5 minutes with…Leilani Unasa


Leilani is a Settings Coordination Manager with Healthy Families Manukau, Manurewa-Papakura. The mum of three grew up in Mangere East with a Samoan father, who moved to New Zealand at 19, and Pakeha mother from the west coast of the South Island. The eldest of three, she schooled in Mangere East and Papatoetoe before moving to Epsom Girls Grammar in her final years.

At primary school she decided her career path was going to be in the food industry. Well, sort of. Her love of the 3 Guys supermarket on Massey Road ignited an interest in “check out operations”, her young mind thinking how cool it would be to have a job that pushed lots of buttons. As she got older she wanted to be a leading actress starring alongside Keanu Reeves.

In the end she didn’t do any of that. She got close, working in theatre, supporting and creating works telling Pacific and Maori stories, but she was led to a career in policy and education.

Leilani’s interests were driven by changing behaviours in society, and what impacted those changes. Working for the Ministry of Education, starting at the time NCEA was being formulated, she was tasked with writing a Pasifika bi-lingual policy. From there she worked in education and other social policy areas that included designing qualifications and, managing her own consultancy.

“I have always worked with my own community in one shape or form,” she shares. “There was a clear view to be able to make a difference in the place I grew up. I didn’t want place or community to be a reason someone would have less chance of succeeding in life.”

Current Role: “I look after a team of awesome coaches working in the ‘Learn’ setting. We look particularly at health and wellbeing in the education system.”

Projects you are working on:

“One current project is related to the issue of alcohol. We have a bold goal to grow the number of families that are free from alcohol related harm by 2020 and so are currently working to understand behaviours related to the marketing, sale, consumption and effects of alcohol.

“I am also developing a position for how we interact and make a difference in the wider education system. I want to look at a neighbourhood approach, involving our wider community, rather than the current terms of engagement that are set by the school or institution. We need to look at what this diverse system can do, to work together, to make people’s lives better.”

What is your vision for health and wellbeing for South Auckland?

“I would love it if, just by living here in South Auckland, it would be the biggest determinant of health and wellbeing. That people would want to be moving and shifting from where they are because they would know, for their families, this community is the place that they can live and see themselves grow and flourish.”