Andrea (Kiwi-Samoan) creates immersive Māori and Pasifika stories using innovative digital technologies, as Co-founder and Chief Creative Officer at Vaka Interactiv.
What do you do on an average work day?
Tālofa lava! You may have heard the saying ‘the struggle is real’. For me, each work day, the juggle is real! As a founder in a small team, there’s always lots to do, plenty of people to meet and stories to hear and write. Working in the Creative Technology space allows every day to be completely different, which keeps it interesting and lots of fun.
Some days, I’ll be out speaking to college students, in and out of virtual meetings with the team, creating and managing creative briefs with our artists, animators and illustrators or I’ll flip between creative script writing and drafting contracts and memorandums of understanding.
What did you study at school? And after high school?
While I was in school, there wasn’t a rhyme or reason behind the subjects I chose. One year, I studied biology and art, the next year, statistics and accounting and in my final year, media studies and psychology. But in amongst the random, there were two constants - English and History.
After high school, I went to the University of Auckland to study law. In your first year of study at UoA, if you wish to study law, you have to pick up a conjoint degree - as they only offer two Stage 1 Law papers. So I picked up a Bachelor of Arts with no intention of continuing beyond first year - and chose classes that seemed interesting to me; Pacific Art History, Pacific Dance, Te Reo Māori and Spanish, Te Ao Māori (Māori Worldview) and even a Computer Science class as my General Education paper.
I was three years into my tertiary study before my family life completely changed. My wonderful Uncle Fata Uili Kapeteni, our family matai and grandparent’s main caregiver, passed away tragically in Samoa. I still remember the day my parents sat us down to break the news, and their decision to step up and move home to care for Mama and Papa.
I dropped out of Uni, started working full-time for the ANZ Bank and part-time at St Cuthbert’s College to financially support my family. To this day, I have no regrets, but I do have four semesters left to complete my law degree. I’m working on getting back into study soon!
Was your study directly related to what you do now?
Funnily enough, the supplementary classes I took in my first year at university ‘for fun’ are the most relevant to what I do now with Vaka Interactiv. Pacific Art History, Te Ao Māori and Te Reo Māori and Computer Science seemed like such a random selection for an 18 year old in her first year of Uni wanting to crack law school.
Fast forward several years (and several KGs), and here I stand, in a business trying to help people connect to Māori and Pacific tāonga, stories and culture using innovative technologies.
What would you like to share with young women who are thinking about their career choices right now?
Take your time trying to understand what really makes your heart soar. Every career choice comes with challenges, so your ‘why’ will help you get through the rough patches.
Be fierce, and be flexible! Open to change, growth and failure, and block out the haters. So, you’re the only teine in your engineering class? All good! If you know that’s where you’re meant to be, then own your space, girl!
What are some of your career highlights so far?
A couple of weeks ago, students from the Pacific Advance Secondary School (PASS) in Otāhuhu came to Wellington. We were invited to share a meal and discuss our mahi at a mix and mingle evening in the Mahuki Space in Te Papa. As a thank-you, the students spoke, sang and danced in Samoan and Tongan, and performed a powerful Haka. Being on the receiving end of such a rich and beautiful tribute is one of my highlights so far.
Why do you believe engaging in science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) is important to New Zealand?
The world economy is changing, and many jobs that were around only a few decades ago are being replaced or reduced with the rise of technology. An example of this are the self-checkouts at my local Countdown, Pak n Save, and my happy-place, Kmart. We’ve gotta keep up with what’s happening in STEM, or we’ll find ourselves left behind.
Why is it important to have more women working in STEM?
I believe we need more women in STEM, business and politics - all areas that shape the world we live in.
The status quo just isn’t cutting it, and we need better representation across the board. Nothing will change or improve if we have the same old viewpoints of yesterday perpetuated.
More women, especially more Pasifika and Māori women, will bring to the table a wider variety of voices, perspectives and experience to shape the tomorrow of our fanau.
Andrea is one of four co-founders and the Chief Creative Officer at Vaka Interactiv, a Māori and Pasifika Digital Business creating the future of storytelling technologies. A proud Kiwi-Samoan from the villages of Afega, Sale’aula and Mahia Road, Manurewa. At Vaka Interactiv, she oversees the content creation process, cultural research and compliance. She and her husband, Sione, have recently moved from the City of Sails to the Coolest Little Capital in the World and are expecting their first child, a baby girl, later this year.
Read the profile for Kaveinga Lisati, Vaka Interactiv's Chief Operations Officer.
This profile is part of our series of girls and women in STEM.
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