Rising Voices: Kōrero with NextGen Leader, Déjealous Palota-Kopa


Born to migrant parents from Samoa, Déjealous has witnessed adversity in various. However, she considers herself blessed to have parents who served as an inspiring example of triumphing over hardship. Their words and actions have consistently motivated her throughout her life.

Despite growing up away from Samoa, Déjealous takes immense pride in her cultural heritage. She shares her passion for music and dance through her social media platforms.

Déjealous spent her formative years in West Auckland, where she completed her primary and intermediate education. Since the age of 14, she has actively volunteered with charitable organisations such as Hospice West Auckland, Variety the Kids Foundation, and Recreate NZ.

In her final year at Auckland Girls Grammar School, Déjealous served as a co-head girl alongside her close friend. She was awarded the University of Auckland Vice-Chancellor’s Scholarship for Top Māori and Pacific Scholars and used it to complete BA/LLB majoring in Pacific Studies.

In 2019, Déjealous graduated and was honoured with the Ministry of Pacific Peoples’ Sunpix Emerging Leadership Award, as well as the Prime Minister’s Pacific Youth Award for Community Service.

In 2021, she was admitted as a Barrister & Solicitor of the High Court of New Zealand. However, her experience in the corporate world in Australia and New Zealand left her longing for more community-centred work. Currently, she works as a Project Support Assistant at the National Institute of Health Innovation in Smoking Cessation Projects. Additionally, she serves as a youth representative for the Auckland Museum Pacific Advisory Group.

In awe of Déjealous’ commitment to building better communities and her numerous achievements, I sat with her to hear about her experiences. In the interview, we delved into how her upbringing shaped her view on leadership, the challenges she faced on her journey, and the valuable lessons she learned along the way.


Kia ora, thank you for making time to share your journey. Firstly, how do I pronounce your name?


Talofa lava! It’s pronounced like “dey-ja-lei.” It has French origins, but my mom played with the spelling, making it weird and interesting.


How has your cultural background influenced your upbringing?


Both of my parents were born in Samoa. I’m the first generation born in New Zealand. I am lucky as my parents made sure I stayed closely connected to my Samoan culture.

I grew up in West Auckland, where there were few Pacific or Samoan students in my primary school. I was conscious of the fact that there weren’t many students who looked like me, but I was quite a headstrong person and very open-minded towards other cultures.

We spoke Samoan at home, attended a Samoan church where services were conducted in the Samoan way, and my parents always played Samoan classic music in our house — which is where I got my love for Samoan classic music. They would even play it in the morning to wake us up.


Samoan classic music as a morning alarm — sounds like a great way to incorporate your culture into your routine. How has your culture influenced your leadership journey?


The main value instilled in me by both the migrant and Samoan communities is that you’re never alone in your endeavours. You don’t exist as an individual in this world. Instead, you represent a community of people who have supported you throughout your journey. It’s that collective mindset.

My leadership focus has always been on benefiting and serving others, particularly the Pacific community, which I hold close to my heart. They represent the individuals who have paved the way for me and showered me with love, and I aspire to reciprocate by giving back to that community.


Have you faced any challenges during your leadership journey?


Challenges are almost a daily occurrence. [laughs]

However, they are more internal struggles than external obstacles.

Imposter syndrome has been something I’ve encountered while growing up and even now. When I find myself at important tables, with the opportunity to voice my opinions, I sometimes question if I belong there or if my voice even matters.

These feelings don’t really go away. But over the years, I’ve found confidence in being proud of who I am and trusting that I deserve a seat at any table and a voice in any conversation I’m invited to.

Overcoming imposter syndrome has involved acknowledging my self-worth and recognising that my cultural background and life experiences contribute value.

There is power in our individual stories. Each life is unique, and no one else has lived the exact life I have lived.

Positive affirmations really helped me. It may seem weird, but they really work in terms of shaping the way we frame situations in our minds and helping to develop confidence.


Do you have a particular positive affirmation that you use?


Yes, my mom’s words always help. She would say, “Go out there and be great.”

So, what else can you do? You go out there and be the greatest that you can be.


Are there any lessons you’ve learned that help you to affect change more effectively?


I have learnt a lot on my journey.

I love big changes. If I see a law that could be passed in a day, I will jump to chime in. In high school, I was a bit of an overachiever. I always wanted to see big changes. The mistake with that was that I could miss a few steps or overlook some crucial aspects that would make a big change an effective one.

Now, I’m a huge believer in micro efforts that can have a macro effect. For example, if I can impact one person, and that one person can impact another person, then that’s a great impact.

I have also learnt to set SMART goals. Specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time bound. But even smaller. I enjoy making small checklists to achieve larger goals.

For example, one of my life goals is to positively impact the community.

In my previous corporate job, I realised that the work I was doing did not reflect this goal, as I had no interaction with the community whatsoever.

So, step one was to leave.

I was bold enough to leave, and I left.

Step two, find a community-based job where I could positively impact the community.

And I found it. I now work as a project support assistant for the National Institute of Health. They told me they were struggling to engage Pacific and Māori participants. I told them that’s right up my alley.

That’s how I’m slowly working towards my lifetime goal.

Being firm in who you are and what you stand for is important. I’m a big champion of doing something you love every day, and if you haven’t found it yet, have faith that you will with time and perseverance.


What advice do you have for young people who find themselves in jobs that don’t align with their values or life purpose?


Often, it can be difficult to leave amazing corporate jobs that others consider dream jobs.

For example, my parents were proud of me and told me I was on track for a fantastic life, even though I felt that the job didn’t align with my values.

Having open and honest conversations is crucial. I was fortunate that my parents were understanding and supportive of my journey. They recognised that my heart was for the people and that my passion lies in serving the community. Knowing that I had their support made my switch a bit easier.


How do you balance your priorities with your multiple volunteering and leadership roles, along with your job? Do you ever feel stressed about it?


No sleep. Just kidding.

It’s hard to explain how I balance my priorities because it feels normal to me—it’s just a part of my life.

But speaking about stress, I was stressed about 90% of the time when I was working in the corporate world: the work pressure, family pressure, and wanting to do what I love as well as pursue my hobbies. But these days, I find myself less stressed knowing that I love everything that I do.

At the beginning of 2023, I had a sudden revelation or shift in my worldview: I don’t think we were born into this world to be constantly stressed.

Stress should be limited when we do the things we love every day. I’m fortunate that I’m past the phase of being a student, where stress was the norm. It’s abnormal to have a completely stress-free student life.

Of course, there are moments when I still feel stressed, such as during work deadlines. But I’d remind myself that I am doing what I love. Life becomes less stressful when you do the things you love.

About the Interviewer: Ke-Xin Li (李可心) is a Chinese migrant who came to Aotearoa 13 years ago. She loves the diversity and open-mindedness offered by Auckland. Pursuing her dream in journalism, Ke-Xin hopes to highlight the joys and sorrows of ordinary people and bring change through representation.

About Rising Voices: Rising Voices seeks to highlight, amplify and celebrate the stories, aspirations and voices of our next generation of leaders in Aotearoa New Zealand.

Disclaimer: This interview has been edited for clarity and brevity. The essence of the conversation remains intact, and any changes made do not alter the meaning or intent of the interviewee’s responses.