Hamilton social entrepreneur Adele Hauwai is the innovator behind SeeCom (Reo-a-Karu), a social enterprise which provides sign language classes and products, and is developing an interactive, digital sign language game to help people communicate.
“Sign language is one of the easiest languages to learn and it can be fun for children, parents and whānau,” says Ms Hauwai. “There are so many benefits of learning sign language. It’s not just for Deaf people. We educate parents how to communicate with all children using reo rotarota, even parents of children with autism or with slow speech development or learning challenges.”
SeeCom was established in November 2016 by Ms Hauwai, and she has grown her company into one that employs 12.
Initially set up to teach ‘baby sign language’ (basic simple signs) to parents and caregivers, the company has become much more than that.
In the past year SeeCom has been recognised with multiple awards for its products and services, which also includes sign language posters and flash cards in te reo Māori.
Ms Hauwai says one of the challenges of her business is the misconception that sign language is only for Deaf people. She says sign language “is for everyone” and can be used as a “support language” for everyone from babies, toddlers and children to those with communication barriers.
“Sign language is empowering,” says Ms Hauwai, “before I had surgery I used to have epilepsy and I struggled with learning, and sign language helped me. I’ve been communicating in sign language for more than 25 years. For a toddler or child who struggles to communicate it reduces frustration and tantrums, helps with bonding and relationships and boosts confidence.”
She says the value of sign language in an education setting is immense, and there is a lot of interest from ECE teachers and educators in learning it.
SeeCom offers Professional Development sign language classes for schools and organisations. They are particularly focused on training people who are fluent in te reo Māori to be sign language tutors, and have been inundated with interest from Māori organisations and schools, including kura kaupapa and kōhanga reo.
“We’ve had strong interest from parents of children with disabilities, health workers, social workers, kaiako teaching te reo Māori and school teachers,” says Ms Hauwai. “It’s a win-win for all communities – even opening up employment and education opportunities for people with health limitations but have the competency and passion to teach reo rotarota.”
Of Waikato-Tainui, Ngāti Kahungunu and Tūhoe descent, Ms Hauwai juggles family life with entrepreneurship. She has a hearing six year old son, Jarom, who is adept at sign language.
Ms Hauwai is passionate about sharing her passion for sign language. “There are more than 200 sign languages around the world, so there is huge potential to develop sign language products, services and apps.”
The SeeCom team are in the process of developing an interactive digital game that uses sign language. Their innovative sign language game traces body movements & signs to make the character do something in the game. “If you sign JUMP, the character jumps, sign SWIM, the character swims” says Ms Hauwai.
The game has past the prototype stage, and SeeCom are currently doing research to produce the full game version. “We are testing it in different markets to see how different users interact with the game, and we are looking for investors and funding to get it to market,” says Ms Hauwai.
In the past year SeeCom has won four awards. These included Launching Leaders (LDS-BPA) 2016, the Dig My Idea – Māori Innovation Awards (Open Category) in 2017, Innovate NZ Competition Finalist 2017 and the Kōkiri awards 2018. Ms Hauwai also received a Māori entrepreneur bursary to attend the Social World Enterprise Forum in September 2017.
Ms Hauwai says to make it in business requires persistence, grit, resilience and passion. “Networking is really important too, and making contacts. You also have to be self-motivated and ensure you don’t keep your good ideas in your head, that you have the courage to execute them.”
Entrepreneurs can get caught up in the work required to launch a business, but Ms Hauwai says it’s important to be careful to avoid burn-out. “It’s important to retain a good work-life balance. Go for walks, get good sleeps, spend time with family, get a massage or meditate.”
Ms Hauwai hopes that her business will have a positive effect on people lives. “With educating more communities about how sign language can benefit them as a support language, we have done away with the myth that sign language is just for Deaf people, educating more communities about how sign language can benefit themselves also” says Ms Hauwai. “What we are doing is trying to develop hands-on learning that is fun, educational and will help people to communicate through sign language.”