Pragmatic approach to Maori Economic Development

by George Riley, Northland Inc GM Māori Economic Development
George 1 20180813

George Riley

Attempting to answer questions like, “what is Māori economic development?” perhaps comprises more navel-gazing and definition soup than is necessary. Pragmatically it looks like this: you start with where Māori organisations are at, their vision and their kaupapa.

The strengths tend to belong in either collectively owned assets, mostly land and fisheries, and small to medium business enterprises owned in a company structure. In character, Māori organisations that manage collective assets are conservative in activity and decision making processes. If we equate beneficiaries to shareholders then these organisations, like Ahu Whenua Trusts, have aspects that are parallel to large publicly listed companies. Similarly the majority of Māori SMEs in many respects are not very different to non-Māori business enterprises. Settlements have and will influence what gets done, particularly at the iwi and asset holding end, but SMEs also need to be developed. Clearly though, a team approach generates successful Māori Enterprises, regardless of the organisation. So begin by understanding their kaupapa, even if not immediately apparent.

I’d like to address three examples of progress - regardless of settlement processes. The first is Parengarenga Inc, which has many characteristics common to Māori assets or assets under Māori organisational management i.e. a large land holding comprising sheep and beef farms, a forestry unit and access to exquisite coastal amenities, and managed by a Māori Trust established under Te Ture Whenua Māori [Māori Land Act 1993]. Land under this Act is predominantly owned collectively, but not exclusively. Trustees are accountable, and required to conduct prudent financial management, be compliant with their Deed, and report annually on progress, expenditure against budgets and, most importantly, conduct transparent election processes that invite beneficiaries’ input and participation. When Trustees fail to meet their obligations, beneficiaries can seek recourse through The Māori Land Court.

The outstanding feature of Parengarenga Inc is that their strategic planning sessions include Trustees, operational staff, beneficiaries and independent community observers. This group has high regard for the beneficiary voice, and does not shy away from potentially adverse commentary. Teamwork and inclusiveness are fundamental aspects to the leadership.

The second example is the very small, isolated community of Te Rawhiti. Te Rawhiti contains several excellent examples of natural capital, and in terms of leadership they do not see themselves so much in terms of individuals, but as a “team” operating within a community framework. What sets Te Rawhiti apart from others of similar ilk is the establishment of a community development plan based on tikanga values. In this tiny community there are two reasonably large, successful land-based Trusts who also have shareholdings in a common company. The other shareholding components of the community company, Te Rawhiti Enterprises Ltd, are held on behalf of the two local hapu and the marae. As a result of this shareholding arrangement directors are answerable to five of the main community groups. Under this comprehensive, inclusive model all ‘team members’ of the community - individuals, whanau, kuia and kaumatua - have a clear line of sight on the company activities.

The third example of Māori economic development that illustrates teamwork in economic development is small to medium enterprise. Stay Native is a whanau-based company comprised of several generations working in the digital space. This group came to Northland Inc’s attention via ‘The Pick 2017, a business enterprise competition for start-up businesses in Northland. Instituted by our collaborative work space The Orchard, Stay Native came out at the top of 147 entries.

The Stay Native team says working together, working at home, working late hours, impromptu meetings etc., all comes together because they are a “whanau team”.  In their words, “different areas of expertise and flexibility when dealing with family needs means roles are less important than outcomes”. The outcome for them, and the other examples highlighted, is to get the team working together towards a common vision.

2018 Māori Economy

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