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  • Our Words Matter

Rachel Taulelei on what it means to be a 'dangerous woman'

Updated: Mar 3, 2020

March 8th is International Women's Day #IWD2020, a day we celebrate the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women, while also marking a call to action for accelerating gender equality. This year, after listening to Pat Mitchell's podcast "dangerous times call for dangerous woman" [click here to listen], Our Words Matter talked to a number of women who might call themselves 'dangerous' - women who embrace risk for the sake of advancing good, even if it's dangerous.

Rachel Taulelei is CEO of Kono New Zealand

Each of us have our own way of describing what being a dangerous woman means. What does it mean to you?

A dangerous woman might be described as one with vision and influence. It’s quite a combination when it lands. And danger is really in the eye of the beholder – what I view as warranted and effective, might be fairly viewed as dangerous by another. It probably depends who’s on the receiving end 😉

In what way would you describe yourself as a dangerous woman?

Over the years I think I’ve fine-tuned my opinions, voice and vision…but at the same time become much more obvious with them. They’re perpetually in development, both in sophistication and aspiration. Simultaneously I think I’ve probably developed greater access to influence. To effect change you have to consciously apply yourself to broadening your sphere of engagement to those who can support any kind of change you’re hoping to make. One to one is hard. Many to many is much easier but winning people over is tough. One thing I always, always keep in mind is that influence is a responsibility – that it’s to be carried with deep conscience.

Pat Mitchell talks about dutifully following her own grandmother’s words: “Falling on your face is at least falling forwards.” What are the words you have always lived by and why?

“Make sure you always find time to smell the daphne” – it’s something my dad shared with me a number of years ago when he was having a few challenges. What he meant was that no matter how hard anything becomes, make sure you take time to pause, take a breath, ‘smell the daphne’….and then get up, and get on. But take a moment to re-calibrate. I think of that a lot.

In her book, Pat talks about how as a global community of women, we are at an intersection where the risks are bigger but so are the opportunities to lead toward a more just world. What opportunities, and risks, do you see yourself taking that will lead to positive change for future generations?

I think there’s a risk that women can lose themselves in the giving. The number of areas, or opportunities, to make positive change are endless. So you have to be laser-like in your approach to have meaningful effect. There has to be a direct line between action and outcome. And you have to assess the sacrifice because you can do anything, but not everything. I’m extraordinarily lucky to have an incredibly supportive whanau – without it I could never risk as much as I do. My husband is my ‘truth teller’ and I trust him implicitly so we make sense of things together.

The opportunities I want to take in the immediate future are around indigenous economies and rangatahi Maori. Creating brave space for them to shine and be heard.

The word ‘power’ takes on different dimensions depending on the lens you look through. Bella Abzug predicted that in the 21st century, women will change the nature of power rather than the power changing the nature of women. Ideally, how would you see women using and sharing their power and what impact do you see this having?

I love it when women embrace the most authentic version of themselves - that’s when our power shows itself. Resisting the urge to be like other – whether that’s by gender, race, age, opinion – because as soon as we do, we dilute ourselves. We each do things differently…and that’s amazing. As a Maori woman I think, move, breath differently to other. The challenge is to have the confidence to value that – our divergent thinking, feelings, and perspectives.

I’ll concede that it is incredibly difficult to be the true you. It’s something I battle with as I move into new places and spaces. When you push out of your comfort zone, the immediate temptation is to make like a chameleon…to blend in. And sometimes there’s even a place for that as you learn the rules of engagement for any new group or occasion. But when I am true to who I am I can see the effect. So you keep at it, to varying degrees of success.

We currently live in a very divisive and divided world. To mend our global community, we need innovative and creative solutions to challenging issues. What issue, or issues, concern you the most and what will it take to solve it.

That’s a huge question. The ones that immediately resonate for me are (again) the role of our indigenous economies and the future of our rangatahi. If you unpack those issues they lead you, among a myriad of others places, to the importance of inclusion, the necessity of bespoke solutions designed by and implemented by our indigenous people, our relationship to te taiao (our environment), valuing indigenous knowledge systems, empowering our young people to understand their value to the world and how they might live up to their potential, and giving them tools to do this.

Solutions? That list is long but it starts with respect and unfettered aspiration. With the need to disenthrall ourselves with ourselves. With a desire to be better, smarter, kinder, more contributory people who think of others before self; who think intergenerationally about how we can be good ancestors.


Rachel Taulelei is CEO of Kono New Zealand. Kono is a Maori-owned, top 100 New Zealand food and beverage company, farming more than 1000ha of land and sea, and exporting to over 25 countries. Their brands include Tohu, Kono and Aronui wines, Tutu cider, Kono mussels, Kiwa oysters, and Annies fruit bars. Kono also grows apples, pears, kiwifruit and hops, and is involved in sustainable seafood through its business Yellow Brick Road.


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