David Lakisa is breaking down barriers and providing representation for others as the first Pacific Islander delegate appointed to the Queensland Rugby League South East region.
Taking on the newly-formed portfolio of social impact, Lakisa - who is of Samoan descent - has been at work since December and is determined to provide a “genuine voice” for those in need.
The historic appointment isn’t just a “tick of the box”, according to Lakisa, but a chance to give much-needed representation to Pacific Islander players and people within rugby league, and also show them there is a pathway to all areas of the game.
“I’m the first Pacific Islander (delegate for South East) and it just shows the shift and the changing needs of the game and our wider community,” Lakisa, a father-of-six, said.
“We have a really strong representation of Pacific Islander and Māori people in rugby league.
“This is a genuine and authentic initiative to help give a voice for others.
“It’s important to have Pacifica representation in non-playing roles as well, whether it’s at decision-making, coaching or administrative levels.
“It’s about shared knowledge systems, role modelling and validating diverse voices and experiences. That’s what attracted me most to this role, is the ability to represent our culture and people in non-playing roles.”
Lakisa brings rich experience to the job.
Born in New Zealand and raised in Brisbane, the former health and physical education teacher is familiar with breaking new ground for Pacific Islanders and is an authority figure on diversity and inclusion in Australian sport.
He was the first Pacific Islander and coaching development officer for NSWRL and continues to consult for the NRL community and wellbeing and education departments.
As one of the few Pacific academics in Australia, he has facilitated educational and cultural diversity workshops, pathway programs, tournaments and more.
Lakisa is also the managing director of Talanoa Consultancy and, of course, loves rugby league, acting as a League Safe trainer for three of his sons’ teams at Brothers Ipswich.
In his new role, Lakisa not only wants to collaborate with the QRL on diversity and inclusion work, but he wants to bring the values of Pacific Islander and Māori culture to the South East region as well.
“The first year is about assessing the landscape and letting people know that social impact is a priority in our game,” Lakisa said.
“I want to provide a collaborative platform for more diverse voices in the game. The game is a powerful vehicle to lift spirits and remind them of the positive social impact we can have on each other’s lives.
“There’s also much to contribute in terms of values. The core values in Pacific cultures are family, spirituality and service, and I want to bring those cultural values into a professional setting.
“There’s a lot of stigma attached to minority groups or cultural groups. I hope my appointment is one way to show young people that it’s important to navigate these shared spaces.”
QRL South East chairman Brian Canavan said he first met Lakisa when he worked for NSWRL in the early 2000s and had maintained contact over the years.
The more Canavan watched Lakisa develop during this time – including through his PHD – the more he knew he should be working in rugby league full-time.
Canavan also helped Lakisa with his PHD paper and through this they discovered that around 50 per cent of NRL and NRLW players have a Pacific Islander background but that extends to only about nine per cent of coaches and officials in the game.
“He has a complete understanding of the game at all levels,” Canavan said of Lakisa.
“He’s too valuable of a commodity to not have him engaged formally in the game.
“Pacific Islander players, not only do they bring skill sets that add to the performance levels of the game, but they bring enormous cultural input.
“David’s social impact portfolio is across anything and everything. It could be all abilities rugby league or indigenous rugby league, but we just had this enormous representation of Pacifica heritage.
“He will be able to integrate the different Pacifica nations comfortably and liaise with them.”