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How Māori business culture is becoming more prevalent in our communities

Business culture has adapted overtime as certain qualities are expected from companies. Qualities like inner support, sustainability, well-being, and a respect for our resources. Although these practices are becoming more widely used, they are not new. Business culture is a tricky thing to get right, but if we look to the practices Māori have been implementing in their businesses, and culture, for years, then its easy to see where a lot of our best initiatives are created.

Māori businesses practices focus largely on respect for others, us, and the wider whenua. Matariki X for example, is a conference day lead by Callaghan Innovation, which focuses on the idea that Māori businesses and Māori business owners are entering their ‘time to grow’.

Vincent Campbell, Callaghan Innovation’s Māori business and relationship manager, says that never before have Māori businesses practises suited so well into common societies ones.

“Māori have always been very innovative, although our unique framework hasn’t always aligned to corporate success frameworks. But we are seeing that our unique Māori world-view - our generational approach to people and the environment - is becoming a competitive advantage here and globally.”

Matariki X is an event which showcases how much innovation, creativity, care and pride our tangata put in their businesses. With the one day in Rotorua attended by over 250 business leaders, iwi, trusts and rangatahi. For the third annual event, masterclasses help to bridge the most common practical gaps in business were provided.

“By far our most popular masterclasses were environmental innovation and improving iwi investment practices,” Campbell says. “To me that says we are starting to understand where we want to make an impact and how we need to improve. Iwi in particular play a key role in supporting more Māori tech businesses and preparing rangatahi for the future.”

Panel at Matariki X

Classes and offerings of support play a huge role in the success of Māori lead businesses, as apart from a stigma placed around admitting failure, Aroha Armstrong head of the Māori  Economy team at Callaghan Innovation also says we can struggle to ask for help when we need it.

“It’s a beautiful strength of our people the generosity and the desire to support each other… We do struggle to ask for help initially, but the funny thing is as soon as someone remotely becomes vulnerable and real about their failures, it’s amazing the support and solidarity that comes from that.”

Armstrong says a key theme that resonated with her from the event involved getting over inner conflicts and moving out of isolation that business owners can sometimes find themselves in.

“We’ve had a bunch of our business and iwi leaders on a stage together, and we’ve asked them at have that conversation nobody has, the really blunt raw ones we need to hear more of. Some key things that came out of that were risk adversity, we get over worried about losing our resources. But through that came talks about courage, and collaboration to help spread those things out, not just with Māori but with the wider society.”

“Although we talk about the innovation that runs through our blood, there is still an element of fear we need to step out of our comfort zones and do things together to really give us power moving forward.”

Armstrong points out the daily habits of Māori run businesses being picked up by our wider communities, saying that it’s about time the rest of the country caught up.

“Coming from one of the Matariki X panel discussions, there was a lot of talk about the circular economy, how it’s the new big buzz. Where now businesses are thinking not just about the bottom line, but also environmental and social impact they way Māori have always been doing. Now we can move forward together and be in a powerful place.”

"What our panel put out there is that the circular economy is not new, it’s just the rest of the world has caught up to the natural way Māori have done things forever."

The Māori micro-entrepreneurial activity in Aotearoa is slowly on the rise. Māori businesses now account for an economic asset base of more than NZ$42.6 billion, according to the latest estimates. Small and medium-sized enterprises make up the largest part of the Māori economy.

Many Māori businesses operate by a set of values that sets them apart from other businesses, particularly businesses that operate solely to produce a profit, this includes;

Ngā matatini Māori: Māori diversity.

Kotahitanga: Māori unity, shared sense of belonging.

Whanaungatanga: An ethic of belonging, kinship.

Kaitiakitanga: Guardianship of natural resources.

Whakawhiti whakairo, innovative / entrepreneurial thinking, isn’t a new part of our culture, yet it is becoming more prevalent as Māori business start-ups come into light. Billie Jo Ropiha, founder of B’DET a Kiwi personal hygiene company, says existing in startup land isn’t always easy, yet not thinking of the bottom line can be more of a strength than a weakness.  

“We care about honesty and authenticity in our products more. We care about what’s written in the small print and act in good faith. We bring with ourselves our family in our hearts and minds and make decisions based on how it will affect them too. And we have fun, we love to have a good laugh even if you’re having a downright bad day.”

Ropiha says on her attendance of Matariki X that Kaitiakitanga, or the guardianship of our natural resources, was a main theme that stood out for the small business owner.

Billie Jo Ropiha

“It was good to hear the points surrounding how Whanau and support in start-ups and businesses are paramount. And that we have opportunities to think holistically about business with the environment and people in mind.”

She says that the Kiwi fear of “growing to quickly” also plays into the worry of being hamstrung by resources. Yet for Ropiha she notices common constructs in Māori culture that are becoming more prevalent in the greater business society.

“I think essentially it’s about respect for your people in your company, treasuring those relationships and how they fit within your teams. If you respect them like family, you’ll get more out of them and you’ll grow better, engaged and valued culture."

The environment is about having forward future thinking and a respect for the generations to come, having respect for the natural world and not just being such a selfish capitalist.”

Although company values are becoming more popular for businesses to promote in the wider society, they’ve always been one of the first working points for Māori businesses, as the values shape and drive the business.

Ropiha says Māori are bringing a different type of thinking and strategy to businesses communities, including a focus on authenticity and a relentlessness that isn’t found elsewhere. For her, she hopes to see support for both Māori business and their practices becoming more common.

“She’s a dog-eat-dog world out here in the start-up game. Nothing comes for free and while there are many organisations saying, ‘we do this and that’ a lot of the time start-ups sit in a void. But the best thing you can do is provide support, because we don’t run as charities, we’re here to succeed and keep the banks and our families believing in us.”

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