MW ARTICLE Helping Leadership Flower: Women inspiring women

They sit together in the grassy shade of Cornwall Park – the successful UK-born commercial lawyer in weekend casual and the Pacific Island teenager in bright Sunday best, red flower tucked in her dark hair. Adina Halpern and Luai Esera Maiava may come from very different cultural and socio-economic backgrounds but their mutual respect and regard for each other is very much in evidence as they work through this week’s goal-setting exercise.
Participants in the YWCA’s Future Leaders Programme, they have mentoring relationship that is now more than one year old. It is big commitment for both.
Luai is one of more than 60 young women from eight schools around Auckland chosen for the programme because they have considerable leadership potential that may not be realised without some outside support.
Adina’s role is to provide that support by acting in “community parent” role, providing advice, new experiences and useful contacts, presenting positive life choices and skills, helping improve study skills and with setting both short- and long-term goals.
They meet regularly, stay in touch by phone or text, share “activity days” organised through the programme and Luai’s progress is assessed monthly. The programme is regarded as unique in that it is both long term (four to five years) and tailored to meet the individual needs of each young woman with schools, students, parents/caregivers and mentors working together for the best outcome.
Mentors are mainly women who are successful in business and want to give something back – but this is far from being one-way street, more baton-passing exercise. What both Adina and Luai share is keen sense of social responsibility – desire to “give back” to the communities in which they live.

The mentor
Adina Halpern is no slouch. At 45, the former Buddle Findlay partner now runs her own commercial practice alongside being mum to three young children (two, five and six years old), mentoring, being on the Ministry of Health appointed Ethics Committee for research and innovative treatment, the Kadimah College board and, until recently, Mental Health Foundation trustee.
Her background includes degree from Cambridge University, where she was Fellow for couple of years, and several years’ work as lawyer and health issues lobbyist in the United Kingdom before she moved to join her husband in New Zealand eight years ago.
She volunteered for mentoring with the YWCA because she thought the programme was important and felt she might be able to add value to someone else’s life.
“I’ve been fortunate with mentors in my own life so I’m aware of the important role they can play and hoped I could do the same for someone else.”
It’s proved real learning experience.
“I now have an insight into whole different world – both in terms of what 16-year-old woman might find important and because Luai comes from different cultural matrix than I’ve experienced. She’s also been here [in New Zealand] lot longer than me.
“It’s been incredibly valuable for me to understand another part of my world, plus I have young children who’ll one day be facing some of the same issues as Luai now is – so you could say I’m getting an advance insight into what they may face in 10 years or so.”
Commitment to community is very much part of Adina’s makeup.
“I guess it’s something my parents always did and it seems like the right thing to do. What I love about this project is that it is about producing community leaders – so hopefully Luai will be leader for her community and give back to it.”

The mentee
Luai Esera Maiava is 16-year-old student at Edmund Hillary College. Born in New Zealand of Samoan, Tongan and Tokelauan heritage, she divides her time between her parents – and extended families in Otara and Penrose. Her goal – after getting herself to good university – is to work in the health sector.
“Right now I want to focus on one thing and that is medicine. Even if I want to be doctor I can, because I have all the subjects I need – and the medical world is very big one. I think there is real need for Pacific Island doctors because there are many Pacific Islanders who need to feel comfortable when talking to doctors – so they can give the right information, and things like that.”
She didn’t know about goal-setting before entering the programme but finds it really helpful to make her own dreams for the future more concrete.
“It’s different in that you put the goal on paper and see it every day and when you complete it, you can say you did it – and you have proof. When it is something in your head, only you know and you don’t have much support for it.”
Although she has the shy reticence of any teen when asked to talk about themselves (especially into dictaphone), Luai has an impressive sense of dignity and purpose for her age. She has also racked up lot of achievement in the past year.
Chosen to go on Spirit of Adventure trip, sailing from Auckland to Tauranga, she earned special award for having gained most benefit from the experience.
“It was cool trip. We went for 10 days and it was such culture shock because there were just three Pacific Islanders. The rest were Pakeha and mostly from the country. I had bit of closed mind about country people because I’m city person – I love the city.
“But I pushed myself lot on that trip. There was no bathing for nine days so we just jumped into the sea every morning.”
This was in September. Yes the water was still pretty cold, Luai agrees. She says she “learned lot” by holding back from taking dominant role within the group and instead watching how people responded to those stepping up to be leader.
“A quote I use – which was in my speech at the Leading Women’s cocktail evening, is that to lead, first you have to follow and that is what I learned from the Spirit trip.”
So the speech to bunch of high-powered women (a group that included Governor General Sylvia Cartright plus top businesswomen and sporting leaders) must have been bit of challenge?
“Not really,” grins Luai. “I love talking.”
That said, it is Adina who lists Luai’s other achievements – school awards, YWCA award for academic excellence, being named overall Future Leaders Student of the Year for 2004. (Adina picked up her own award for being ‘most dedicated mentor’ for 2004.)

The relationship
Adina makes no secret of her admiration and affection for her young mentee. Luai hasn’t had things handed to her on platter – her determination to succeed comes from within and she works at it. For example, lack of study space at home means that she buses to the library three times week to work.
“She puts so much into everything she does and is always prepared to try different things. I admire the way she has used all the various aspects of the programme – going to lectures arranged through AUT, the Spirit trip. She could just have gone as passenger but earned an award because she put so much into it.”
Because Luai missed out on some mentor attention during her first (fourth form) year on the programme, Adina has been very committed to putting in all the time and energy she can – driving out to Penrose or Otara every second weekend to listen, support and share Luai’s concerns and dreams.
“At first I think it was quite difficult for us both because Luai hadn’t got to know her first mentor very well and I felt on the back foot because the programme hadn’t really done as well by Luai as it should have. But I think the relationship has gone from strength to strength.
“In way it is very simple relationship because I’m here for Luai. I don’t have any other motives. I just want her to do well and am entirely focused on that. I get real buzz from what she’s achieving.
“I really want her to reach her potential and it is so hugely satisfying when I can see she’s really trying to do that. She is just an amazing person,” says Halpern.
A question to Luai about her motivation to do better earns fairly practical response.
“Yeah, I have to be

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