Reinventions: Julia Arnott-Neenee
Reinventions profiles people who've made big pivots. Meet Julia Arnott-Neenee, who left her global insights role at HP to return to Aotearoa (New Zealand) to found a company that helps close the digital and tech divide among Pacific youth, and is now working with a slew of mission-driven companies.
What were you before?
Global social strategy lead at HP in San Diego. I worked for HP for approximately two and a half years. I started in London as strategic planner, then insights manager, of the U.K. and Ireland, then became worldwide product insights manager in San Diego before my final role on the social team.
What triggered your reinvention(s)?
As with most things, an existential crisis (haha). HP's vision statement is "to create technology that makes life better for everyone, everywhere—every person, every organization, and every community around the globe." Except, like all products and services, there is a financial barrier. I couldn't ignore the fact that your ability to benefit from technology is inherently linked to the size of your wallet. That gnawing insight took me on a path to uncover the growing digital divide and tech gap that exist across the globe.
In the case of Aotearoa (where I'm from), a large proportion of the digitally excluded, or those experiencing digital inequity, are Pacific communities—my community. I struggled with the knowledge that I, as a Samoan wahine, was individually benefitting from the technology industry in my career overseas, yet my community back in Aotearoa were not reaping the same benefits.
Service is a core pillar of Pacific culture, and the calling to leave HP was really a calling to come home and serve.
What did the first steps look like?
Listening to that inner voice, versus hoping it goes away or trying to drown it out by convincing yourself it doesn't exist.
What was one hard obstacle to overcome?
Fear of the unknown and judgment from others. Objectively, I had reached a version of success but subjectively struggled to feel proud of myself when I looked in the mirror. You have to be brave to stand up and tell society what you have is no longer what you want. It can trigger others to feel insecure about their own lives and subsequently project those insecurities onto you. You have to stay strong to what you know in your innermost sense of where you want to go and why. Don't listen to anyone who isn't living the life you want for yourself.
What was easier than you thought?
Using the hustle and energy I was giving to HP to give to myself and my purpose. When you energy-transfer, it is crazy to see what you can achieve in a short space of time, giving yourself that freedom.
What's something you learned along the way that other people, hoping to do something similar, should know?
It's lonely. Going out and carving a new path can be a really lonely journey, and not many people understand why you're doing what you're doing. Therefore it can feel incredibly isolating as well. Finding your tribe takes time—seriously takes time—but for me, it's critical for success.
Did anyone or anything inspire you along the way?
My ancestors—the idea of making them and myself proud. My friends, who kept me sane throughout the journey. Some of my best friends, Arieta and Chrystal, are who I have to thank for supporting and saving me.
What has this fundamentally changed for you?
I don't feel empty inside anymore. I'm overflowing with purpose and able to look in the mirror and be proud of what I see.
Do you think you could go back/do you want to?
Not at this stage, no.
Tell us your reinvention song.
Not sure if I have a song, but I have a book: Designing Your Life by Bill Burnett and Dave Evans.
How would you define yourself now?
So, right now:
Co-founder and director of PeopleForPeople, a youth-led Pacific Social Enterprise on a mission to ensure that everyone can confidently participate in the digital world of today and tomorrow.
I'm director of strategy and insights at The Spinoff and Daylight Creative. Daylight Creative is a full-service content studio that collaborates with purpose-driven organizations on work with power ... and a point of view.
I'm on a range of social impact-focused boards.
I'm investing in learning more about my ancestral knowledge and cultural intelligence.
And I'm spending lots of time in the community, looking to change the statistics with the lack of diversity that exists in the information and communications technology sector—2.8 percent Pacific, 4.6 percent Māori and 27 percent female representation.