“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
“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
“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
“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.