The Research & Innovation Office

Our Staff

Dr Mele Katea Paea

Innovation and Research Development Coordinator

Phone:  (+679) 323 1661
Fax: (+679) 323 1504


Dr Mele Katea Paea originates from her father’s islands, Matuku, and her mother’s island, Ha’afeva, in Ha’apai TONGA but grew up in the village of Ha’ateiho in the main island of Tongatapu, TONGA.

She sees herself as a voice for Pacific women and Pacific indigenous people, and she maintains considerable interest in the general wellbeing of Pacific communities. Her long-term goal is for Pacific people to continually develop positive influences and create outstanding role models in and amongst themselves in support of the Pacific region.

Her research has been focusing on ‘how to use cultural knowledge to conceptualise and practice leadership differently in a given context’. She is the author of the PhD thesis,  Tauhi Vā Māfana: Tongan leadership and culture in the New Zealand Public Service, which received a Dean’s Award for Research Excellence. Her A+ Master’s thesis, The Leadership Processes of Pacific Public Servants in Aotearoa, New Zealand, highlights the affirmative contribution of Pacific culture to Pacific people’s capabilities in the New Zealand Public Service. She co-authors a new publication ‘Pacific people navigating the sacred vā for framing relational care: A conversation between friend across space and time’ coming up in March 2022 on The Contemporary Pacific journal. She critiqued ‘card sorting’ data collection method from a Pacific perspective in a chapter she co-authored in the book ‘It takes an island and an ocean (2020)’. She continues to write on relational leadership, from a Tongan perspective, and Public leadership.

The foundation of her success is attributed to her strong belief in the fundamental value of relational leadership. This has reflected in a number of successful major research partnerships she has led and managed for USP through her current role: Pacific Regional Innovation Network (PRIN) in partnership with UNDP (2019 – present); Fiji’s Low Emission Development Strategy 2018 – 2050 in partnership with Global Green Growth Institute (2018); One Ocean Hub inception phase in partnership with the University of Strathclyde (2018-2019); Norway-Pacific Ocean-Climate (N-POC) in partnership with University of Bergen (UiB) funded by the Norwegian Agency for Development Cooperation (NORAD) (2020 – present).

She also takes leadership in designing, implementing, and reviewing of the University’s strategic roles on innovation in close consultation with USP people, Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Research & Innovation) and Director Research. Dr Paea’s initial contribution to Innovation@USP includes the establishment of the existing Innovation@USP Framework, the establishment of PRIN, and the completion of Innovation@USP Wide Talanoa in 2021 as a review of the existing innovation priorities. Talanoa preliminary findings are highlighted in the UNINEWS and is to be reflected in the updated Innovation@USP Framework, expecting to be shared publicly by end of 2022.

Dr Paea has been invited to speak on various topics related to her research, professional, and cultural backgrounds. She spoke on ‘Sacred Vā and Talanoa’ at the Wellington Southerlies webinar alongside her co-authors (2021); ‘Human Rights’, on behalf of the USP Vice-Chancellor and President, at the Human Rights Day 2020 opening alongside the UNHR Regional Representative and Head of EU delegation for the Pacific (2020); ‘Research at USP’, on behalf of the Acting Deputy Vice Chancellor (Research & Innovation), at a book launch with Fiji Minister of Forestry, funded by USP Strategic Research Themes (2019); ‘The contribution of māfana (inner warm passion) to leadership practice in Western organisations’ at 46th OCIES Conference, at Victoria University of Wellington (VUW) (2018); ‘Tongan language: A world-class knowledge’ at VUW Tongan Language Week (2014); ‘The role of Pacific leadership in achieving the Millennium Development Goal (MDG) at the MDG Progress in the Pacific Conference, Beehive, NZ Parliament (2011).

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