Meet the Team: Sione Taunga

Faith, family and friends are the pillars that have defined Sione Taunga's life and continue to provide him inspiration and strength.

Born in Tonga, Sione's family moved to Auckland when he was three years old. The middle child of five siblings, he grew up in Te Atatu and after completing high school, moved to Dunedin to pursue tertiary studies at Otago University.

Following a Bachelor of Physical Education, Sione completed a Graduate Diploma in Teaching (Secondary School). But before he could start a career in teaching - a stint playing rugby league in Australia beckoned.

And that first overseas experience would lead to more opportunities - including working as a fitness instructor and as an art dealer on cruises in the Caribbean and the Mediterranean.

Upon returning to New Zealand, Sione says he did a range of temp roles with the view of "just for now, not forever".

Since then he has worked as a teacher aide in Otara and also been an administrator for a church in Manukau. It was in that latter role that he came across TupuToa when he was invited to speak to a cohort of interns in late 2017.

Sione's first role at TupuToa was as a Navigator - connecting, growing and supporting the interns that come through the programme. And such is the mana in which he is viewed by the interns, he was consistently acknowledged by interns in their speeches at the annual TupuToa gala dinner, with one describing him as a "father figure".

"Before I took the job on the cruise ships, I had applied to work as an English teacher in China - but when the interviewer came into the room and saw that I wasn't white it was clear I wouldn't get the job. All those life experiences mean I am able to give a lot more to the interns - I have been in their shoes. I've been in places where I didn't really think of my capability and worth."

More recently, Sione has taken up a new position as Alumni Manager.

"I'm very excited about this role. I'm a lover of people, and I love to help them grow their gifts and navigate their 'why'. I've been really blessed to have people believe in me until I learned to believe in myself. And I'm grateful to be in this position now where I can be that person for our alumni."

Sione believes TupuToa's unique model works because it is founded on the importance of relationships.

"Relationships need to be two-way streets. When you have relationships as your foundation, everything else grows from there and the results follow."

Sione believes mainstream recruitment needs to focus on "getting to know the person beyond the paper".

"If you don't do that, and with things like automation and streamlining for CVs, you miss out on things that will actually benefit your company. At TupuToa, we constantly ask what we can do for our applicants - even for those who don't end up getting an internship, rather than what we can get from them. I think if more companies asked that question, they would be surprised by the results."

Outside of work, Sione is active in his church and is a mentor for Project Wy - a leadership programme aimed at primary and intermediate students and their families from various schools around the South Auckland area and Onehunga. The aim is to build their leadership capabilities and strengthen the bond between the student/s and their parents/caregivers.

"I find with all my work - it's always to do with the element of bettering myself, so I can help other people better themselves. I don't want to get to a stage where I don't have anything to give away. I want to be involved in something greater than myself. It's a legacy mentality that has really settled in my heart over the last few years, and it stems from my upbringing and those values around faith and gratitude."

As for the future, Sione wants to continue to help people grow and connect more deeply with his Tongan heritage.

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