“I’ve always wanted to have Whānau Ora as the model we all work with as part of our whānau packaging,” says Mala. “It’s bigger than what we currently think of – bigger than just doing things for people. It’s a way of feeling toward each other. I really like that it’s the way Whānau Ora has evolved in most whānau.”
Mala said ever since she started nursing in 1973, she thought of health as fixing people, doing things for people, making things better for people, and making them better.
“But when people actually own Whānau Ora for themselves, it’s different. They’re driving the way they want things to go, how they want their whānau to look, and creating health for themselves.
“Going forward, I’d like us to have a holistic place in Rotorua which operates in a Whānau Ora way, so it allows Te Arawa to support our branding, clinical practice, and environmental change. It allows people to be able to look at career development for themselves but in a special way the whole family owns and participates in.
“When we look at the face of health in Rotorua, it’s Te Arawa. How about we as a group push Te Arawa to become the face of every health service out there? It would be a lot easier to do things as a Te Arawa body because this is about Te Arawa Whānau Ora. It’s not about individual hapū or groups.
“It’s an exciting korero to open up. And I don’t want this to happen in two or five ten years’ time. I want it to happen in a couple of years so that we, the people, benefit rather than a long drawn-out process because that doesn’t help. That’s the legacy I’d like to leave.”
Kōwhai Health Associates director, Cathy Cooney, says she has known Mala since the mid-90s and considers her a dear friend and colleague.
Six years ago, the Ministry of Health advertised for a lead provider to head Healthy Families Rotorua. In a collaborative approach, Te Arawa Whānau Ora and Kōwhai Heath Associates submitted a joint application and were awarded the contract with Te Arawa Whānau Ora becoming the lead contract holder.
“Healthy Families is about engaging at a community level to make systems changes that support healthy decisions” says Cathy. “Rather than working with an individual in the health system, you work with local government, key agencies and with a wide range of groups to build resilient communities. It’s a completely different way of encouraging long term sustainable change.”
Cathy says the quality of Mala’s vision, her mana and wisdom, and her ability to support people to work collaboratively has been an absolute standout – to the point where the collective gained a further contract with the Ministry of Health in 2019 enabling the Healthy Families kaupapa to be further advanced.
“Healthy Families has progressed really positively in Rotorua and has gone from strength-to-strength. Mala’s leadership has not only provided stability through the early stages, but she has also encouraged innovation. The Māori systems return work has been largely led out of Rotorua with traditional knowledge - mātauranga Māori - being brought back to the fore and given the respect and space needed for this approach to be the guiding principle for building resilient communities. It sits very well with the aspirations of whānau and iwi which Whānau Ora embraces.”
Cathy says while Mala has had to remain persistent during the design and implementation stages of Healthy Families Rotorua, her commitment to the kaupapa has been undeniable. “She has been really determined to see the potential of Healthy Families Rotorua realised as it is so important for the community as a whole. It particularly provides a new opportunity for Māori in the Te Arawa rohe to unleash the potential of approaches such as maramataka. I just have the hugest admiration for her leadership, her dedication and for the person of integrity she is.”
Mala was CEO of Korowai Aroha before taking on the role at Te Arawa Whānau Ora 10 years ago, while it was in its infant stages. Over the next three or four years, she pioneered the collective, bringing the providers together, and successfully getting Te Puni Kokiri onboard.
Korowai Aroha CEO, Hariata Vercoe, says Mala has been always been a strong advocate and ambassador for Whānau Ora.
“Mala was in it at the beginning and passionate about Whānau Ora – sharing the vision and keeping people moving along the journey. She’s had to have a really thick skin because it hasn’t always been plain sailing. However, she remained firm and has been courageous in the whānau aspirations and journey.
“Mala’s put Te Arawa Whānau Ora onto a national stage. How she interacts with her whānau is very much part of Whānau Ora. She doesn’t just preach it – she lives it as well.”
Te Arawa Whānau Ora’s new CEO will be appointed and announced shortly.