and Economics I am prompted to consider where the journey started. Where it started is one thing and I’ll go into that, but how to sustain focus for a number of years, and nail it, quite another. I have been at it already since March 2015 and being part-time it is all consuming of any spare time you have available. I don’t want to sound ungrateful because I chose this pathway and I am happy with my choice. Researching this kaupapa (topic) is what I have wanted to do since the nineties. But I didn’t know it would be such a challenging journey. I hope this small story does not put anyone off who might be thinking about it or who is already writing a thesis, but be prepared it has its moments. Rarely in life from my observations are there many instances when someone focuses on one thing so deeply, and for such a long period of time. In my case it will be six plus years by the time I am finished. All that said, I am ever so grateful for the great privilege it is to be researching rangatiratanga.

Working out your purpose as Simon Sinek talks about, is an important process. In preparing this blog I wondered how far does the purpose of this PhD go back? I am sure it must have started with my parents both of whom did not have the educational opportunities I have had. It was their many sacrifices that created the opportunities that I am enjoying now. We were raised out south in Manurewa and nobody I knew from there went to University. Thinking about it, not much about my schooling would have predicted my pathway to academia. Especially in that the PhD is focused on empowerment of Maori people, language and culture, and what that might mean in the entrepreneurial context. Looking back, I don’t think there was a lot about my schooling that helped me validate or promote those things, nor push me to do well academically. Or maybe it did because of that? Maybe it worked in the other way, because not a lot was covered at school, it made me hungrier when I was finally learning about myself and who I am as Māori.

I think my PhD purpose was shaped by travel. I spent my early twenties travelling Europe, South America and Africa, where I got the first inkling go to university because my fellow travellers had a degree. Travel also sparked my interest in Māori language because I was asked questions that I so often could not answer. Upon my return four years later, I was prompted to join the full immersion Māori language revitalisation group Te Wānanga Reo Rumaki and later became involved with Te Kawau Maro a political activist group that grew out of the former group. Te Kawau Maro and being pro-Māori introduced me to advancing rangatiratanga. We had opposed the government’s Fiscal Envelope plans in the mid-nineties. These two groups and the amazing people involved in those activities pushed me towards the PhD because it was a period of conscientisation. I also had Dr Cherryl W. Smith as role model in the group who had started her doctorate journey back then.

After graduating university, I left the country again to become an English teacher in Korea. I realised that the tino rangatiratanga movement was very reactive in nature and required the ability to stop, plan and be proactive. This is something I spent a lot of time thinking about in my down time. The theme was a familiar one from management studies the focus of my Commerce degree. Leaving the country affirmed I was ready for a break and in need of the international perspective again. It was a chance to drop the baggage we carry as Maori when living in Aotearoa and be anonymous taken at face value. I embarked on a journey of learning to be a teacher, another theme that has been important to my doctoral studies. It meant that I missed the next wave of activism fighting for the Foreshore and Seabed, but it also gave rise to the next generation of activists.

Whilst living and travelling in Asia for six years I learned about the danger of rapid, dynamic change in a country and its effect on the family and culture. The cultural practices that once held the country together were starting to see the cracks of capitalism seep through. These things piqued my interest. On the upside I witnessed industriousness and the entrepreneurial spirit of the Asian people. With very little they were making the most of their opportunities and taking risks to have tino rangatiratanga and be their own boss. This is where I started my own entrepreneurial venture teaching English privately. Being my own boss seemed like it was a form of self-determination. Was this entrepreneurial self-determination a form of tino rangatiratanga?

These things must have led me to my PhD enquiry and think about, what part business and entrepreneurship plays and could play in the realisation of tino rangatiratanga?  Furthermore, what part do activist/ kaupapa driven type entrepreneurs have to play in realising tino rangatiratanga?  Four years into the PhD journey, lots of reading, listening and writing, I’m slowly starting to understand what my purpose is in this journey. Of course, there are the ‘greater good’, and ‘doing it for the people’ purposes, which on the good days is nice to think about. But when it comes to the slog and needing to write even when you do not want to, or cannot string a sentence together, it is the purpose closer to home that counts. It is for myself, firstly! It is an achievement to better myself, to learn more, and contribute to others, even if it is in a small way. It is for my family members that did not get the same opportunities, and for the entrepreneurs interested in tino rangatiratanga too. On the hard days it is that smaller connection to my personal goals that gets me out of bed and at the screen again. It is a great privilege to be on the journey. It is good to sit back and reflect on what has led me to this time and space. Time to work on the ‘nailing it’ bit now!!!!


  1. hinekuraHInekura

    Ka rere tonu nga mihi nui ki a koe Abi. I enjoy your insightful reflections on the WHY of your journey. Often when things are tough I need to return to my WHY to find the motivation to continue contributing, pushing on and through yet holding tightly to those threads that connect me the the whakaapa of my journey. Your work is important. Your writing is moving. With those two things (and many, many more strengths) you will get this done and it will be amazing.

    Liked by 1 person

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