Brady Polkinghorne was about half way through his ten year career in advertising when he realised it wasn’t the right industry for him. But it wasn’t till he met the team at Headspace that he began building a picture of what he thought his future might look like.
“They were a client at my agency in London, and it was quite an early point in their development. The meetings used to get quite heated for a variety of reasons, but I’ll never forget that they would go out and meditate for ten minutes with the app and come back in so calm and collected. Meanwhile our team would be a stark contrast!
“I remember thinking how tangible it was, that you could actually see and feel the difference after their meditation. And that’s what influenced my own practice of mindfulness.”
Fast forward a few years and back in New Zealand, Polkinghorne crossed paths with Kristina Cavit, founder of The Kindness Institute (TKI). A kaupapa Māori-aligned and tikanga driven resilience and mental health organisation, Polkinghorne saw the incredible mahi Cavit and her team were doing and knew he wanted to be a part of it, so he became a volunteer for the charity, helping with driving marketing and fundraising activities.
As the need for their services grew, and word got around about The Kindness Institute, Cavit and Polkinghorne knew that more needed to be done and the way to scale up their offering was to take aspects of the teaching online.
“Kristina has been training teachers in mental health and mindfulness for years, but could not keep up. We were constantly getting requests from whanau and teachers, those who were supporting young people outside of our programs, and they would say, ‘where can I do this?’ And, ‘how can I teach this to more of my students?” says Polkinghorne.
“So we saw an opportunity to create TAIORA, which is a mental health masterclass, delivered online, for teachers and parents.”
While Polkinghorne notes that this service will never replace the need for professional mental health services, TAIORA (and The Kindness Institute) are focused on equipping more young people with the resilience to face challenges through mindfulness practices, meditation and self-enquiry. It’s about doing as much preventative work as possible, to try and reduce the pressure on counsellors and mental health care workers – for which wait times can be months.
“We want to make mental health accessible and tangible for everyone and what we have seen through our work is that these tools are universally helpful – for all people, from all walks of life.”
But of course, as with any startup, securing support for TAIORA was an issue. So it was the final hour before application’s closed that the pair put their hand up for the 2022 intake of Kōkiri – a Māori-led accelerator programme.
“We had been studying Te Reo Māori and got wind of Kōkiri through that. So we cobbled together a presentation at the last minute, but had totally underestimated the calibre and professionalism of the programme. And after seeing everyone else’s presentation and ideas, we thought we didn’t have a chance,” says Polkinghorne.
Thankfully TAIORA was accepted and it was a gamechanger for the venture. Polkinghorne says that TAIORA wouldn’t be half as formed without Kōkiri, and that the support and enthusiasm from other Māori business owners and operators was the most impactful part of the 12-week accelerator.
“That shared belief across our various groups was an incredible motivator, especially in the early stage when you are going through full on sprints of what would normally be a year’s worth of work. Having people cheering you on and the connections you make is just amazing.
“We also came away with the right tools and strategies to put in place that would have taken ages by ourselves, including how to ensure TAIORA could remain sustainable in the future.”
Because the TKI programs are offered at no cost to rangatahi, it can be difficult to scale with funding from grants. So TAIORA is seeking corporate sponsorship to upskill teachers across New Zealand in order to achieve their vision of increased accessibility. TAIORA is dedicated to empowering teachers to create calm, engaging and safe spaces for students through online mental health training. The aim is to reduce anxiety, depression and bring about improved communication and hauora. And as a cause that Cavit and Polkinghorne are extremely passionate about, they’ll do everything they can to see it succeed – with the good news that early indications are already exceeding expectations.
“During Kōkiri, we sold out our pilot teacher training program, received incredible feedback and have a waitlist for our January 2023 teacher training program. We also have had great feedback on our online beginners mindfulness course!”
And to move onto the next stage of his journey with TAIORA, Polkinghorne is going to remind himself of what he has learnt so far as an entrepreneur, to always back himself, even if past insecurities try to creep in.
“At many points during this process, of building something from the ground up, I have experienced self doubt – believing that something bad was going to happen, even when there was no indication of that. So if that crops up again, I will make sure I question where it is coming from, rather than letting it overwhelm me.”
Story by Erin Harrison. In partnership with Kōkiri.