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Arihia Bennett – Chief Executive of Te Rūnanga o Ngāi Tahu

Arihia Bennet 
Chief Executive of Te Rūnanga o Ngāi Tahu

In January, Arihia Bennett welcomed our full school community, to the new school year, at the St Margaret’s Pōwhiri and was blown away by what she saw.

Arihia, the first female Chief Executive of Te Rūnanga o Ngāi Tahu, attended St Margaret’s in the 70’s; a time when recognition of iwi and Māori culture was almost nil. She recalls only one teacher pronouncing her name correctly during her four years at St Margret’s and remembers attending allocution lessons to develop the ‘St Margaret’s girl plum posh accent’ during lunch while her friends enjoyed custard squares from the tuck shop.

The Pōwhiri, she says, was over whelming and a far cry from days gone by; seeing the whole school – parents, girls, teachers – coming together and welcoming cultural diversity with such poise and respect was an experience she admits, left her speechless.

Reflecting on her journey after St Margaret’s, she confesses she is fiercely independent but looking back and talking to a younger Arihia, she says, if she could, she’d encourage herself to find coaches, supporters and mentors who believed in her enough to see the good, bad and the ugly and still stand by her.

She encourages our young women to build their sense of courage and confidence as early as possible. The professional world can be highly male dominated and one of the potential set backs she has experienced is the fear and anxiety of being surrounded by a number of males. ‘If you are well equipped with knowledge and information – you are competent – all you need is the confidence and courage to expound and articulate that information.’

However, these three ‘C’s’ are nothing without compassion and character. No matter how difficult or how great the situation, Arihia talks of knowing how to stand in another person’s shoes and not lose yourself along the way.

‘As you move into leadership positions or into a challenge, happiness really matters – it reduces the fear and brings a sense of calmness. In a highly judgemental society it is imperative to surround yourself with people who care and no matter the context remember to have character, be confident, courageous, competent and compassionate and enjoy yourself.’