Māori reversing rural-urban drift

Some Māori are beginning to reverse rural-urban drift by adopting technology and realising that it doesn’t matter where they live.

Kylee Potae, Head of the Māori Sector for global business and accountancy network BDO, says the company’s latest Māori Business Survey reveals more Māori are embracing technology, with some basing themselves back in homelands without losing earning capacity – and, in fact, increasing it.

“We are seeing signs that the rural-urban drift is being reversed a bit,” says Potae. “More people in fields like exporting, for example, understand location is not important – but a wifi connection is.

“They are realising they can be at home, enjoying their little slice of paradise, but also building their business and thinking ahead to their mokopuna and the next generation after that. They are using technology to be engaged in business but also to be engaged at home – they can fill their soul while filling their pockets.” 

The Māori economy is now accepted to be about $50 billion, stemming from iwi expanding business interests well into the Treaty of Waitangi post-settlement phase. That figure does not include Māori  small-to-medium enterprises (SMEs), acknowledged by the Minister of Finance, Grant Robertson, last year when he said more data was needed to work out the Māori  economy’s true dimensions.

Potae says the beginning of an urban-rural drift is a clear signal of the different approach by many Māori businesses: “They are definitely long-term thinkers; they make mokopuna-based decisions because it is all about that generation and those that follow.

“It’s not just about profit; the survey shows that 55 per cent of respondents had a strong cultural, social and environmental purpose in their business while their desire to be profitable (22 per cent) was secondary.”

However, even if the day arrives when the SME contribution to the Māori  economy can be counted, Potae says BDO’s Māori  Business Survey shows it is facing a couple of stern challenges – attracting the right people and funding to help attract those people.

“Gaining access to people who understand the Māori world, or at least those who have deeper knowledge of Māori vision and goals than the average New Zealander, is hard. It is a very small market when you are looking for someone with that understanding and the right qualifications for that business or sector.”  

For example, Potae says that less than two per cent of people in accountancy have such understanding and qualifications.

“What is needed is people who understand the Māori way of thinking. It is not just black-and-white economics, short-term thinking and profits – the Māori world is a bit like an onion, with many layers and viewing business through a wider lens that, yes, extends to mokopuna and whānau but also to the environment and building long-term business relationships.”

If the available pool of people is shallow, the answer is to deepen it – and many Māori in the survey were disappointed the government, while they were positive about its recent investment in education, was not funding the specific education and understanding needed to further fuel the Māori economy.

Some iwi – Ngāti Porou were a prime example – were taking the initiative themselves: “It means taking a transformative view of education; the current classroom-based system is huge, it’s a big model to change,” says Potae.

So the Ngāti Porou had invested some of their treaty settlement in “fun” ways of learning, not necessarily classroom-based but using assets like their radio station and reaching out to the community to improve learning and the retention and use of te reo, researching and holding symposiums.

“There’s a long way to go but they are making a start in educating people with the right sort of skills to help accelerate Māori business,” she says.

Also accelerating is Māori interest in areas like blueberries – where a $1 billion export industry is envisaged by the joint venture between the Miro Māori collective and government scientists from Plant and Food Research, creating a breeding programme for new high-value berry varieties, to be grown, marketed and sold by Miro, with support from BerryCo NZ.

Part of the growing Māori economy involves iwi making more active use of their land – like the gold kiwifruit experience at Te Kaha, on the East Coast. The land is historically used for maize but partnerships, joint ventures as well as individual whānau developments have seen a bright future for the gold kiwifruit produced there.

“But we still need to grow our people and our capability,” says Potae. “We need to invest more in those people so, as Māori move into new and innovative sectors, we can continue to grow.”   

For more information: Download the Māori Business Survey Report

BDO's Head of Māori Business, Kylee Potae, talks to Exectuive Director of Te Tiri Toi Whakangao (T3W), Barry Soutar about tech in New Zealand for Māori businesses.