Haydon Richards was raised in the Pākehā world. He was accepted into law at the University of Canterbury and his future looked bright.
"I did one year of law and found out how boring it is. I was in love with the idea of it, not the reality." Haydon switched his focus to website design but when his mother began exploring her Māori roots, he was inspired to do the same.
He made the decision to do total immersion with the Bachelor of Language (Māori) at Te Puna Wānaka at CPIT (now Ara Institute of Canterbury). "It was like coming into a new world. I was a blank slate, I had nothing – just 'kia ora' and that was it! It was tough – a real lesson on resilience and perseverance."
Haydon says studying at Te Puna Wānaka was different from any environment he'd encountered before. "I love the community feeling at TPW. Everyone supported me and I felt accepted. I was thrust into things quickly – haka, tikanga. I really enjoyed it, but it was certainly a lot to take in in a short space of time. But it was a supportive whanau environment so I wasn't afraid of making mistakes."
After completing two years at Te Puna Wānaka, Haydon began a Bachelor of Applied Management, also at CPIT. His major was innovation and entrepreneurship, from which he graduated with distinction.
With one foot firmly placed in the Māori world, Haydon's internship involved undertaking a feasibility study for Ngāi Tahu, who also engaged a consultancy to do the same study. "Their report was 20 pages and cost $15,000," Haydon says. "My report was 100 pages and cost them nothing. I was hired!"
Today, Haydon has his own business, Te Are Whetu Consultancy. Ngāi Tahu remains a client, alongside many other organisations including Environment Canterbury.
Haydon has achieved a lot but never imagined he'd get to where he is today. "I didn't have a vision. I was a bit directionless and I had to find something to do. There's always a way forward. It took a lot of resilience and perseverance but I'm proof it can be done, and it's empowering!"