Releasing the brake on the emerging Maori economy

Contributed by Reece Stanley Oti Moors
(Ngati Mahuta – Tainui & Ngati Pikiao, Ngati Whakaue – Te Arawa)

Historians far wiser than I can tell us of the the last 1000 year history of trade and commerce in Aoteraoa-New Zealand. Maori were our first international exporters and were the back bone of a thriving and sophisticated pre-colonial economy built off the back of domestic and international trade.

So fast forwarding to 2015 what do we see? According to Te Puni Kokiri commissioned reports completed by BERL, we are told of an emerging Maori economy (BERL Reports 2006 $16.6bn; 2010 $36.8bn; 2013 $42.6bn). Much of this subset of the NZ economy is made up of Maori wage and salary earners which arguably form part of the mainstream NZ economy. So who is the actual Maori economy and how do we realise the full potential of those enterprises?

A Maori business to me is a business that is driven by quadruple bottom line imperatives (eg: economic, social, cultural, environmental etc) and as a priority reinvests back into their communities (ie: whanau, hapu and iwi). They are not solely driven by profit, albeit that is very important, but they are prepared to take a financial hit in the short term for long term gain, the long term being 50-100 years in some instances. Shareholder financial return, although remaining a strong focus, is not what gets Maori enterprises out of bed to do business.

What drives the Maori business model is the ROI as measured by the well-being improvements they see in their communities, whether they be improved educational, health, economic or social outcomes. These drivers are not exclusive to Maori alone, there are many international models of such behaviours. Maori businesses also measure their performance by such things as the number and quality of active Te Reo Maori speakers (the Maori language) in their families and communities, if their children can swim in their traditional tribal lake or river, how well the local secondary school first IV rugby team and waka ama teams are doing and how vibrant and well maintained their local marae may be.

These are some of the measures by which true Maori enterprises are judged, both by themselves and by their often very vocal constituents. Maori enterprises not only have a commercial relationship with their beneficiaries, but they also have a political relationship with them.

So to achieve these audacious states of well being and not being resourced to do this, many Maori enterprises today need to grow their wealth and add value to their commodity based assets and continue to invest in their people and their capability to build their human capital. So the modern Maori enterprise needs more scientists, innovators, engineers, entrepreneurs, international marketers, food technologist, policy thinker and writers, data and researcher analysts, future forecasters, blue sky’s thought leaders, lots of completer-finshers and other key talents.

The Crown remains a strategic partner for Maori (in the context of the modern Treaty relationship) the role of government acting as a key enabler for Maori development, remains critical. Furthermore the fact that government makes up such a large part of the NZ economy, the numbers tell you its vital to stay close to what government is thinking and doing, and that’s without even considering the legislative and public policy weight the government of the day may carry. Therefore, the new Maori enterprise leader needs to continue to be au fait with the machinery of government and its many facets and characteristics to be able to influence and predict public policy shifts.

As Maori organisations have moved from grievance to development mode, the skills set required by the governors and managers of the modern Maori enterprise has shifted rapidly in the past 5-10 years.

The farmer, fisher or forester can no longer rely solely on his or her core skills alone to provide the step change their enterprises need. Certainly the wisdom, experience, institutional knowledge, institutional memory and pure gut courage and hard work of these leaders and managers continues to be extremely valuable.  but adapting to the new world of e-commerce like Apps, Flickr, Twitter, Facebook, etc etc, requires the new younger breed of Maori entrepreneurs to be part of the capability drive that most Maori enterprises need today.

We also know that Maori are some of the world’s best relationship managers. Maori value the fact that culture counts and are well equipped to move into the new world of relational contracting and are savvy international citizens who have well established links all over the globe and therefore Maori have a unique and proven competitive and comparative advantage by doing what comes naturally to them. Former Maori Affairs Minister the Hon Dr Pita Sharples, labelled this the “Maori Edge”.

Maori should, and in some cases are, looking to other developing economies to learn how to create their own best practice model for Maori business here in Aotearoa-NZ. The Harvards, Princestons, Berkeleys, Stamfords and so on can only offer some tools, it is for the new Maori enterprise warrior to develop his or her own thought leadership that will give the Maori economy the much deserved turbo boost it needs. Once the thought leaders have laid down the plan, then the Maori completor-finishers can do their jobs only to repeat that process over and over again.

I encourage every Maori Trust, Maori Incorporation and Iwi business (with or without the support of government and other strategic partners) to go forth and find your aspiring entrepreneurs, train and awhi (guide/support/mentor) them to be your new business managers and thought leaders and find the closest thing you can to an MBA in Science, Innovation and Entrepreneurship, so you can grow as many of these Rangatahi (young leaders) as you can. If you can do this at the exponential rate it now requires, your people and your nation will be grateful to you for many generations yet unborn.

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