Maori innovation is a conversation of inspiration and determination.
Over the past year a number of examples have made the newspapers, like Maraeroa C ginseng, or the Miraka milk company that owns the value chain, or Tuaropaki’s sustainable dairy farming.
Perhaps the most important feature of Maori innovation is that it often has direct community benefit. A classic example of this is the technology relationship between East Coast iwi Ngati Porou and 2 Degrees.
The recent announcement of two iwi jointly purchasing the local and international dairy technology firm, Waikato Milking Systems shows Maori are not only owning the farms, but also the farm technology. It’s this type of innovative thinking that is taking the Maori nation forward.
And yet this is not a new thing. Maori once were warriors, yes. But 180 years ago Maori once were integrated supply chain specialists, owning land, crops, flour mills and the ships that distributed their product internationally.
It is easy to be inspired around our innovative spirit when 1000 years ago our ancestors were harnessing the natural elements and utilising celestial navigation to chart the Pacific and journey safely to New Zealand.
Maori innovation is a bit different to the mainstream. It’s about making connections between the old and the new; between the large and the small; between the whanau, the hapu and the iwi. It speaks to the transitional nature of change and looks to how Maori values can be retained throughout the entire process. And it is an essential part of bringing the culture into a 21st century paradigm.
The potential for Maori is not just in innovative ideas, but in the innovative systems to support ideas that will benefit communities.
Recently, I had the honour of attending a Maori Leadership Programme hosted by The Icehouse and came away with a real sense that innovation was crucial to small whanau as much as it is to large iwi. Maori businesses, including iwi, are now seeking out innovative networks like The Icehouse to help them build their business and innovation muscle.
At the macro-level, Maori are estimated to be worth $38 billion. Some of the larger Maori entities have the ability to mobilise people, resources and time to forge powerful relationships that matter. At the micro-level, Maori start-ups and small whanau businesses often struggle to survive.
The Icehouse Maori Leadership programme identified that innovation linked the destiny of the iwi to the whanau by reminding participants that one cannot exist without the other. That success is a shared journey, as much as failure is, and that informed leadership is crucial. And it highlighted the support systems to bring the innovation to life. Similar forums have highlighted innovation as a vehicle to create employment and alleviate poverty.
One of the more significant trends not fully discussed is the changing demographic of Maori. Fifty per cent of all Maori are aged 23 years or younger. This group are digital natives, often hyper-connected, and savvy. The question of where job opportunities come from for them may be partially answered in the palm of our hands.
Last month, two Maori apps were created and launched – Cimki, a social networking app created by Cintina Miki and Pumanawa by Dr Rapata Wiri, which helps to teach the Maori language. In this area, Maori could spark a mobile revolution.
The newly announced $30 million Maori ICT Fund could also boost innovation.
On my travels, I met a group of passionate Maori IT leaders who plan to build an indigenous communication network. For them, innovation is a contemporary way for whanau to navigate the tricky waters of today, to chart the course, make the journey and arrive safely at their destination of digital self-sufficiency.
It’s part of a wider solution to connect, share, train and employ tribal members. They are modern-day ancestors, planting the seeds of hope today so that the children might enjoy the fruits of innovation tomorrow.
• Potaua Biasiny-Tule (Ngati Pikiao, Ngati Whakaue, Tuhoe, Whanau-a-Apanui, Ngati Kahungunu) is an innovator, academic and digital entrepreneur, founder of news website TangataWhenua.com and previous project manager of Google Maori.