From immersing herself in indigenous culture to showcasing her work with the Accenture global accelerator, Darshana Patel never stopped learning as she participated in Accenture’s Social Innovation Challenge. The project took her on a journey into some immensely worthwhile, world-first work with amazing people from TupuToa and Accenture.

I’m a service designer with a background in innovation and commercialisation. When I was doing my masters research, I cheekily cold emailed NZ Managing Director, Ben Morgan, and asked for an Accenture mentor. I couldn’t believe it when he connected me with a fantastic person at Fjord. So when it came to applying for graduate positions, Accenture was at the top of my list – and I was lucky enough to be offered a job in 2018.

When I heard about the Social Innovation Challenge, I was super excited to bring my skills to support non-profits and do meaningful work. The non-profit my team connected with was TupuToa: Tupu meaning ‘flourishing, thriving, growing’; Toa meaning ‘courage or courageous’, an amazing organisation, which connects students with corporate internships to create a pipeline of Māori and Pacific leaders and disrupt intergenerational disadvantage.

During lockdown, TupuToa needed to connect with its alumni in a digital environment. Māori and Pacific culture is one of storytelling and face-to-face interaction but, as lockdown moved all business operations online, this posed a challenge.

Our team’s idea to solve this issue was to work with TupuToa to develop a set of digital rituals to bring their culture into a virtual environment. It was an exciting idea because there aren’t many other examples of this in the digital space – we think it could be a world first!

Our team prior to our mid project Demo Session

After our pitch won, Hanna McLachlan, a visual designer from Fjord, and I worked really closely with the TupuToa team to truly understand the cultural nuances. That’s the only way culture really comes to life - when you’re working closely with its custodians. Part of our role was to empower and upskill the TupuToa team, teaching them to use tools like Mural, which they are still using today.

The digital rituals we created strengthen TupuToa relationships by bringing indigenous culture into a virtual environment, in an appropriate and meaningful way.

For example, one of the rituals was an immersive audio experience of a traditional walk on to a marae with all the sounds and environmental noises, including blowing the conch shell, to settle everyone into a virtual space. When we tested what we created with the TupuToa team and alumni, their reaction was amazing. Many people were moved to tears. This is what they said:

               “I had goosebumps the whole time, I felt it 100%.”

               “Adding the smallest things like the wind made it all sound so realistic.”

               “Our hearts are full with gratitude!”

This and other rituals are now embedded in business as usual at TupuToa – every time they have a virtual meeting with their alumni. And, as many of these people are spread across the country, even now we’re out of lockdown, our rituals are opening up access to rural areas or cities where TupuToa doesn’t have a presence.

After two months, we successfully applied to Accenture’s global accelerators to unlock more funding, and now the marae rituals will be developed into a Virtual Reality experience! It was so great to share our work with the wider global team. We’re really proud of how much it resonates with people from all over.

The months I spent working on this project were awesome! Really rewarding and very busy. When you know the impact you’re making is so great, you put everything you have into it.

I learnt so much about Māori and Pacific culture and started using the Māori language in my everyday vocabulary. When a TupuToa intern arrived on my team recently, I was so excited. It’s amazing to have that connection.

On the project, I discovered how to work really well in a very small team and learned great lessons about stakeholder management. I also made lifelong friends and met some incredible people from new parts of Accenture beyond our geography. 

My grandmother (Ma) and I ready for a “small” family wedding.

What is the Social Innovation Challenge?

As part of our response to COVID-19, Accenture ANZ launched the Social Innovation Challenge, capitalising on the passion our people have for creating new technology solutions that positively impact society. In collaboration with eight of our non-profit partners the challenge looked for solutions to help with the pandemic recovery: rebuilding livelihoods for disadvantaged or vulnerable people; virtual learning; virtual program delivery; innovative employment pathways and innovative fundraising methods. Eighteen ideas were submitted during the challenge, with six finalists presenting to a Dragon’s Den for probono funding to take their projects to the next phase.


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Darshana Patel

Service and Interaction Design Consultant – Fjord

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