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  • purposelypodcast

leading a purpose led consultancy focused on good

Welcoming Nicola Nation, CEO of The Ākina Foundation, to Purposely, where she shares her personal and career journey as a consultant specialising in procurement across corporate and public sectors and more recently non-profit leadership.

The word Ākina means to encourage or urge onwards in the Māori language, and the foundation is a ‘for purpose’ consultancy that works with social enterprises, businesses, philanthropic organisations, as well as with the Government. Their mission is to enable positive social and environmental outcomes through bespoke services, including strategy development and implementation, as well as finding ways to help organisations build capability around purpose and engage stakeholders in purpose.

Nicola joined the foundation in 2018, initially in a general management role before stepping up to the CEO position three years later.

Born in New Zealand’s capital city Wellington, Nicola describes being a ‘sickly child’ as the result of a blood condition that she would eventually resolve through a successful operation. She took her time to find her voice and strength, but when she did, she found she had a powerful voice and the confidence to question adults and traditional ways of doing things. Nicola recounts a time when she wrote to her priest, advocating that girls should be allowed to be Altar Girls rather than being restricted to less ‘glamorous roles. Despite being unsuccessful with her plea, Nicola remained undeterred and has maintained her approach to question and campaign for positive change.

Growing up in a happy household, Nicola describes her parents as ‘blue-collar workers’ who valued hard work and instilled those values in her from a young age. Nicola loved school and learning, embracing everything school had to offer, from special activities to leadership roles as a student representative. Continuing to university, she studied commerce at Victoria University and secured a graduate role at Deloitte. She made the bold decision to negotiate a delayed start and spent a year exploring Western Europe in London before returning.

Nicola spent three formative years at Deloitte before returning to London in a new role with Westpac, inspired by the 9/11 terrorist tragedy in New York. The role centered on building the UK’s capability to deal with a similar tragedy, a ‘large project with a massive or even unlimited budget’.

Living in London, Nicola, now married, had to be convinced by her Kiwi husband to return to New Zealand. Her first role back home she describes as ‘an epic failure’, an operations role for a start-up lacking cash and miles away from her consultant roles for large multinational corporations and unlimited budgets. It was a harsh experience for Nicola, prompting her to return to her procurement-focused role for a large company.

Reflecting on her career, she was keen to explore roles with a clearer focus on purpose and making a positive difference to people and the planet. That’s when the role at The Ākina Foundation came up, and her consulting skills made her the ideal person to help deliver their work, eventually succeeding outgoing CEO Louise Aitken. In her first role as CEO, Nicola received some good advice from the charity's trustees, urging her to make the job her own. Nicola has proven to be a real asset to the foundation and the organisations they serve, particularly around ‘procurement practices to do good and its role in helping to bring about meaningful change. As more and more organisations focus on delivering purpose, organisations like Ākina Foundation and purpose-focused leaders like Nicola become more and more sought after and valued.


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