A stepping stone for youth in South Auckland

“I live where they live. I went to the same schools and walked the same streets,” Anita Vaafusuaga of DNA First Solution (left) says. This shared life experience provides Anita with insights into the needs of her workforce and uniquely equips her to offer local rangatahi tailored opportunities and support.

“I left school at 13 with no qualifications and didn’t start this business until 2012 at age 55. I hope that the people who work with us here can see my story and know that it’s never too late.”

DNA 1st Solution provides contract packing, warehousing, order fulfilment, distribution, and staffing solutions from their headquarters in Onehunga. “When I first took over the business, it was packaging only. I saw an opportunity to reach the youth in our community – those who had dropped out of school or didn’t want to go – and get them off the street and off the benefit. It’s been a long road and we’ve made a lot of structural changes to make it work, but we’ve never stopped asking questions and responding to the needs of our community.”

Anita is working closely with her son, Saefu Denis Jnr (DJ), in the family-owned business where they hope to bring learning and social services in-house. “With our three arms of recruitment, contract packing, and third-party logistics, we believe we have the platform and capabilities to create industry-wide opportunities from within DNA 1st Solution. We are currently seeking government support to make this a reality. We know how to provide on-the-job learning opportunities that will help keep people in work, as we already have deep experience in providing practical support and life-skills training to our staff over the years.”

Keeping autalavou (youth) in paid work is one of their primary objectives, Anita says. “We’ve found that small setbacks can quickly turn into larger ones. If an employee can’t pay their rent, power, or petrol one week, they might just stop working and go back on the benefit. Our goal is to work closely with them to provide short-term financial assistance, transport and pathways to get them back on track as quickly as possible.”

Cultural support is also critical to employee success, DJ says. “We do a lot of work building up the confidence of our Māori and Pacific peoples. In particular, we work closely with our Polynesian staff whose background often means that they avoid eye contact and don’t speak up.

“These are actually signs of respect in Polynesian culture but aren’t always perceived that way here. We teach them that they’re coming into the working world now and it’s time to stand on their own two feet.”

Their hope is for DNA 1st Solution to grow across Auckland, and to provide social impact on a larger scale. The historical employer-employee paradigm of giving orders is outdated, Anita says. “We ask a lot of questions and empower our people. We want to see social impact on a community-wide level and inspire other employers to do a better job of caretaking for their people.”

“It takes a lot of courage and heart to do what we’re doing, but we’ve shown how passionate and serious we are about our goals for the business. We’ve invested. We’ve been proactive. We’ve worked harder because we had to.”