Georgina Naigulevu, Tetra Tech Associate Director of Disability Inclusion, Justice and Transformation, Info Pacific signs a document in a meeting with four team members from Fiji Program Support Facility.

Empowering change through inclusion – the journey of Gina Naigulevu

For Gina Naigulevu, questions are her superpower; ‘As a kid, you expect to run around the playground having fun with other kids. But I had to answer a lot of questions because I was different.’

Throughout her whole life, her career in digital and software development, and now her work as the Director, Inclusion, Justice and Transformation with Tetra Tech, questions allow her to learn about others, and educate people about her own experience.

‘It’s part of my nature to not assume what I see is what I get. I come from a background of my mum having an unseen disability, and I was born with a congenital disability – clubfoot, where both of my feet turn inwards – so my experiences taught me to be empathetic. In my young life the treatments for my condition were very inhumane. That has meant I never take someone’s experience at face value; I always assume there is more to someone’s story.’

Gina’s approach to connection is very generous, she is always willing to share her experiences with others in an effort to get them to open up to her. This has helped her become highly adept at disarming people, and allowing her to develop programs that are effective and impactful. ‘I always make an effort to share my experiences with those that I meet so they know they can be open with me’.

Overcoming challenges with determination

When Gina was young she was enrolled in the Suva Crippled Children’s School, where the education was very vocational; learning pottery, beads and bracelets. But by the time she was in class five her family pushed to have her included in mainstream education. Reasonable accommodation for children with physical disability at that time were at its early stages for mainstreaming disability into schools in Fiji.

‘Physiotherapy was prohibitively expensive so I had to work out my own exercises to strengthen the muscles I needed to walk. My dream was to become an orthopaedic surgeon so I could fix myself! But my hands shake too much so I had to take another pathway. When I did go to school, I had a lot of catching up to do, academically. And I lost out on things that I normally would have been able to, like having fun with other kids and not thinking I was a person with a disability. But I caught up, and decided that IT and software engineering was the pathway I wanted to pursue. I graduated from the University of the South Pacific with a degree in Computing Science and Information Systems. That led me to work in banking, government and the media with The Fiji Times. My career has been very intersectional. In large part I put that down to my early experiences, and my curiosity.’

34 colleagues stand in a foyer smiling for a photo

Gina at the World Health Organisation (WHO) Expert Consultation on Using Digital Health as an Enabler and Changer for Health in August 2023

Blending technology and inclusion

Gina started working with Tetra Tech who were the managing contractor for the Fiji Program Support Facility that supported the Fiji Health Program with the Government of Fiji. Her work on this program was the development of the Digital Health Strategy and led a team that coordinated as well as worked closely with the government to deliver on digital health projects.

Gina is a passionate advocate for digital inclusion. She co-founded a community engagement project that used technology to do street level mapping of pavements that involved persons with disability, and that partnered with students and volunteers to share the experience of conducting an accessibility audit.

Gina says that technology is a way to give people living with disability access not only to systems and institutions within their communities, but also expanding career pathways. She shared the story of a young woman with disability, who had been earning her livelihood through door to door sales of clothing items. She had lost her main source of income during the COVID pandemic due to the physical restrictions of movement.

‘Moving into this work makes me feel blessed, because it has taught me how I can overcome my disability digitally. I don’t forget those who do not have the same privilege to sit in front of a computer. If they lose their livelihood they may not have an alternative income source. We must advocate for those people, as there is still a lot of exclusion for those that are not tech savvy or don’t have formal education’.

Questions are an opportunity for education

Questions are also an important way for Gina to educate people about her own needs, and by extension, the needs of people living with disability more broadly. ‘People are curious by nature. They want to know what your experience is like. And sometimes they don’t know how to ask questions, or are not sure if it’s okay. I am always very open with my story. I will share with you so that we understand each other more fully, and can find common ground’.

Gina’s experience has led her to understand that what you see on the surface of a person is not always what’s really going on; physically, mentally or emotionally.

‘Empathy has helped me to understand and practice skills like negotiation.I learn to understand what people are sharing. Empathy has always helped me to understand there might be a deeper or underlying story to a person’s message or behaviour because I know there is more to their story. I share my own story, and plenty of questions, to try and understand how we can work together’.

Championing inclusion and diversity at Tetra Tech

Gina, recently appointed as Director, Inclusion, Justice, and Transformation at Tetra Tech, embodies a cross-cutting role that mirrors the diverse and integrative nature of her early life and career. She navigates the intersections of Diversity and Inclusion, and Justice and Transformation, underscoring the belief that true justice and transformation are inseparable from a deep engagement with diversity and inclusion.

Gina points out that inclusion is not just about people with a disability, it’s for the better quality of life, safety and comfort of people with all types of needs.

