In a COVID-19 world, the need for Māori entrepreneurs continues to grow, as does the need for pathways to support them in their entrepreneurial journeys, writes Dr Riri Ellis, Director of Māori and Pasifika Business Programmes at the Wellington School of Business and Government.

In our COVID-19 afflicted world, every aspect of our society has endured severe re-examination. For myself, this has included reflection on how we can support entrepreneurial Māori to make their ambitions a reality. This is especially important as we all seek to ride out and recover from the current economic crisis.

In Māori mythology there are stories of heroes like Maui, whose flair for the unconventional put him in good stead, and Kupe, an adventurer who gave impetus to exploring the new, the different, and the vast. These characters highlight the qualities entrepreneurs need to embark on their journeys—and the skills we need to equip our rangatahi with.

Already, there is work underway at varying levels throughout New Zealand to put in place the strategies and infrastructure needed to support Māori entrepreneurship. At local levels, community funds are assigning resources towards the development of innovative entrepreneurial projects, and councils are providing innovative solutions to address challenges like the trade-offs between sustainability and economic growth.

Examples at a regional level include Toi Kai Rawa, the Bay of Plenty’s Māori Economic Development Agency, who are working to enable the Maori business ecosystem, and the Greater Wellington Regional Council, who are working on Te Matarau a Maui, a Māori Economic Development Strategy for the region. All of this work is important in supporting Māori entrepreneurship.

Rangatahi are increasingly interested in going out on their own and being their own boss. Technology has played a massive role in this with the internet opening a world of opportunities. In my own home alone, my adult children are about to launch an online clothing store focused on meeting existing needs through different channels of distribution. In our extended family, one niece is selling home cooked meals and another has just started an online fitness business. We need to make sure the support is there to help businesses like these thrive.

In 2016, I was part of a Global Women in Management residential programme based in the Asia Pacific that focused on small business enterprise. The point of difference in my view between New Zealand businesses and some of these women and their unrelenting drive to do business better was survival. They had no choice. It was either sell something you made or ordered, or risk complete poverty. The COVID-19 environment in New Zealand has forced many people into that same situation.

As we move to being more agile in response to the crisis, the ability of families and individuals to convert their ideas into businesses is of increasing importance. Many young Māori will be leading this surge in entrepreneurship and that future is exciting—but it is key that industry and government work together to support these endeavours.

Dr Riri Ellis is Director of Māori and Pasifika Business Programmes at Te Herenga Waka-Victoria University of Wellington.

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