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Charting new course through the pandemic

NAVIGATING PANDEMIC: The image accompanying BDO’s third Maori Business Sector Report.
KYLEE POTAE: Kylee says positive thinking was a plus for Maori businesspeople in navigating a way forward during challenging times.

Despite constraints, Māori businesses have strategically navigated their way through the pandemic, the 2021 BDO Māori Business Sector Report showed.

BDO Gisborne director Kylee Potae said the Māori sector report this year, the third of its kind, was not surprising.

“Charting a new course is common not only for Māori in business but the whole community, because the world has changed due to the pandemic — our markets, shopping and social needs.”

Ms Potae said for Māori, confidence was of utmost importance when faced with continual change.

“Having strong leadership to lead these entities through tough times like the pandemic — because there is no doubt your collective wills will occasionally fall off when you’re charting a new course.

“Strong leadership is what kept a calm hand, and helped everyone stick together.

“Often I find with Māori businesses, they have their values interwoven in their strategic thinking.

“A key value is aroha (love), so they lead with aroha to further their collective.”

According to the survey report, whānau/community and whenua (land) remained the top priority for Māori business owners.

“There’s an interconnectivity between whānau and whenua — in the creation narrative, we come from papatuanuku who is the Earth mother, so we are mentally, physically and spiritually connected to the whenua.

“As Māori, making sure both are well is the optimal well-being goal”, Ms Potae said.

In the report, finances were seen as a mechanism to keep whānau and whenua well, she said.

“The finances are just a tool to achieve better outcomes for whānau and whenua.

“Finances will never come above that but equally Māori in business know the importance of it sitting close to or alongside that outcome. They need to work with the tool to re-invest and nurture whānau and whenua.”

Ms Potae said despite the pandemic constraints, Māori had been able to come through it with success.

“Māori are entrepreneurial — with that mindset, they always look on the positive to get themselves through. Hence why Māori are not afraid of charting new courses.”

Ms Potae said a constraint Māori in business faced was short-term and long-term planning.

“For us as Māori, the long-term goal is thinking generations ahead. We have the challenge to break that down and bring it back to today’s reality — the decisions which we are going to make right now.

“We are thinking about the impact of those decisions on future generations.

“Navigating the here and now with the mindset of long-term impact.

Different Māori organisations will have a different idea of what the time frame for that will be.

“For some of us to put a year and date on it is a challenge — here and now, versus impact on the future generations.”

Ms Potae said another challenge was that the financial sector did not have enough knowledge on collectively-owned assets and hence was not suitable to address issues specific to Māori business’s needs.

“Often we have collectively-owned assets and our finance sector can’t really deal with it in the sense they are used to dealing with Mr or Mrs X, and when you are dealing with say maybe 1000, 2000, 3000 or 50,000 who own a collective asset, a lot of our financial models in the marketplace can’t cope with it, or the mechanisms are not set up to deal with that.

“It just gets put in the too-hard basket (‘we just don’t know how to deal with that’), so there can come a capital constraint through no other reason but this collectively-owned asset base and a financial system which is not suitable to deal with it.

“Over time we are finding that financial institutions are taking on the challenge to try to accommodate.

“I think the positive narrative on the Māori sector and the growing economy is really helping the financial institutions to look at the sector as a very real place to invest.

“Equally, Māori are starting to say we can’t wait for those financial institutions, so collectively they are thinking if they’ve got a Māori organisation which is financially wealthy, how might they fund capital through that.

“It is the ‘Tuakana-Teina’ model which in Māoridom means elder sibling helping younger sibling because it became much easier, with a higher chance of success.”

Ms Potae said many people have labelled Māori decision-making as slow and a long process, without knowing how hard collective decision-making could be.

“I’d like to throw the challenge back and say get all of your first, second and third cousins together in a room and tell me how quick it will be to make a decision for what you’re having for dinner that night.

“It’s collective decision-making which takes time.

“Firstly, Māori always come out with a well-rounded way forward because we have debated it to death.

“Secondly, opportunities which weren’t good die, because they don’t last long enough and they don’t handle the length of time it takes for a decision — they just disappear, which in my opinion is a blessing in disguise.

“We are not too slow, we just have levels of generations who are all part of the conversation. It is a challenge but it’s rewarding as well.

“I think that’s what helps Māori to keep rebounding after a hard time, and keep pushing back.

“We always think there is a better way forward.”