Tuakana: Matthew Oliver

This is a hard one for me (Matariki) as the reason it's going up is that this will be my last week working with Matthew who has been my manager for the last 5-ish months at Manatū Taonga | Ministry for Culture and Heritage. Matthew is the kind of manager that believes in his employees' abilities and has established a culture that enables us to work to our strengths. The environment that he has created for us is supportive, interesting, and importantly, it is fun. Matthew is also a very generous person who not only does this all for his employees but also for the wider sector through the National Digital Forum, of which he is Chair. Thank you Matthew for putting up with my constant rants about various injustices, and for allowing me to always voice my opinions (of which there are many). All this writing makes it sound like he's dead but thankfully he's not and whoever joins the team after me will be a lucky sod because they get to work with him and the wider awesome team.

In five words, describe your role in the sector.

Helping people, supporting, clearing obstacles.

What is it about the sector that you love?

Is it the people? People always say it’s the people don’t they. And it probably is. I made a really positive core of friends in my first job back in New Zealand at the National Library. There were a bunch of us, not really the same age, not really doing the same thing, but all kind of trying to change things. I was new to the sector but really enjoyed what those people at the Library in the late 00s were trying to do in the digital culture space.

That’s the other part of it. It’s an area where change is possible. People are open to changing the way they work and open to the change their work can make. It’s a sector that’s characterised by people who value what we can learn from the past and how that can shape a better future, and the opportunity we have to make positive change in creative ways. 

What have been some challenges in your career?

Well I struggle with this question to be honest; being an educated Pākehā man, my challenges seem fairly trite. Maybe learning when to keep quiet and when to quietly think that sarcastic comment instead of speak it, as well as realising that not every fight is worth picking. Not exactly challenges but good lessons to learn.

I struggle with the idea of leadership, despite being in a position of some kind of leadership. At heart I’m probably a high functioning introvert who prefers to work away in the back room. There’s a tendency in modern organisations to focus on developing leaders to the exclusion of others. Socially too I think there’s a greater emphasis on public presence, personality and performance. I’m naturally cynical about the light that tends to shine on leaders when it’s to the detriment of followers. We need a lot of followers – they’re the people who do the hard work and keep the system moving. We need to make room for them and make sure we celebrate them.

What challenges can you see moving forward?

I feel like we’re on the wrong side of history at the moment. By that I mean progressive politics are under threat, and let’s face it progressive politics tend to value our sector more than others. It’s not all doom and gloom but money’s tight and has been for quite a while. Strain is starting to show; people are starting to burn out, they’re covering too many jobs, and they’re volunteering and spreading themselves too thin. And progressive politics are more likely to value a diverse, compassionate and enlightened society, which is the society our sector is best placed to serve. I’m hopeful we’re on the edge of change.

I see a lot of positive challenges despite that. The big upsurge in interest in the New Zealand wars earlier this year is a really positive challenge for the sector to respond to: what are they stories we can tell about those conflicts? How can we contribute to a better understanding of them and heal some of the wounds they left in our history? How can we help Māori and Pākehā acknowledge what happened and find positive ways to move on?

More widely, how can we support and contribute to strengthening and deepening all New Zealanders’ knowledge, understanding and acceptance of tikanga and taha Māori as integral to our society? At the same time how can we learn to truly value and respect it as part of our own work and that of our institutions? Pretty good challenges to have and ones I hope we’ll rise to. (And read Trevor Shailer talking about it in relation to sport.) 

What do you think people in the early stages of their careers can offer the sector?

We really need fresh critiques. I’d like to give a mihi to some of the outspoken women I’ve worked with recently (I hope you know who you are). There’s some really valuable critique coming up from young women at the moment, especially from Māori. We all need to be listening to that. (And boys, don’t be disheartened, you can critique too. Challenge the old order.) But also energy. There’s a sense of burn out in some parts of the sector and we need fresh energy coming into our voluntary and professional sector organisations like NDFLIANZAPHANZA and others.

What is your spirit animal?

I’d love to say wolf, but the internet said I’m a spider.