Affirming Works CEO up for the challenge

posted: 9:00 am - 11th December 2017
Ann Helen 4

Being awarded a Ministry for Pacific Peoples’ Prime Minister’s Pacific Youth Award in 2013 has altered Ann-Helen Nu’uali’itia’s (nee Rasmussen) perspective of great leadership.

Encouraged by “persistent” university programme leaders to apply, then Bachelor of Education student at the University of Auckland Ann-Helen (pictured) took a leap of faith, applied for the Awards, and won the Leadership category.

“The Award assisted financially towards my Honours degree that looked at how educators’ values influence their approaches to teaching,” Ann-Helen says.

“My learnings from study combined with work experience have definitely changed my mentality of what leadership looks and feels like,” Ann-Helen says.

“While study is great, nothing beats practical experience on the ground, and post-awards, and I saw that first-hand when I started working in the community.

“Meeting various people who have consistently given back to their families and communities for years really ground you.”  

In 2014, Ann-Helen began doing administration at Affirming Works, which supports the Pasifika community in Auckland, through a combination of mentoring services, programmes and social enterprise, while completing her studies.

When she finished studying, the opportunity to become a Programme Manager arose, and in October 2016, the born leader was appointed Chief Executive Officer at the tender age of 26.

Of Samoan (New Zealand) descent, Ann-Helen says the most rewarding part of her role is being able to meet people, walk alongside them and witness them go through different stages and phases of life.

“Through my role I get to (directly and in-directly) support young people and their families to co-create avenues that lead to what they view as being successful in life.

“Affirming Works (AW) founded by Emeline Afeaki-Mafileo, has been established in South Auckland for almost 17 years now.

“It’s a privilege to add my flavour to the existing resource, opportunities and connections that AW has available to improve accessibility for whole-families.

“Promoting social connectedness between young people and their families to the wider community is key.”

 Affirming Works is purposed to support Pacific young people and their families, but Ann-Helen finds herself questioning who really helps who.

“My parents did it with eight kids but I’m always blown away by parents’ resiliency to work hard and raise their children all at the same time.

“I’m also so encouraged by the level of talent, skill and zeal shown by young people when given the right kind of opportunity, support and development to sustain their success.”

Challenges come with the territory of being a CEO, and Ann-Helen adds the most challenging part of her role is using this platform to influence positive change that is real and sustainable. 

“We sometimes think we can do it alone but we work best as a collective – that is how we are as Pacific peoples. 

“At Affirming Works, we are a small but extremely vibrant team that loves the grass-roots work, and the constant challenge of providing services that are innovative, relevant and pioneering.”

There are many individuals like Emeline, Judy Mataia, Sully Paea to name a few, as well as great organisations that have served Pacific community for years so well-aligned partnerships have been such a big part of approaching the challenges we face, Ann-Helen adds.

“I actually said it in my acceptance speech in 2013, and I will again, ‘it takes a village to raise a child’.

“We all stand on the shoulders of giants whether it be giants in home-life, work, or education - we have a core group of people we look up to and go to regularly for wise counsel and advice.”

Mentors are important in life, and Ann-Helen says she has had many great ones to help her get to where she is today and overcome challenges - her parents and siblings that put her in her place when needed; colleagues that walk alongside her; and an amazing team at Affirming Works that teach me something new every day.

“Ultimately, a principle I like to stand on during the most testing challenges is no experience, opportunity or mistake is ever in vain if you learn from it. His promise will never return void.”

For those talented young Pacific youth considering applying for the Prime Minister’s Pacific Youth Awards, Ann-Helen says just do it.

“Why not apply? I applied in 2012, and did not win but asked for feedback on how I could improve the following year.

“On reflection, I was really hesitant about applying again of course, but I did my homework, got some support in the areas I needed and applied again in 2013 when I was successful.

“Remember if it’s uncomfortable, it’s more than likely stretching you for the better.”

Applications for the 2018 Prime Minister’s Pacific Youth Awards open now. Apply HERE