We have previously focussed on links between Israel and New Zealand in the agritech space and featured an interview with Arama Kukutai – a Kiwi at the forefront of some of those links. We read a NZ Herald article about John Mamea-Wilson and reached out. Below are his responses telling the story of how a Samoan Kiwi got to do business (and have some fun) in the Middle East.
Give us a little background to you, please.
I am a born and bred Aucklander; the son of immigrant parents who moved to NZ from Samoa in the early 1970s.
I attended boarding school in Auckland and then took some time off formal education. After 2 years I moved to the UK to play rugby for 6 years, returning to NZ to see family at the conclusion of each season.
I retired from rugby at age 26 and moved to Brisbane, Australia, with my then fiancé Deanne. I took up work and part time study in exercise science. Deanne applied for a job as cabin crew for Emirates based in Dubai and within 2 years we were on the move to the UAE. It became our home for 15 years and both of our children were born there. That’s how I ended up exposed to the Middle East.
How did you first get involved in Israeli technology/collaborations?
It became well known in the sector we worked in that Israel was a hub for tech development. At that time in Dubai we couldn’t fly to Israel but we could fly to Jordan and bus over the border without having our passport stamped.
What are your current links to Israel?
I founded Seki.ai Tech last year after my mum was diagnosed with cancer. I saw the need for her to track her health and inform the doctors but there was nothing for home use. I was already working with some Israelis on high-performance health gear and it was a natural fit to fast-track the health-monitoring equipment. We also work with some other Israeli med-tech companies collecting research data for them.
You also have partners in other ME countries, particularly UAE; is it easier to do cross-border business with the Abraham accords?
Part of the reason we moved back to NZ was because it became impossible, at the time, to do any business with Israel. Living in NZ allows us to work without restrictions. The irony is that it is now easier for Israel and UAE to do business – the Abraham Accords have made a difference.
Other than business/tech, what are your impressions of Israel (people, scenery, food, culture, …)?
Israel is one of my favourite destinations. Being from a Christian upbringing, obviously I grew up learning about the geography through the paths Jesus travelled. So that’s fascinating. I also love the Roman history.
I find the people very educated, engaging and friendly. Food is great especially street food with my favourites being sfenj, falafel and sabich.
My dream is to take my children there when Covid-19 allows.