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Alumni Q&A: Tuaopepe Abba Fidow

13 July 2023

Tuaopepe Abba Fidow is the Deputy Secretary, Service Delivery at the Ministry for Pacific Peoples. "I’ve been extremely blessed to have worked with and for passionate, intelligent and generous people, committed towards a single goal of improving the lives of New Zealanders" says Abba when reflecting on his career in the public service.

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Could you tell us a bit about your time at UC – are there experiences or highlights that have stayed with you?

I started at UC in 1995 straight after finishing at Linwood High School and finished my studying journey in 2000. I remember feeling slightly alienated and out of sync with everyone else on my first day on campus, but now look back with incredible fondness at how my experiences evolved into one where I became totally at ease at Uni. Moving beyond a purely academic focus and connecting with others in student-led cultural and sports groups made my experience at Canterbury richer and greatly enjoyable. For me, there were the usual memories of rushing to early morning lectures, cheap meals at the Student Union building, the last day of lectures and socialising post exams, as well as graduation. I enjoyed finding a quiet space in the Student Union building to play on the piano, or just catch up with friends. I also cherish more unique experiences including being part of the Canterbury University Samoan Students Association and celebrating our culture at exchanges with other universities annually.  

Why did you choose a BA and BCom? Did you have a career path in mind?

I had always thought about serving communities as part of my professional and personal journey – the idea of service within the Samoan culture is often emphasised and acknowledged as underpinning what it means to be Samoan.  I was always, and still am, interested in history and politics, so Political Science had a natural attraction. I also recognised that public service was an area that could support long-term career progression. The commerce avenue tapped into some interest I had in macroeconomics and later on human relations and system management. I really grew to love the Political Science area though, and it was the focus on this area of study that I felt were my best years at UC and positioned me well for public service.

Yes, since graduating you’ve worked exclusively for the public sector and in public services – can you talk us through your journey from where you started to where you are now with the Ministry for Pacific Peoples?

I have had a circular career path to date – starting as a policy advisor at the Ministry of Pacific Island Affairs (now known as the Ministry for Pacific Peoples) in 2001, and moving through the Ministry of Social Development, Auckland City Council and then the amalgamated Auckland Council, focused in the Policy and Strategy space. I’ve been fortunate to build relationships and connections with many central and Auckland region officials, politicians, and community leaders as part of my work.

In 2013 I moved into the non-governmental organisation (NGO) space, becoming senior manager at Le Va Pasifika, a Pacific mental health and addiction provider. I had spent my career exclusively in central or local government, but working for an NGO, delivering specifically to Pacific communities, as well as those working with Pacific communities has strengthened my holistic view of what and how issues can be addressed through the work of the public sector. In 2019 I was fortunate enough to be able to rejoin the Ministry as a Chief Advisor and am now a Deputy Secretary for the Service Delivery unit.

What is the most challenging thing about your role, and what is your favourite?

As a public servant, it feels like we constantly need to keep up with changing policies, regulations, organisation dynamics, political shifts, and public expectations. It is demanding to stay updated, as it calls for constant adaptation and learning. It’s also difficult to ever ‘turn off’ your radar and attention, which has often impacted my family especially. However, despite the challenges, my favourite part of being a public servant is that I’ve been extremely blessed to have worked with and for passionate, intelligent, and generous people, committed towards a single goal of improving the lives of New Zealanders.

Are there any career or personal bucket list things you hope to tick off in the next few years?

I was fortunate to lead the Ministry as the Acting Chief Executive for four months recently, and so I’m glad that that bucket list wish has been achieved. Professionally, I am very keen to support the next generation of Pacific leaders into the public service, as a way of repaying those that supported my journey in its early days. Personally, I’d like to be a more active parent for my four sons (I’m sure my wife agrees), and look forward (although with some trepidation) to more late-night study sessions and early-morning sports practices.


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