Born in Tokoroa and hailing from Aitutaki, Cook Islands, Researcher John Natua says being part of the Pacific Economy Research Project has been invaluable, leading to new cultural knowledge and lifelong friendships.
Led by the Ministry for Pacific Peoples (MPP) Research and Evaluation team, the Pacific Economy Research Project aims to better understand the Pacific informal economy, with a particular focus on exploring the type of unpaid productive work and volunteering that contribute to wellbeing and wealth development in New Zealand.
Little is known about Pacific peoples’ contribution to the New Zealand economy through unpaid work and other activities, and John says it has been a privilege to delve deeper into this focus topic.
With a public health background and experience in health promotion and community development, John is currently a PhD Candidate at the University of Waikato, and a Senior Researcher for Moana Research.
“Moana Research is a consulting agency based in Mangere, Auckland and my roles include Project Lead for Pacific Fathers’ Health and Cook Islands Population, Facilitator, and Support Lead for other projects,” John says.
John joined the Pacific Economy Research Project after his colleague, good friend and co-Principal Researcher for the project Dr Seini Taufa recommended his services to the group.
“There was a need for a Cook Islands Researcher to complement the other eight ethnic Pacific researchers in the project – as a result I joined the project as the Community Researcher for the Cook Islands communities,” John explains.
His role has included engaging with Cook Islands communities across Aotearoa, facilitating focus groups and individual interviews, collating the data, and providing cultural advice and strategies for community engagement.
“It has been a real privilege and honour to work alongside other Pacific researchers, who brought their own unique ethnic approach to the project, humour, empathy, and a real passion for Pacific communities,” John says.
“I have learnt about cultural frameworks such as the Kakala and Turanga Maori, however, what I gained the most from the project, was lifelong friendships.”
To collect data for the project, the team is asking Pacific people to take part in a survey - the largest survey on the topic of unpaid work in New Zealand to be undertaken - after which information will be collated.
Further input from Cook Islands individuals and families is currently being sought.
“The project provides an opportunity for Pacific families to share their stories and experiences of unpaid and voluntary work,” John says.
“We know our families spend many hours and, in some cases, money, towards unpaid, voluntary work – and because these are lived experiences, the information collated from their stories are rich (and raw) and will contribute significantly to the overall research project.”
At the end of the project, John hopes New Zealanders will have a better understanding and appreciation of Pacific peoples’ voluntary contribution to the New Zealand economy.
“It is important all the stories are captured in the final report, and future government policies are truly supportive of this valued workforce.”