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Graduands Speech

Written and presented by Anjum Rahman, Senior Accountant, Robertson Fulton Limited at the 2017 Leadership NZ Programme Graduation

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Bismillahir Rahmanir Rahim

E nga mana, E nga iwi, E nga reo, E nga hau e wha, Tena Koutou, Tena Koutou, Tena Koutou Katoa

First of all, I would like to thank the cohort of 2017 for granting the privilege and honour of speaking on their behalf today.

Two days ago, we heard Tui Ah Loo us the words “social disruptor”, and something clicked deep inside of me. She had given a name to what I am.

I challenge the status quo: systems, assumptions, stereotypes, worldviews. I do this because the status quo is not good enough. It hurts and excludes too many.

I am a challenger and disruptor. To some extent, I’ve been thrust into this role because my very existence is a challenge to certain groups of people:

  • Those who don’t like the way I dress, because of what they think it represents;
  • Those who don’t like the cultural norms and traditions I bring, which are different to what they are familiar with and what they hold dear;
  • Those who don’t want to make accommodations to include me, because that requires effort, some kind of external or internal shift on their part, and they don’t see why they should have to;
  • Those who see me in deficit mode, taking “their” jobs, reducing their standard of living, increasing their house prices, threatening their well-being.

And these views are not just held about me, they apply to so many different groups of people for so many other reasons.

So, as I say, I’ve been somewhat thrust into the role of challenger, but I’ve also embraced that role. I’ve taken it on, stepped into it. Not because I enjoy it – I really don’t. But because it needs to be done.

The reason I bring it up is that I’m taking on that role tonight. I want to challenge myself, the cohort of 2017 and others here today. I want to lay down the challenge. It’s up to each of us if we choose to take it one.

I’d like to quote a tweet of Guilaine Kinouani, a French black woman psychologist living in Britain: “Sitting on the fence when folks are abused does not make you neutral, it makes you complicit.” There is no neutral position here, being neutral means siding with the oppressor.

So. Will you create a workplace where people can thrive? What do you know about the difficulties faced by the people you are responsible for when they turn up to work every day:

  • How many compromises are they having to make?
  • How many justifications and negotiations?
  • How often are they having to hide essential parts of themselves?
  • How often are they having to bite back their words, quietly seething because they feel powerless to speak up or speak back?
  • In how many ways are they policed?

And this weekend we learned about the trauma highway (thank you, Louise). For some, that highway is filled with many more obstacles than for others. For some, the obstacles are fresh; for others older but leaving deeper scars. For many, it’s a combination of both.

This, then, is my challenge to us: to do our best to help ourselves and our people thrive, for any definition of “our people” that is relevant to the situation.

But we know that often, the solutions to helping people thrive can’t be done by an individual. Individually, yes, we can achieve a lot, and so many times, a single person is a catalyst for enduring and far-reaching change.

More often, we find that together we can do more. The power of the collective lies in:

  • Bouncing ideas off each other;
  • Motivating and encouraging each other;
  • The mix of skills we can bring together;
  • The mingling of energies that build and strengthen.

To the cohort of 2017: I faith in us. I have faith in our compassion; our depth; our experience and experiences; our warm, generous hearts; our wisdom; our friendship. I have faith that if and when we choose to take up the challenge, individually or collectively, we will commit and we will make a difference.

Finally, when I started on this Leadership NZ journey this year, I came to you all with a purpose: to disrupt, to shake you up, to make you rethink, to unsettle you. I knew the task would be difficult, I knew I would create discomfort, I knew what I was doing wasn’t easy for you or for me.

But this morning, almost every single one of you came to me and told me that I had opened your eyes to something new or different, and you expressed your appreciation for that.

So I stand here in pride and strength, with the weight of your friendship and support around me, saying:

Mission Accomplished!