Growing Maori businesses and cultivating iwi assets is the focus of the Maori Business Growth Programme, run by business development group The IceHouse.
Twenty-two individuals gathered for a workshop in Auckland recently, made up of Maori business directors from small-to-medium enterprises (SMEs) and iwi trustees, and coming from as far north as Kaitaia and as far south as Nelson and Blenheim. Diverse industries were represented at the workshop, from sheep and beef stations, land trusts, honey producers, and mobile mussel strippers, to a Maori law firm, a fishery, and a guided-tour venture.
Shay Wright, of Ngati Ruanui and Te Rarawa descent, and also head of Maori development at the Icehouse, says the goal of workshop was to examine what it mean to be a Maori business, and what could be done to promote growth. He aims to engage with Maori businesses to get them to the cutting edge of entrepreneurship and innovation.
One of the goals was to foster higher-value production – particularly in iwi trusts, which Wright said have a whole different perspective from SMEs on business. He said most iwi trusts are “risk-averse and cash-conservative “ — they often simply manage a large asset block on behalf of their shareholders.
“At the moment they’re sitting on an asset block and they’re saying, ‘We can plant some pines and chop them down, and therefore we’ll get this many dollars per acre, or we can run a herd on our farm and get this much’.
“But we need to think a little bit innovatively, such as, ‘You have this particular type of soil, you have this kind of climate, why not consider growing ginseng, or something like that’. So it’s more just pushing them to think a little bit more ‘21st century’ about what opportunities there might be.”
Wright said leadership in many Maori enterprises was of the traditional type — the people who were trustees or managers of post-settlement government entities were often the very people who fought for the settlement in the first place. While they may have had the leadership and historical knowledge to have succeeded in court, they were often ill-equipped to then manage the assets.
“The issue with that is that they may not have come from a business background, and so their ability to identify opportunities and mitigate risk is severely limited because they don’t have that skill-set.”
Christopher Finlayson, Minister for Treaty of Waitangi Negotiations, said it was encouraging to see claimant groups investing in upskilling, and planning for the development and management of their assets.
“This is very important not just for the present but for the future. After settlement, it is up to claimant groups to manage their own affairs in the interests of their people, and no-one wants to see any more situations similar to Ngāti Tama in the Taranaki, which is a very sad matter.
“Treaty settlements can provide an excellent basis for significant economic development.”
He cited the success stories of Ngāi Tahu turning $170 million into $600 million in assets, and Ngāti Whātua Orakei using their settlement with railway land in 1993 to create a strong asset base.
Tane Bradley, of Ngati Rora, Ngati Apakura and Tainui descent, and marketing manager of seaweed fertiliser company Agrisea, said networking was a huge benefit to come out of the workshop.
“For me it was the fact that we were in a room with Maori business leaders — that was the exciting thing for me, hearing their stories and being inspired by what they do.”
“I’ve got three meetings set up to meet people [from the workshop], to share ideas and keep learning.”
He said now the time is right to examine what resources Maori have as a people, and where these cross over between trusts or tribes.
“There’s a lot of like-mindedness within the businesses — we all hold the same values and visions and purpose for what we want to do and what we want to create, like [lessening] environmental impact and leaving it better than when we started.”
The key learnings to come out of the workshop included the need to think of shareholders as a resource (tapping them for their skills), having a point of difference in the market, dealing with financial trouble, prioritising strategic planning, and using small Maori businesses to contribute to larger assets held by other trusts.