Lessons to be learnt from Māori business values

By Jessica Beau Paul

In his address to the Federation of Māori Authorities (FOMA) annual conference in Nelson last month, Reserve Bank Governor Adrian Orr praised Māori businesses for their sustainable and innovative approach.

He said:“The economic practices of your tīpuna are well known to have been, and continue to be, long-term and inter-generational. Your investments aim to be values-based in the interests of your mokopuna and their mokopuna.”

With increasing public awareness of climate change, and desire to consume in more ethical ways, this comment is both relevant and timely. In Aotearoa New Zealand we have a unique cultural landscape, and the practices of Māori businesses are beginning to be recognised. Māori have been integrating circular thinking to their business culture for years, and there is much to be learnt – whether you are a business owner, or passionate about sustainability in your organisation.

Two weeks ago, SBN’s Leadership in Sustainability Course explored some of these time-honoured practices, which make Māori businesses sustainable and unique. These businesses operate by a set of values that sets them apart, because of the way profit is perceived.  Being financially viable must be balanced with the social, cultural and environmental aspirations of the key stakeholders. So profit is based on what is truly of value to Māori, and perhaps most people – the quadruple bottom line: people, planet, purpose and profit.

The values which govern the four ‘p’s (people, planet, purpose and profit) in business, are derived from tikanga. Tikanga is a term used to refer to the ethical framework of Māori society; that is, what is right and correct in any given situation. Tikanga underpins the customs, systems, and processes of Māori society and organisations. It is the foundation on which reasoning, behaviour, decision-making, design-thinking and action are based. Tikanga is just as relevant today in Māori in business, as it was in historical times.

However, tikanga used for business is determined by the owner or key stakeholders; so in that context it’s fluid and flexible – meaning they may choose 1 tikanga, or 20 tikanga to express throughout their work. This is less rigid than tikanga used on a marae or in ceremony, for example.

Some values of these values include, but are certainly not limited to:

Ngā matatini Māori: diversity

Acknowledging the wide range of ways in which people express themselves in connection with business, and the diverse realities experienced. So although there is a shared business culture and vision, mandated deliverables and goals, this principle acknowledges the diverse ways this can be achieved.

Kotahitanga: unity, shared sense of belonging

Creating a sense of belonging that applies in vast and varied ways. It’s about the business’ position within a community and how it might be inclusive and create wellbeing. It applies to the belonging an employee might feel within the business and its culture. It’s also relevant to the unity expressed with each and every person working toward a shared goal or vision.

Kaitiakitanga: guardianship of natural resources

Responsibility to the environment and sustainable actions. It includes preservation of natural assets for future generations, meaning businesses will create plans 100 – 500 years in advance. In business as usual, this ensures considerations are made about how to have the least amount of environmental impact.

Wairuatanga: spirituality

A commitment to ensuring spiritual protocols are observed. This can be through the daily practice of karakia and waiata, or on a special occasion such as the opening of a new building or when a new employee is welcomed into the workspace. This is a way to acknowledge unseen energies, and put an organisation’s business practices in good steed energetically.

Manaakitanga: hospitality, generosity, care, and giving

Businesses must host and provide for people accordingly, and resources are allocated for this purpose.  This might mean making sure visitors to the business are cared for. It also extends to stakeholders, community and whanau – all efforts should be made to make people feel welcomed.

Whanaungatanga: an ethic of belonging, kinship

Acknowledging the importance of networks and relationships, and therefore developing, managing, and sustaining those relationships. It involves caring for, and working harmoniously with others to achieve common goals using relational strategies.

What this all looks like in practice:

Māori sustainable business practice and circular thinking through tikanga is brought to life in three fundamental ways: connection to the environment, relationships with people and how profit is perceived. As we know, values based practices are critical to sustainability, so here are three ways to consider tikanga in your business:

  1. Tikanga – connection to the environment.

The Māori world view is deeply rooted in its connection to the natural environment, literally tracing their lineage back to the earth. This is evident in the way Māori introduce themselves – referencing their mountains and rivers. So while profit is clearly important and vital to business viability, looking beyond profit and recognising environmental impacts will drive decision making to a much larger extent, than in mainstream businesses. Consider how your company values could reflect its connection to the environment, and explore ways to bring that to life. This could be company activities centred on tree planting, or walking together up the local maunga or waterway for wellbeing, and to reinforce connection to nature.

  1. Tikanga- relationships with people.

Business is ultimately about relationships with people, and through following tikanga, Māori organisations put business relationships in good stead. For example, it places emphasis on customer community wellbeing, environmental awareness and social responsibility. This can also extend to staff by acknowledging whanau commitments and allowing for flexible working arrangements. In some instances, this offering of purposeful work and flexibility can be more attractive to potential talent, than a higher salary. Integrating more of these social practices allows both customers and staff to feel highly valued, which will add to their productivity and loyalty.

  1. Tikanga and profit.

In a world where reputation is everything, tikanga help Māori organisations attract clients. With increasing awareness of Māori business practices, companies that enter into relationships with them can expect to be treated fairly, honestly and ethically. And unlike mainstream businesses, they are often in scenarios (like participating in powhiri), whereby they get to know each other on a deeper level, creating higher trust and potentially increased business. As mentioned earlier, it’s also about rethinking what profit looks like in business. Creating great jobs where people are valued, earn a living wage. It’s about leaving the environment in a better state than when you found it, being socially responsible, preserving natural assets for future generations – all of this can be included as part of the bottom line.