‘When you undertake diversity and inclusion work you’re able to make life better for people overall. For example, installing a ramp outside a popular supermarket doesn’t just help wheelchair users, it also makes it easier for parents with prams, makes it safer for people with heavy trolleys, and makes it easier for our elders to access the building too. People are to be respected and continue living the life they want for as long as possible. Inclusion makes life better for everyone. With diversity and inclusion work there’s always that transformative approach because you look at things through a different lens.’

Gina shared that as we age, the likelihood of an acquired disability increases, therefore, by implementing robust inclusion practices and ensuring they are at the centre of plans design and implementation benefits a far wider cross-section of the community, beyond benefiting only people with disability. Gina also reminds us that for any inclusion work to be successful, consultation with people with disability is critical at all stages of design and implementation.

If we take a situation where someone acquires low vision in their older age, they would be able to continue to do what they love doing, just do it in a different way. They might work from home, use assistive devices, have technology installed in places like banks that make their lives easier. They can continue to contribute back to society and maintain their lifestyle because an inclusive reasonable accommodation was made.’

Connecting through TetrAbility

Gina shares that Tetra Tech’s values around diversity and inclusion has meant she is able to live her values not only in the work she does for Tetra Tech, but the way she interacts with her colleagues and makes their lives better.

‘I love the creative workspace we have here with teammates. TetrAbility really excites me because it allows me to connect with employees with disability across the world with different experiences I can learn from. It is exciting to be on the steering committee for the Accessibility, Reasonable Accommodation, and Adjustments Employee Resource Group, connecting across all operating units around the Indo-Pacific. Even though it’s a big Employee Resource Group (ERG) we are able to learn from each other. Just having the presence of an ERG gives me the sense of belonging and reassurance that the Tetra Tech leadership is willing to learn and be informed by various groups, and our experiences as individuals.’

Gina cherishes indigenous innovation and her hope on the digitalisation of languages for future generations. She shared her Rotuman language is recognised as an endangered language by UNESCO. Her work in the ICT sector has been a very male saturated environment.

A woman stands in front of a Pacific Hackathon sign

Gina Naigulevu at the Pacific Hackathon in 2022

“In my early career days when I’d go to the hackathons, I didn’t notice I was the only woman in the room, I was just so excited to be there. But after realised that, I started to feel lonely. So I encourage more women, people with diability and people from ethnic minority to go with me to events, and to talk about their experiences. As I get older, and notice how important technology is to inclusion, I see that we need more perspectives. And I believe we need more women in this room!’

Advocacy for women and disabilities in tech

Gina’s exceptional talent and hard work was recently recognised by her being awarded at the launch of Fiji’s first-ever “Women in Tech” organised by Outsource Fiji that on nominations of women who played pivotal roles in shaping the tech landscape in Fiji. Gina won the Special Award 2023 Women In Tech for her outstanding commitment to empowering women and persons with disabilities in tech.

But Gina is not blinded by the promise of technology alone. She recognises that digital access doesn’t solve every problem.

‘Physical access to places like government buildings, digital access to information, and deep understanding of the processes and information being presented, are important for everyone, not just those of us who live with a disability. Digitisation is important, but so is making sure we don’t leave anyone behind in the process.’

At heart, Gina is many things; Rotuman woman, disability advocate, software engineer, and early digital adopter. But her approach to many things can be summed up by her willingness to have honest, difficult conversations.

This is how I advocate. We can both feel uncomfortable, but we need to be able to talk about it in a way that makes us understand what’s different about our types of disability and ways of working together. At the forefront is my desire to respect those around me whilst at the same time trying to always have the patience to explain my disability, and advocate for others who might be in a similar situation to myself.’ 

‘It’s an open-hearted way to live in the world. It’s not easy because it’s becoming vulnerable. It takes a lot. You have to put yourself out there and have these vulnerable conversations but I take a leap of faith. Sometimes it doesn’t go my way but I have to try to understand how we can help each other and continue to do that so others who follow can get information that might help them understand things a bit better, or change their life.’

Leading with empathy and innovation

Gina Naigulevu’s ascent to the position of Director, Inclusion, Justice, and Transformation at Tetra Tech signifies a profound acknowledgment of her unwavering commitment to advancing equality, diversity, and social justice throughout the Indo-Pacific region. ‘This is an exciting opportunity to champion locally-led initiatives,’ Gina reflects, underscoring her dedication to leveraging this role to make substantive impacts across various sectors.

My vision is to foster collaborative and transformative practices towards gender equality, disability equity, and social inclusion in our programs and initiativesI aim to shape and guide inclusive practice and change into our projects and initiatives,’ Gina states, emphasising her goal to drive meaningful and lasting change.

Gina envisions creating a workplace at Tetra Tech that embodies a culture of belonging and respect, where diversity is not only welcomed but celebrated. Her approach is to draw upon the collective expertise of her team and insights from partners to introduce impactful and adaptable solutions.

Read more about Inclusion, justice and transformation services at Tetra Tech.


Director – Inclusion, Justice and Transformation

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