COVER STORY Economic Renaissance – The Maori Challenge

Look back about 150 years and Maori entrepreneurial spirit was much in evidence. No sluggards when it came to adopting new technology or exploiting trading opportunities, they grew produce to sell first to whalers, then settlers, built ships for coastal commerce and kicked off the traditional ‘Kiwi OE’ habit by venturing offshore to explore, learn and check out global trading opportunities.
Then came the great land grab, the triumph of imported values and laws around individualism (particularly as related to land title) and several decades during which Maori’s main contribution to business was the provision of labour.
Fast forward few decades and whanau-based entrepreneurial ventures now comprise healthy chunk of our small business landscape; Maori-inspired collaborative business model is spearheading our trading relations throughout Asia Pacific; and values that inform Maori enterprise have been absorbed into mainstream business culture.
This year’s Hui Taumata in Wellington generated not only lot of discussion around how best to build Maori contribution to New Zealand’s economy but also sense of excitement and energy around the opportunities as both cultural confidence and business acumen strengthen.
As Te Ohu Kaimoana chairman Shane Jones put it: “Our best is before us.”
That includes demographic strength – by 2031 it’s estimated that one third of all children in the country will be Maori, while those in the working-age (15-64 year) group will have increased by 85 percent. By 2005 Maori will make up about 22 percent of the population.
The potential is also underpinned by strong entrepreneurial streak. According to recent GEM (Global Enterprise Monitor) surveys, Maori and especially Maori women are not only more entrepreneurial than other New Zealanders but are also more confident about their business futures.
Shane Jones again: “We are far more visible. Our culture and heritage is intact and seen as source of pride by more than ourselves. Even more importantly we have proved we are an adaptable people. Adaptation is the key to our survival.”
The question, says Jones, is how to “capture the energy, the effervescence of our cultural revival and population growth to fuel economic empowerment”.
“We need to accentuate that we are positive contributors to the economy – to bear our share of the burden of driving economic growth.”
Okay, there’s lot of work to do and the Hui was much exercised by the issue of developing human capital. Building that unleashes much greater economic clout than any Treaty settlements, Robert McLeod told Hui delegates.
A tax specialist of Ngati Porou descent whose many high profile roles include directorship of Tainui Group Holdings and chair of the Business Roundtable, McLeod noted that the “economic power within human capital across 600,000 Maori, dwarfs the relative economic power of governments and of financial capital”.
He also estimated that there was some $41 billion locked up in the relative under-performance of Maori in employment and income generation.
Addressing that gap is seen as major challenge in terms of building Maori contribution – as is developing the necessary management and governance expertise to turn good ideas into great businesses. There is also the issue of self-belief which, allied to capability and self-determination, is seen by some as critical piece of the development puzzle.
That links back to the “cultural effervescence” Jones talks about which is perhaps most evident in the creative sector – film, clothing, design etc, as well as in tourism. Having unique proposition gives Maori-inspired product lot of clout in global markets hungry for and receptive to differentiation.
But does this renaissance also impact on mainstream New Zealand business – not just in terms of economics but in the more subtle context of cultural values; the hearts and minds piece of organisational and national endeavour?

Valuing Maori contribution
The most recent attempt to pin down the size of the Maori economy was 2003 report by the New Zealand Institute of Economic Research and Te Puni Kokiri which put its 2001 value at around $9 billion. This includes the commercial assets of Maori trusts and organisations, trustee land assets, iwi treaty settlements and private Maori-owned businesses.
However, attempts to separate out Maori from the mainstream economy or define ‘Maori’ business can be both problematic and controversial. Many Maori enterprises already feel they operate in fishbowl of public scrutiny and would rather not focus on what makes them different from any other business endeavour.
And where do you draw the line? Is ‘Maori’ business differentiated by ownership structures or defined by racial characteristics? Are we talking about Maori incorporations, culturally inspired enterprises or just any business owned by someone identifying as Maori? Is it that these are businesses which embrace value set that is quintessentially Maori?
These are interesting questions but behind them lies broader philosophical one, suggests Manuka Henare, associate dean for Maori and Pacific Development at the University of Auckland Business School. And this is about the purpose of an economy.
“What I hear from the Maori community is desire to be lot more self reliant which, in the area of business and entrepreneurship, means having an economy that serves Maori people’s interests.
“In way that is critique of New Zealand’s economic policy for most of the last century; lot of people feel that it hasn’t.”
Leading on from that, he believes what differentiates Maori business is the broader sense of social purpose behind it that feeds back into kinship systems and community. The common good, says Henare, is very important concept.
“A Maori business is one run and organised in way that Maori values are to the fore and Maori values historically have always been about producing surpluses but not necessarily driven by free market notions – like person is driven by their own self interest. That sort of thinking is by and large foreign to Maori and to most other Polynesians – and Asians for that matter.
“It’s different world view.”
He says definition of business that resonates with Maori is one put forward by Visa founder Dee Hock; that business is nothing more than community of people who come together around common purpose and having achieved that, disband and reform around another area of common interest.
“You don’t want business that becomes an end in itself – it has to meet some common purpose. It’s definition that makes sense because businesses have to keep on reinventing themselves. If nobody wants to buy your product, don’t hang in there and die glorious death, change your product. But over time, you can see there is continuity.”
None of which sets aside all the normal criteria for running robust, profitable business practice; if anything it underscores the need for best business practice because failure in such small market is damaging to the community, says Henare.

Built to last
That sense of community responsibility is perhaps inevitable when you’re talking about organisations based on tribally owned assets. Opinions vary as to whether such collective ownership is an asset or drag. Do you bounce off the collective strength or become mired in the politics of it?
Economic commentator Gareth Morgan once described the Maori societal model as substantial barrier to its members’ economic emancipation. Nowhere, he averred, “have tribal models ever been able to deliver more than loin-cloth rewards”.
Ngai Tahu Holdings chief executive Robin Pratt sees it differently.
“What the ownership structure does is make sure we have the appropriate rigour to look after the assets properly. We’ve got to be dynamic and make profit in what we do and behind that you have all the normal processes of good governance. We have shareholders who set general direction, board that governs the companies and professional management i

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