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The rise and rise of the Maori economy

Thriving business networks are helping to foster innovation in the Maori community

The rise and rise of the Maori economy

Aug 1, 2019 Society

Wide-ranging social improvement programmes, new co-working spaces and thriving business networks are helping to foster innovation in the Maori community. And providing more pathways to success is helping to grow the Maori economy and improve the wellbeing of communities right across Tamaki Makaurau.

This story initially appeared on OurAuckland and is shared with permission.

From the brave explorers who built waka and set sail to discover Aotearoa’s shores guided by the stars and the currents, to the creators of the sophisticated trench and bunker systems used in the New Zealand Land Wars, Maori have always been incredibly innovative. As Animation Research founder and Maori entrepreneur Ian Taylor told E-Tangata: “We are, and we always have been, innovators … innovation is in our DNA and we have to dig it back out.”

Taylor believes that inspiring more Maori to embrace the opportunities of the modern world, in part by sharing the amazing stories of risk-taking and cutting-edge technology from the past, is key to addressing some of the complex social, economic, cultural and environmental problems that disproportionally affect Maori, whether that’s unemployment rates, incarceration rates, health issues or threats from climate change. And he’s one of a growing number of individuals and organisations trying to do just that. Auckland contributes 38 per cent of the nation’s GDP and the region continues to grow, but not all communities have shared in that growth. The 2018 Auckland Prosperity Index showed that clearly. In terms of overall household prosperity, south and west Auckland performed poorly compared with the rest of the region. But Auckland Council’s Auckland Plan 2050 recognises that increasing prosperity for Maori doesn’t just benefit the Maori community – it’s in the interests of all Aucklanders and brings a range of benefits to the whole region.

Natasha Aumua (left) of Lei Cafe and Beks Vilitau of Ngahere Communities with the Te Haa o Manukau in-house 3D printer. Photo: Supplied
Natasha Aumua (left) of Lei Cafe and Beks Vilitau of Ngahere Communities with the Te Haa o Manukau in-house 3D printer. Photo: Supplied

One of the best ways to foster Maori success, innovation and entrepreneurship and create social change is by providing people with the right tools, support and networks to nurture their natural creative flair. And that’s exactly what The Southern Initiative (TSI), an umbrella organisation that brings together different parts of the Council, individual ‘change agents’, local whanau, entrepreneurs, businesses, and iwi, aims to do in the wider Manukau region. It focuses on three key areas – employment and skills, whanau and families and entrepreneurship and enterprise. A recent review by The Australian Centre for Social Innovation called the programme “world class” and said it was “already achieving results that should be the envy of other place-based [regeneration] initiatives”. As part of that mission, TSI has worked with council-controlled organisations Panuku Development Auckland and Auckland Tourism, Events and Economic Development (ATEED) to identify a range of high-impact projects that will help provide new quality jobs and business growth, foster Maori economic development, and improve Auckland’s overall sustainability.

One of the results of that collaboration is Te Haa o Manukau, a co-working and innovation space that opened in September.Te Haa’s goal is to provide a hub for south Auckland entrepreneurs who might not want to (or are unable to) travel into the city, while also building confidence to harness opportunities and withstand challenges in business.“The vision for Te Haa o Manukau is thriving, creative, innovative entrepreneurs,” says Manawa Udy, the founder and managing director of Ngahere Communities, which runs Te Haa o Manukau. “Because we’re in south Auckland, we have more of a lean toward Maori and Pacific. Personally, I’m so frustrated that Maori and Pacific are overrepresented in all the bad statistics, because we have a really natural entrepreneurial and creative talent within us.”

She says Te Haa o Manukau is unique in the way it recognises that there’s no cookie-cutter approach to entrepreneurship, and it can differ from culture to culture. “When I look at entrepreneurship, I don’t think about being the biggest start-up in Silicon Valley. I think of harnessing your skills and resources and providing for your family. Maori are courageous and pioneering. The statistics say the opposite, but that’s not the true story of who we are.”Udy says everyone has an ideal environment where they can thrive, and, traditionally, Maori and Pacific people have had to adapt to a more westernised approach and adhere to a certain, mostly economic view of success.

“At Te Haa, we ask, ‘what are the things in an environment that make us feel comfortable?’ For us, it’s family, it’s friends, it’s acknowledging that knowledge and sharing happens across generations. It can be in basic things like walking around in bare feet and sitting on the floor, rather than wearing heels and sitting at a boardroom table.” She says there are often dogs at GridAKL, the innovation precinct in Wynyard Quarter, whereas at Te Haa, people often bring their kids. “For some that might be unprofessional, but for us it means people are free to look after their kids, as it’s part of our culture; of family being most important to us.

”Some members of the Te Haa community include Jay McLaren Harris, a 19-year-old who has come out of the Young Enterprise Scheme to found Tu Meke Enterprises, which inspires rangatahi (youth) to become active in solving social issues within local communities. Another is Ray Cocker, who’s the ounder of GameTan, a gaming and e-sports platform for rangatahi to find out what they’re passionate about, with the goal of setting up pathways into careers. “They see gaming as a fantastic entry point into tech careers, so they have a really holistic approach of grabbing young people, pushing them into games, and then showing them the careers that gaming opens up, such as software development, marketing, and events,” Udy says. Meanwhile, the Whariki Maori Business Network, one of many business-support services that ATEED offers or supports in the region, encourages whakawhanaungatanga (relationships, kinships and working together with a sense of belonging) in the Maori business community. The group meets six times a year and aims to provide ongoing support and opportunities for other Maori (and non-Maori) business owners across a range of sectors.

Jarrad and Belinda McKay of Puha & Pakeha. Photo: Rebekah Robinson
Jarrad and Belinda McKay of Puha & Pakeha. Photo: Rebekah Robinson

Puha & Pakeha is one of the members of this network. It’s an eatery, food truck and catering business founded by Jarrad and Belinda McKay in 2014 that gives traditional Maori food a highly modern twist in order to reconnect Kiwis to their rich food heritage. “Our kaupapa is to take the kai of Aotearoa to the people of Aotearoa. At the moment we only operate in Tamaki Makaurau, but we receive calls from around the country,” Jarrad McKay says. He says being a part of the Whariki Maori Business Network provides people to talk to about the ups and downs of being a small business owner, and creates a support system where founders feel less alone. It also provides useful contacts. McKay says it found a supplier that could help with the company’s specialised production needs. “We have unique products and we needed someone who could take over an important part of the food production process, while maintaining our stringent quality and food safety requirements. Networking with other businesses has allowed us to expand our network in both size and quality,” he says. Puha & Pakeha experienced 30 per cent growth in 2018, despite taking three months off to fit out its eatery in Grey Lynn. While there is a focus on growing small businesses, large organisations also have a role to play in the ecosystem. Recently, TSI has been working with the council and council-controlled organisations to change procurement processes and ensure they specify distinct social and environmental outcomes.

Principal policy analyst Tania Pouwhare says making sure Maori and Pacific businesses play a bigger role in the procurement process could be a game changer for the Maori economy. “Countries around the world have had these practices embedded in their policies for many years,” Pouwhare says. “In the past two years, the amount of services procured from indigenous-owned businesses in Australia rose from $6 million to almost $2 billion.”

Pouwhare says doing the same in New Zealand will build on the innate skills of Maori and Pacific people, bring them forward to share in the growth of the mainstream economy and pave the way for a more prosperous Tamaki Makaurau.

This story was first published on Our Auckland.

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