Common Purpose / 28 November 2023

Ka mua, ka muri. Move Into The Future Looking At The Past: Dr. Hinemoa Elder On What Global Leaders Can Learn From This Māori Proverb

"Knowing the history of a place, and the multiple intersecting histories of our globe is a skill that all global leaders need to practice."

The world as we know it is ever-changing. It is complex, it is challenging, and it is often chaotic. Being a leader in this world isn’t straightforward – Dr. Hinemoa Elder, a child and adolescent psychiatrist, patron of non-profit charity Share My Super and board member of the Helen Clark Foundation, has her own reflections on what is needed in providing leadership locally and globally.

It’s a big reason why she, and a number of other leaders working across local and global contexts, was immersed in the Common Purpose Global Leaders programme, and more recently, our Global Leaders reconnect event in London. Here, these leaders came together to consider the future of work. They devised action plans, considered different perspectives and listened to the lived experiences of numerous speakers - prominent global leaders like themselves in the thick of tackling challenges that know no boundaries.

For Hinemoa, one thing continuously came top of mind in the aftermath of this experience.

“We have a whakataukī, a proverb in te reo Māori which says, ‘ka mua, ka muri.” she tells us.

“It means, ‘I walk backwards into the future learning from the past. The past is my teacher.’”

The proverb tells us that if we focus on the lessons our history and our ancestors have taught us, these lessons can inform how we navigate our future.

“This is a nugget of wisdom that has so much relevance in our complex, ever-changing world,” Hinemoa continues.

“Knowing the history of a place, and the multiple intersecting histories of our globe is a skill that all global leaders need to practice.   

This history is in the languages that people speak, and in what is culturally meaningful for different generations, and in how different generations feel about our own histories and how it applies,” she says.  

“This knowledge enables us to develop and deepen connections with other people, and to recognise that some of our skill sets that work in one part of the world may not work as effectively in another.”

She adds that by accepting their own limitations and taking on criticism and challenge in a constructive way, our global leaders today can keep learning about what is needed in the world around them.

“We need to be generous in terms of where we put our energy and our time, making sure that we are robust enough to maintain our own wellbeing, because in doing this, we can really take on board criticism and challenge in a constructive way so that we keep learning about, and then working collaboratively to action what's needed.”

There’s another important silver lining in this practice, as Hinemoa herself experienced when she first participated in the Global Leaders Programme in Kuala Lumpur in 2018. These moments of clarity as she immersed herself in its rich culture ultimately revealed more about what she is able to bring to the table for others.

“I have a richer appreciation of being a global Māori citizen,” she explains.

“I recognise that as a Māori woman, I'm bringing a wealth of Indigenous experience with me wherever I go. And I am innately curious, and I'm always thinking about what I can learn about others and take back home for discussion and debate.”

She adds that after better understanding the culture and different ethnic groups of Kuala Lumpur, she was also able to recognise that cultural intelligence is critical in not only thinking as a leader, but in the personal action of practicing it.

“Māori cultural intelligence is the wellspring at the centre of everything I do. Without that, I have no identity, I have no voice. Our Māori cultural intelligence comes from our past. The past on that vast continuum, from the far distant past all the way through to the past that is occurring moment by moment. So, the whole concept of our own cultural intelligence to me is profoundly vital. It's fundamental for all of us.”


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