Unlocking the full potential of Maori business

Unlocking the full potential of Maori business
How to tap into the potential of Maori business and economy

The Maori Entrepreneurship forumNew research puts the Maori economic base at $36.9 billion and Maori as the world's third most entrepreneurial indigenous people – and harnessing their business potential would have major benefits for the New Zealand economy.

Session three of the Unitec Forum for the Future 2011 – Enriching Maori Entrepreneurship Rangitiratanga mo te Kaipakihitanga Maori – was a lively and energetic session at the Unitec Theatre last Thursday evening.

The debate was facilitated by broadcaster and editor of TVNZ’s Te Karere, Shane Taurima. Panelists included the Minister of Maori Affairs and member of the Maori Economic Taskforce, Dr Pita Sharples; Kristian Beazley, a successful entrepreneur and director of Bold Co, an entertainment and event rigging company; Nga Puhi business owner Heta Hudson, who is also head of the WHK Business Growth Team; Leisa Nathan and Andrea Anderson from Ochre Business Solutions Ltd; and business and development advisor to iwi, hapu and government, Eru Lyndon MBA.

As the focus for Maori in business changes from a reliance on land-based commercial activities into a broad range of commercial ventures, a Maori taskforce has engaged Business and Economic Research Ltd (BERL) to investigate benefits for Maori in pursuing innovation, R&D and technology activities.

As to how they can make the most of Maori business opportunities, three fundamental challenges must be worked through: governance arrangements, property rights and mandates, and commercial value creation.

Ngaire Molyneux, a lecturer in Maori Business at Unitec’s department of marketing and management, says: “The notion of Whanaungatanga – business and entrepreneurial skills – is compatible with the possibilities of community economic developments, social enterprise and business development.

“An international survey of indigenous entrepreneurship found that Maori are the world's third most entrepreneurial people out of all 30 OECD countries, which should position Maori well into the future,” she says.

Shane Taurima opened the session by acknowledging the ancestors of Maori who were successful entrepreneurs and traders. He says the Maori population is continuing to grow and there is no escaping the fact the New Zealand economy is important to Maori – and vice versa.

He then asked each of the panelists: just what is the Maori edge?

According to Dr Pita Sharples, the Maori edge lies in the way they do business within their cultural traditions. This proved a bonus when members of the Maori Party travelled to China, as many of the Asian nations do business in a very cultural way.  Indeed, the Maori and the Chinese got on very well and understood each other.

Dr Sharples said of the $36 billion that Maori are worth to NZ’s GDP, $20 million of it is generated by small businesses – a fact which surprised the panel!

Eru Lyndon agreed with the minister, saying the economic future for Maori is intrinsically linked to the future for non-Maori. He said the Maori economy was worth $18 billion in 2004 and is now double that.

Entrepreneurship and growth he said, is not just about success, it’s about psychology – believing in yourself, being confident and having energy. And for Maori it’s about thinking about your whanau and how to encourage young people.

The value of Maori culture

Leisa Nathan believes in order to capitalise on the Maori edge we need to be much more accepting of Maori culture and to realise how valuable it is. For example,  the haka as a brand, and the renaissance of Ta Moko, which has been embraced by celebrities not just as a tattoo but as a spiritual connection traditionally found within Maori culture.

The panel and the audience considered how Maori could best embrace the future and make the most of the opportunities to grow, develop and innovate the way they do business in Aotearoa, and successfully lead an entrepreneurial culture.

Lyndon called for all New Zealanders to work on selling NZ Inc. and that part of this involves celebrating, embracing and being proud of our Maori heritage, culture and history.

Nathan says Maori have come a long way already. Twenty years ago, their parents held roles as employees; today many Maori own their own businesses. And she believes education has played a vital role in this.

The one entrepreneur on the panel, Kristian Beazley, was a colourful and inspiring personality to throw into the mix. Having been very successful in rigging events all around the world, the boy from Kaikohe returned home to Aotearoa and set up Bold Co, a successful entertainment and event rigging outfit.

He told the panel and the audience, if you want the Maori edge – “I am it!”

“I know my tu puna. I know who I am, I know where I am from and I am proud of who I am. My crew now put on shows in the biggest venues in the world,” he says.

“We are out on the edge. We put our lives in each other’s hands every day on the job.”

The need to 'decolonise'

He also says Maori need to “decolonise their minds” and to believe in themselves,  a comment which tweeters picked up on and liked.

Andrea Anderson, owner and business manager at Ochre Business Solutions, believes many Maori are held back by older family members who haven’t done so well.

This was identified by the panel as the old ‘tall poppy syndrome’ which one tweeter reminded people is a problem for all New Zealanders, not just Maori.

She encourages entrepreneurs to research, research, research around any business idea and to do some business training before embarking on setting up a small business. Government agencies such as Te Puni Kokari offer free night courses. She says you must have a business plan before you start into any enterprise.

On the macro level, Dr Sharples talked about how New Zealand needs to embrace and make the most out of its ‘cultural capital’.

He called for SOEs to be sold to iwi as those who have had claims settled have the money to purchase them. This would ensure ownership stayed in New Zealand and was always held here – I thought this was an interesting concept. Many of the Pacific islands do just this – the indigenous people only lease their land to foreign investment and retain ownership themselves. SOEs could end up with indigenous ownership!

He also talked about how iwi could loan to other iwi who were awaiting settlement for business development, and applauded Unitec for offering the first pathway to study Maori business within its faculty of creative industries and business.

Likewise, audience member Richard Jefferies from Te Whare Wananga o Awanuiarangi also touched on the need for tertiary education in Maori business, as it involves an entirely different mindset.

Each 90-minute Unitec Forum for the Future session features a panel-style debate open to the public, either through attendance, or by tuning in via live streaming. Internet viewers around the country have the opportunity to interact with each session via Twitter, email and webcam (using Skype).

The Maori Party also tweeted that it was watching the forum via live streaming and applauded Unitec for getting the event out and accessible on the internet.

The series began in October 2009. Last year’s series focused on the creation of the Auckland Super City, and included two sessions on representation of Maori and Pacific Islanders in the new Super City structure. 

Click here for video coverage and more information.

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