By Dr. Pita Sharples
This week the government has announced a rebranding exercise for New Zealand to increase exports. Not to replace the '100% Pure' marketing strategy, but to ‘tell a compelling story’ about New Zealanders’ integrity, consistency, resourcefulness and innovation, and the country’s Māori culture, to boost recognition of New Zealand as an exporter of quality products.
Well, this is what Māori exporters have been doing for some time now.
The Māori Economic Taskforce that I, as Minister of Māori Affairs, set up in 2009, put together a package of measures to boost the Māori economy. They included collaboration among iwi and Māori businesses to share experiences, cut business costs, pool resources and capital, and achieve economies of scale.
A key element was to capitalise on ‘the Māori edge’ – the strengths of Māori culture that give us certain advantages in business. For example, Māori culture values face-to-face, long-term relationships offering mutual benefit. So Māori businesses tend to be inter-generational investors rather than quick profit takers. And our culture is unique, so we can stand out in a crowded market.
I have led two Māori business delegations to China now, and I have to tell you that ex-pat Foreign Affairs and NZ Trade and Enterprise staff say they were the most successful trade delegations they have supported.
I’m sure that’s because of the cultural similarities between Māori and China. We are interested in connections, and our Chinese hosts were very interested to hear that our Polynesian ancestors came from Asia. We respect kinship – and our iwi and hapū businesses are family-based enterprises. As indigenous peoples, we plan to stick around, which gives our trading partners a sense of security.
As proud inheritors of an ancient culture themselves, Chinese people are very interested in the story of Māori people. There are at least 55 indigenous minority groups in China, and when we visited their communities, we were able to talk about how tourism can support their local economy and sustain their traditional cultures. The commercial aspects of the trip were augmented by agreements for reciprocal education scholarships, student work experience and cultural exchanges.
Tikanga Māori underpinned everything about the mission, from the way we met and greeted people, to the way meetings and gifting ceremonies were conducted. Building relationships came first and commercial outcomes flowed from there. This approach is well understood and appreciated in China. It is evident that tikanga Māori opens doors.
Our culture-based approach, so useful in global business and trade, is part of what Māori can contribute to New Zealand’s overall export and business development. This is recognised in the government’s recent announcement, and we need to make sure that Māori are seated and the planning and decision-making tables as this new strategy is developed – for the good of all New Zealanders.
Dr Pita Sharples is Māori Party Co-leader