The Director: Learning to align Maori and Pakeha governance

The total asset base of the Maori economy is reportedly now around $35 billion. The Director last year (September) reported that iwi trust investments are growing 50 percent faster than community trusts in general in New Zealand. Maoridom’s assets, investments and other enterprise activities are burgeoning.
Iwi governance is, as consequence, under pressure to build its competencies. Competent governance in the Pakeha world is rare enough, but, says Auckland-based Maori business services manager at BDO Wiwini Hakaria, Maori must deal with additional overlays of complexity.
Balancing the needs of the entity, trustees and beneficiaries with economic, cultural, spiritual and social considerations is one example. general lack of financial literacy – not peculiar to Maori but at this point more prevalent in its ranks – often leads to result-versus-expectation misunderstandings. Being able to ask for assistance while still maintaining mana, pride, standing and power sometimes raises issues, as does keeping “personalities” out of the conversation when judging the merits of various opportunities.
“Actually, governance has existed in Maoridom for many years,” says Hakaria. “It is just different format. In pre-colonial days, Maori had resources and individuals who had to govern what happened with those resources to the benefit of their whanau, hapu and iwi.”
Hakaria believes the terminology can be re-framed to explain the process whereby traditional forms of Maori governance are retained and effectively aligned with governance in the Pakeha sense.
Profit is not the singular objective of most Maori businesses, says Hakaria. “Consequently we need to balance up the spiritual and other needs such as providing jobs, education and social support. There are four considerations – spiritual, economic, environment and social. The governing body must represent all of these interests. Maori boards must be sufficiently diverse and skilled to meet all these needs.”
To provide an acceptable measure of effectiveness in the pragmatic commercial world in which Maori trusts and businesses must operate, the largest trusts are re-thinking board composition, says Hakaria. “They might, for example, have six trustees of which three are Maori. The three non Maori will have different perspective and bring more robust debate to the table.”
Measuring effective performance is, in his opinion, invariably different because Maori trustees tend to take long view. They secure against the future rather than perform to deliver short-term cash dividend. “Don’t get me wrong, they still have to perform to provide funds or different benefits back to their people,” he adds. “But Maori strongly believe that they are temporary custodians (of their assets) and must look after them for future generations.”
Hakaria concedes that the shortage of financially literate Maori poses some difficulties. For example, only two percent of New Zealand’s 30,000 strong accounting fraternity are Maori. It will take time to change that. He takes heart, however, from trend toward appointing Maori trustees to the boards of some of New Zealand’s largest state owned enterprises and private sector companies.
The business and investment landscape is changing rapidly for Maori. As consequence, they are consulted and more frequently involved in organisational governance. Consulting firms like BDO are, for example, providing specialist advice to Maori. “My job is to help Maori entities. But I also help educate others within the firm about Maori protocol and tikanga, customs and traditions,” he says.
Hakaria believes there has been “huge shift” in understanding in the last two to three years. “Companies are beginning to realise just how large the Maori economy is and how rapidly it is growing.”
Given the size and dramatic growth of our Maori economy it is hardly surprising that new appreciation of the need to build governance competencies is, from both Maori and Pakeha perspectives, finally emerging.

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