I’ve known Raf Manji for what must be close to a decade. I first came across him as I started my journey in the technology industry – Raf was an investor in a number of interesting New Zealand startups and it was one of these, VortexDNA, that I was looking at when we met. From the get-go, Raf struck me as highly intelligent and articulate. He was also obviously in a fortunate position of having the financial security to dabble in different areas. The years spent working in the financial sector in The City of London obviously proved fruitful for him.
What struck me about him, however was that unlike other well-heeled immigrants, his interested weren’t solely focused on building his own financial wealth, but rather he was interested in exploring the state of the world – economically, environmentally and socially, and finding ways to solve obvious problems that he perceived.
Fast forward to 2011 and the Christchurch Earthquakes provided an ideal platform for Raf to work from. He was instrumental in a huge number of different initiatives. He supported the setting up the Student Volunteer Army, a grassroots movement of University students who volunteered to help people with earthquake relief. Indeed Raf, my 10 year-old (at the time) son and I spent a few days shoveling silt and delivering chemical toilets around the hardest hit Eastern suburbs. Raf went on to be the first chair of the Volunteer Army Foundation.
Raf was also involved in many other initiatives – both grass root and more strategic, and had a hand in many of the positive things to come out of the earthquake. But Raf quickly realized that to really effect big change, you need to be part of the machinery. With the growing sense of community discontent at the state of the Christchurch City Council, Raf took the opportunity to stand for Council in the Fendalton ward. He was successful and quickly became a critical part of the machinery of council – chairman of the finance and audit committee and (I suspect) a key intermediary between central and local government. And given the torturous relationship between the Christchurch and Wellington, this was no easy feat.
I always suspected that local government would soon show its limitations in terms of what Raf could achieve and so it came to pass. Raf has decided to stand for Parliament against the Minister of Earthquake recovery and generally unpopular local MP Gerry Brownlee. I’ve long suggested that Raf has the potential of being a future Prime Minister. My reasons for that, beyond his obvious acumen, is that he does this stuff for the right reasons. He’s not in it for the money, the power or the fame. rather he sees leadership as an opportunity to effect the changes that he believes will make a better society – culturally, environmentally and economically.
I unreservedly endorse Raf’s run for Parliament, and am only sad that I’m not in his electorate and hence cannot vote for him. Raf has the skill, the diplomacy, and the moral compass from which to make this country a better place – I’m looking forward to hearing his maiden speech!