The Māori economy in Waikato: What is it, and why does it matter?

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Guest column by Kim Hill
Business strategist and Te Waka board director

When we talk about “the Māori economy”, we’re generally referring to a collection of aspects that make up the broader contribution of Māori to economic development – both regionally in Waikato and in the rest of New Zealand.

At its core, the Māori economy is made up of a range of authorities, businesses and employers who identify as Māori. Economic development from a Māori perspective is diverse and collaborative, encompassing contributions from iwi, Māori businesses, whanau enterprises, entrepreneurs and individuals.

In New Zealand, Māori own a range of significant assets across the primary sectors (fishing, forestry, meat production, and dairy), and there is growing investment in geothermal, digital, services, education, tourism and housing.

Here in Waikato, the Māori economy is very much alive and well. The most recent figures indicate that Māori businesses contribute $1.4 billion to the GDP of the Waikato region (8 percent of total GDP), and with steady growth we can expect that figure to be higher when the next round of figures is released.

The key areas where the Waikato region’s Māori economy is strongest are in health and community services, property and business services, manufacturing and agriculture.  Additionally, based on our research into emerging industries we know opportunity for Māori business lies in key sectors, such as cultural tourism and education.

However, it’s important to not view Māori contribution to these larger industries as the sole marker of economic success, as Māori SMEs and entrepreneurs also play a big role in developing and growing the Māori economy.

In measuring economic development, it’s important to look at other indicators of success than simply relying on GDP and other financial markers, simply because they don’t paint a whole picture of wellbeing. This rings particularly true for the Māori economy.

Benefits from the Māori economy should be viewed holistically. Alongside financial indicators, we also take into account the four dimensions of Hauora (health and wellbeing): Taha Tinana (physical wellbeing), Taha Hinengaro (mental and emotional wellbeing), Taha Whanau (social wellbeing), and Taha Wairua (spiritual wellbeing).

In the work I do with Te Humeka (Waikato Māori Business Network) and Stratigi within the Māori sector, I constantly see opportunity for our Māori economy to grow into a strong ecosystem.  With support, resources and funding, Māori business will thrive and grow, with Hauora at the forefront of decision making to ensure we see not only economic but social impacts as well.

The desire for more support was most evident at a recent MBIE event I facilitated at Te Wānanga o Aotearoa where more than 100 people with economic development interests came along to learn about the resources and opportunities available to them from the Government. Government support aims to grow Māori SMEs, support Māori youth, maximise the value of iwi and collectives, and develop our regions.

As a regional economic development agency, Te Waka is tasked with working alongside other relevant agencies to ensure this support is readily available to help grow our regional Māori economy, and create the right environment for collaboration to occur – collaboration that is crucial for the Māori economy to prosper.

Now, more than ever, is the time for Māori business to be supported properly so they can thrive. That’s why Te Waka’s priorities are aligned to economic actions in the Māori Economic Development Action Plan, for example, supporting:

• Major Māori economic development projects across the Waikato region to gain funding and support
• Development of a Waikato regional Māori business hub to support Māori business capability, capacity and success
• Iwi to implement a social procurement programme to enable opportunities to be part of the growing Waikato economy
Māori tourism initiatives

Kim Hill is an independent business strategist specialising in working with Māori enterprise with a focus on encouraging and promoting Māori economic participation and growth. Kim is a director on the board of Te Waka, Waikato’s regional economic development agency.

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