New Zealand business faces significant challenges around sustainability, food safety, health and safety and marketing itself to the world. In this first in a series of articles, KPMG partner Matt Prichard says it’s time to look around at the richness of Maori culture to find rich, unique, New Zealand solutions that can give us an advantage on a global stage.
The contribution of Māori business to New Zealand’s prosperity is one of the most exciting opportunities of our generation.
It’s time though that we moved past seeing Māori business as a stand-alone sector of the economy, controlling a separate large asset base, and had the courage to turn to Māori culture to understand what it has to add to New Zealand’s success on a world stage.
If mainstream New Zealand business takes the time and builds deep relationships of trust, KPMG believes there’s a huge amount to be gained for all New Zealanders from looking inside Te Ao Māori for solutions to some of our biggest challenges.
As a nation whose prosperity is based on the productivity of our land, water and seas, we face huge challenges in striking the balance between increasing returns to deliver prosperity to our people, and preserving the health of the land, water and seas for future generations.
All over the world, the mainstream response to that challenge has been tense. A short-term commercial model has a tendency to favour exploitation that could damage long-term sustainability. Eventually, regulators step in to shift incentives and introduce penalties to force business to behave in a sustainable manner.
This tension can work, but only to a point. New Zealanders have a head start on the rest of the world in facing this challenge. Our farming heritage, and our proximity to our rivers, lakes and coast already gives us an affinity for them.
The Māori philosophy of kaitiakitanga is the bridge that can help ease the tension between productivity and sustainability in our businesses. The deep connection that Māori have to our land, water and coast – and the need to ensure they remain economically, environmentally and socially sustainable for future generations – is critical for the wider business community to observe and learn from.
The wider engagement that Ngāi Tahu instigated around the development of their farming operations in Canterbury is an excellent example. It demonstrates how the environmental concerns of a community can be addressed, while building a robust and economically viable plan for agricultural development.
Much of our economic prosperity comes from our ability to nourish the world with high quality, trusted food.
We know the global consumer is already demanding the highest standards of food safety throughout the supply chain. We know the risk we run if the consumer loses trust in our ability to control the safety of their food.
Again, the mainstream response is rules-based. Everyone wants to deliver safe food, but regulation and inspections are the necessary response to the risk to our collective reputation from a failure by an individual business.
Māori believe that all living things, including land hold an essential life force – mauri. That vital essence is transferred into the grass and other plants that grow on the land, and becomes part of the animals who consume them. The average lamb is then processed into around 70 parts, and exported to be consumed by people all over the world.
The philosophy of Mauri Ora (the healthy life essence) offers us a much deeper, richer approach to food safety. If, instead of seeing food safety as a compliance burden, we could move the culture of our food supply businesses to focusing on preserving the mauri that lives within our food products so that it is alive and well when it is consumed by a family in Beijing or London, we would have the basis for a unique global advantage on the world stage.
The new Health & Safety at Work Act reflects another significant challenge facing New Zealand businesses.
Again, our mainstream business approach to a key business problem has had to be to regulate in order to balance the tension of productivity versus protection of our workers.
Māori have a deep-seated philosophy of Manaakitanga, under which the mana of an individual or organisation comes only from their care and support for others.
If it can be captured in the workplace, it can transform an organisation’s culture at the coalface, to one where very person in the organisation is focused on ensuring the wellbeing of the people around them.
Lastly, our prosperity as a country depends on our ability to tell a rich story about the stuff we grow/make and sell to the world.
There is little point in achieving worldbeating standards of sustainability, food safety and quality if our food and other exports are consumed by people who don’t know where the stuff comes from, how it was grown in a pure, clean-green environment, sustainably harvested, and handled with care and respect from “nuku to puku”.
We must improve our ability to tell that story to the global consumer. The deep connection of Māori to our land and waters, combined with strong creative design and storytelling skill, offers an opportunity to tell a richer, deeper story about our food and other exports, and the New Zealanders who grew and made them.
Māori businesses are alive to the opportunities that come from the depth and richness of these philosophies. If nothing else, New Zealand will be better off from the growing scale of Māori business, which will capture the benefits of kaitiakitanga, mauri ora, manaakitanga and kōrero paki as a natural approach to their own commercial operations.
That would be a wasted opportunity for Aotearoa. With a bit of courage and investment in collaboration and understanding, we can embrace these unique commercial advantages to drive a more prosperous future for all New Zealanders.
Tītokona tō tātou tōnuitanga, mō Aotearoa, mō tātou.
This is the first article in a series of articles that will explore each of the opportunities introduced above in more detail.
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