My 'playing' rugby career began at 50 years of age, for my beloved club Hikurangi, after a lifetime competing in other sports. It was the annual Golden Oldies tournament at Kamo Rugby, and rather than cheerlead from the sidelines, I borrowed some slightly-oversized, very overused boots and took to the field.
Being the only female in a team of blokes, they strongly suggested I get on the wing. My response was to vote with my feet and head straight to the centre – " ... if I'm playing today then I'm getting right in the action – not camped out in the car park," and off I went.
"What the heck are you thinking?", they asked, "c'mon, I shouted, it's about playing to our strengths and I'll be much better in the middle of it all".
The Tai Tokerau Northland Economic Action Plan is a plan playing to the region's strengths and the role of portfolio manager is about being "in the middle of it all".
Launched back in 2016, the 10-year plan had its genesis in looking at the region's opportunities and barriers. Our strengths in land, water, climate, culture and people have led to successful implementation of projects in infrastructure, digital, land and water, tourism, high value manufacturing, skills and employment.
In just five short years, assisted more recently by significant central government investment, we've seen rapid momentum built and progress made on supporting delivery of significant initiatives which include: the Hawaiki Cable, revolutionising New Zealand's digital capacity; the Orchard – a shared workspace established, supporting local enterprise and facilitating business networks; the farmer-led farmer-focused Extension 350 project; Taipa and Matakohe bridges, multiple walk and cycle tracks, the Strategic opportunities study on water storage and irrigation infrastructure with Matawii dam now under construction, Hihiaua Cultural Centre Stage 1, Ngawha Innovation and Enterprise Park and many more.
These are all helping to stimulate and grow our economy, create sustainable jobs, grow skills and attract new investment into the region, while recognising there is no silver bullet. Check out the plan on the Northland Inc website: northlandnz.com
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Our greatest asset however has been playing to our strength of whanaungatanga – our relationships and connections.
Those outside of our region are in fascination and awe of how well we in Tai Tokerau work together, how we can so rapidly galvanise around issues and opportunities, debunking the myth in Wellington that we are often too busy fighting each other to move forward.
In the middle of supporting and delivering projects in this plan are communities, hapū/iwi/Māori, business and industry, local and central government. We respect and value our connections, we build and nurture our relationships, and we work and play in a high trust collaborative environment.
For those involved it requires a persistent, long term, intergenerational commitment and given the right support and resources, we are well equipped to identify and solve our own issues.
Being in the middle of these many moving parts, investing time in people to see where we can build on our strengths, is what this role is about, connecting people, connecting projects, for the betterment of all our families in the North.
In terms of rugby, whether the boys thought I'd be better in the middle, or not, was another matter, but like my Action Plan mahi, they trusted me enough to let me have a go, and even though I got knocked on my butt time and time again, getting back up is easy when you're surrounded by a great team.
• Jude Thompson is the portfolio manager for the Tai Tokerau Northland Economic Action Plan at Northland Inc.