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If you met Laura Keil-Hall today, you'd never believe that not so many years ago she was too shy to do a communications paper at AUT because she would have to present to her classmates.
Today, Laura is co-founder of the Samoa Business Network (SBN), she works with Auckland Regional Migrant Services, is a member of PACIFICA Manukau, a supporting member of Samoan Victim Support Group Auckland, and works with various other community organisations. She has recently secured a new role as a business acquisition manager at the Bank of New Zealand and, with her husband Walter, she is bringing up their two children aged 9 and 3.
What drives her is a desire to improve the lives of Samoans in New Zealand. Laura says that one of the keys to her success is financial literacy. “When I arrived in New Zealand, I was 18, I didn’t know about hire purchase agreements, credit checks or guarantees. People asked me to take a loan out for them in my name. What saved me was that I didn’t have a credit rating.”
It didn’t take Laura long to get to grips with financial matters. She worked part-time at Rainbow’s End and enrolled in a Certificate in Business at AUT. She would have finished it in one year had it not been for that communications paper, which she finally forced herself to complete after three attempts. Then, armed with her new qualification, she set about finding a job. It didn’t take long.
She was interviewed for a job with the Home Ownership Trust and on the same day she was offered the position of office assistant. Within two years she was a mortgage manager. From there she went on to work at Fisher and Paykel Finance and then Instant Finance.
“I saw many of our Pacific people come to finance companies for help, especially to take out loans – many times for what they said was fa’alavelave. I saw parents use their children once they turned 18 to take out loans. I saw family and friends bringing in family members, – not long after their arrival in New Zealand and who had only just found jobs – to take out loans or be guarantors for loans. All of this unfortunately still happens today,” Laura says.
“My mom [the late Veronica Keil, née Brown] taught me about faith, hope and love, and I try to live my life by those three things. My dad [the late Lesa Lutz Keil] taught me about hard work, dedication and commitment to family and country. I have faith that doors will continue to open for me. I don’t just sit down, pray and hope that something will happen, I work hard, but I never feel that I’m walking alone,” Laura says.
She has been with the BNZ for six years. “I was working for another bank and they wanted me to work in the city. With a young family, that was going to be too hard. What I really wanted was a job in Manukau, as it would be much closer to home. There was nothing, but when I checked a week later, the BNZ had a vacancy.”
And it was with the BNZ that she found herself being challenged once more.
“My manager, I hated him at the time,” she says laughing, “because part of my job with BNZ Connect involved organising and speaking at networking events. I had to stand up and talk and inspire people, and I dreaded doing it. But actually, in the end, I was grateful to my manager because fronting up like that helped to build my confidence.”
Laura thinks it is too easy to clump all Pasifika peoples under the one umbrella. “We may have similarities, but we also have big cultural differences. I don’t believe labelling us ‘Pacific people’ and assuming we’re all the same brings the best out in us.”
To that end, she teamed up with Rasmus Pereira and established the Samoa Business Network (SBN), which she currently chairs and which is now registered as a legal entity. The aim of the network is to bring together Samoan entrepreneurs and businesses to work together and support each other. The network meets most months, usually bringing together between 30 and 40 people to mix, mingle, and often to listen to a guest speaker. “And we’ve been supported by the BNZ since establishment, and in our September event the ANZ is sponsoring us.”
Laura says the SBN has raised money for Samoa after cyclone Evan in 2013, made a substantial donation to Samoa Women in Business, launched Samoan author Lani Wendt-Young’s third book in the The Telesa Trilogy, The Bone Bearer, at the BNZ Manukau, and was involved in the launch of the Samoa Association of Manufacturers and Exporters ‘Buy Samoa Made’ initiative in November of 2013.
Laura says it makes sense for banks to be supporting Pasifika events and to partner with settlement organisations. “People arrive in New Zealand and one of the first things they need is a bank account. I think banks overall could be more supportive of new migrants.”
She is now working with Auckland Regional Migrant Services, which offers a wide range of services to new Aucklanders, including help and advice about finding employment, learning English, educational pathways, and navigating life in Auckland.
But Laura says she still feels more could be done to prepare Pacific people for life in New Zealand.
“A lot of people in a new environment are too proud or too shy to ask for help – I was like that once, too scared to ask a bus driver where the bus was going – but when we get the right people and the relevant services together, life works a lot better for everybody. I want to see more Samoans running successful businesses and to see more Samoans financially secure – and I’m working to help make sure that happens.”
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