WelCom April 2022
Leadership coach Mena Antonio is the new chief executive – kaiwhakahaere mātua, of the Catholic social justice agency Caritas Aotearoa New Zealand.
Mena has a deep understanding of the NGO sector including leadership in strategy, risk management, legal and financial compliance and people-management across highly regulated sectors.
Caritas board chair Keith Wedlock says the board is excited about Mena taking the helm at Caritas Aotearoa New Zealand, replacing Julianne Hickey, who served for 10 years.
‘Mena has a good balance of social enterprise and social justice skillsets in governance and operational roles,’ he said. ‘The mix of professional skills she brings to the role is complemented by a practical commitment to community building, justice and peace. The board is confident they’ve found someone able to lead Caritas in challenging times, on the next phase of its journey and to respond in the fullness of Catholic social teaching.’
Mena becomes the first Caritas chief executive of Pasifika descent. She has been involved with Caritas in other ways, including as a board member. Her Samoan and Tokelauan heritage helped deepen connections with Oceania partners on recent Caritas assignments in Samoa and Fiji.
She says, ‘One memorable visit with Caritas Samoa was to Moamoa Theological College where my grandfather, from the Tokelau atoll Nukunonu, trained as a catechist. My late father, Nikolao Pali’i, was head catechist at Holy Family parish, Porirua for years. To me this role continues the calling my parents and their parents before them heeded, to be in service of the people we are called to serve.’
Mena has a law degree from Victoria University of Wellington, served five years in the New Zealand Army and has 20-plus years working on and with boards and executive teams, including a time in the UK. She is well placed to bring her skills as a professional director, fundraiser, leadership coach and community-engagement practitioner to lead Caritas.
In addition to her significant professional qualifications and experience, Mena believes in the value of community and seeks to live out the principles of Catholic Social Teaching. She founded a charity in Masterton bringing together leaders and teen parents through a mentoring programme aiming to build equitable and diverse communities. Her ability to create leadership events, engaging some of New Zealand’s celebrated and innovative speakers, has attracted significant funding support for teen parents and their children.
‘Engaging the voices of women and children is critical to good decision-making to ensure all people flourish. I want to enhance this work in Caritas,’ Mena said.
In all endeavours she leans on the scripture Joshua 1:9 – ‘Have not I commanded you? Be strong, vigorous and courageous. Be not afraid, neither be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.’
Mena is a member of the St Patrick’s Wairarapa parish, where she and her husband Richard have raised their two daughters.