Meet Lisa Davis, Ngāti Whātua Ōrākei Trust

"This is just the beginning of Te Tōangaroa becoming great.” 

A 10th generation Ngāti Whātua descendant, Lisa Davis is currently one the CEO of Ngāti Whātua Ōrākei Trust. It’s in her blood; Lisa’s father is a past chairperson, and growing up, dinner table conversations always were - and still are - about Ngāti Whātua Ōrākei, the owners of the land at Te Tōangaroa. 

“Being an uri of Ngāti Whātua Ōrākei is amazing. Te ao Māori and Tikanga Māori has intrinsically been a part of who I am,” Lisa says. 

Raised in Ōrākei, Lisa credits being brought up in the kapa haka world, which dates back to her high school days, for teaching her valuable leadership skills at a young age and leading her to where she is today. Following in the footsteps of her Nan, she ended up becoming the wāhine (female) leader – where she had to step up and lead older whānau members in the group.  

“Kapa haka is probably the best foundation I’ve had to help me in my career. Not only has it created the best foundation for who I am and how I can contribute to the world, but it has provided opportunities far beyond Aotearoa where I’ve been able to travel the world, perform and share my culture.” 

Lisa‘s mantra is all about getting stuck in, giving things a go, and coming up with better ways to do things.  

“If I see a gap, I’ll offer a solution. I’ll sit at a computer for a day trying to find a better way so that something that would take me 10 hours will take me two hours next time.” 

Due to the nature of travelling so much for kapa haka, she became interested in events and went on to study Event Management and Māori Development at AUT. Through her network at Ngāti Whātua, Lisa landed a job at Aotea Centre as a theatre producer and was given plenty of creative flexibility introducing new programmes and supporting New Zealand works, particularly in the theatre space. It meant her career went down the arts sector, and she ended up working at Auckland Council in the arts and community area when she was still just in her twenties.  

“I must have been doing it right because I ended up being arts and culture lead for Auckland and Central, reporting through the local boards all the way to Manukau. That was a pretty big job.” 

Lisa then moved to the corporate sector before eventually being headhunted by Ngāti Whātua Ōrākei. Ten years later, she’s still here. 

Outside of work when she’s not being a busy mum of two daughters, you’ll find Lisa at Pilates or spending time with extended whānau. 

She says helping whānau is the most rewarding part of the job, and ultimately her passion. 

“I’m in a really privileged position to directly impact the future generations of Ngāti Whātua Ōrākei; there is no other job where I can say that. It gets me up every day and I wouldn’t say it’s easy work, but it’s bloody rewarding. I just want to keep giving back.” 

Looking ahead to Ngāti Whātua Ōrākei’s master planning in Te Tōangaroa, Lisa sees an exciting future.  

“With the partnerships we’ve done with Precinct Properties recently, there’s an opportunity to now look at how we create community hubs where we can live, play, and work all in one spot.  

“We’re invested in this place and we’re not going anywhere. This is just the beginning of Te Tōangaroa becoming great.”