A pathway to Māori research in business

DR JASON MIKA - School of Management, Massey Business School

Now estimated to be worth around $42.6 billion, the Māori economy is experiencing renewed growth among its Māori small and medium enterprises, Māori landbased enterprises known as Māori authorities, pan-tribal Māori corporate entities, and iwi who have settled their Treaty claims with the Crown.

There is also a burgeoning Māori social enterprise scene. But the Māori economy is an old one, established by the founding ancestors of the Māori people who arrived here from Eastern Polynesia as early as 950AD. The essential challenge for Māori enterprises is to decide how they retain elements of this ancient past along with all the advances offered by globalisation, digitisation and technological developments.

The Te Au Rangahau Māori Business and Leadership Research Centre, located within Massey’s Business School, focuses on research that is beneficial for the Māori economy, Māori enterprises, and Māori people. Led by Dr Jason Mika, the research also has benefits and implications for non-Māori enterprises and the general economy.

In a project funded by Ngā Pae o te Māramatanga, the Māori Centre of Research Excellence based at the University of Auckland, Dr Mika and his colleagues are looking at Māori engagement with business incubators, business accelerators and other enterprise assistance systems. ‘We are talking with providers of enterprise assistance, Māori entrepreneurs and advisors who work them, to try to understand how Māori entrepreneurs think about innovation and what kind of support they engage in,’ he says.

The study aims to discover how well current support systems work for Māori entrepreneurs, how they participate and engage with them, what benefits they gain, and how the systems can be modified to be more effective.

‘Providers of enterprise assistance want to engage with Māori entrepreneurs and the Māori economy, but they are unsure how,’ Dr Mika explains. ‘They operate according to mainstream industry priorities, perspectives and people, which may not reflect Māori entrepreneurs’ business needs and preferences. If Māori think they can’t relate, then it’s not going to work for them.’ An example is grant-funding schemes, which are problematic because they often require significant co-funding, which can be difficult for Māori enterprises to find.

‘There’s a bit of bridge building to be done,’ says Dr Mika. ‘One way is to support the Māori economy to establish its own entrepreneurial ecosystems, such as Māori business hubs, networks, and incubators. The other response is to make existing mainstream enterprise assistance more effective for Māori entrepreneurs.’

There is a demand for Māori economy, entrepreneurship and management research.


In another project, Dr Mika is looking at the Māori economy and industry in relation to New Zealand’s National Science Challenges. Te Au Rangahau is engaged with three national science challenge projects. The first is Sustainable Seas — Ko ngā moana whakauka, which is focused on understanding how Māori enterprises within the marine economy are managing resources in a way that is sustainable, economically viable, and in accordance with Māori world views and expectations.

Another National Science Challenge project, Our Land and Water — Toitū te Whenua, Toiora te Wai, looks at sustainability within Māori agribusiness enterprises and how the tensions between commercial and cultural imperatives are managed. ‘For instance, you’ve got to protect the environment, provide for the people and make money,’ says Dr Mika. ‘We are studying how agribusinesses do that and draw on Māori knowledge.’

The third National Science Challenge project is New Zealand’s Biological Heritage — Ngā Koiora Tuku Iho, and Te Au Rangahau has a particular interest in genomic research within this area. What are the cultural implications of conducting genomic research with species of plants that are culturally significant to Māori people? What are the benefits?

‘I am also fortunate enough to be involved in the healthy ageing and retirement research team, led by Professor Fiona Alpass and Professor Christine Stephens from the School of Psychology,’ says Dr Mika. ‘They are working on a project that looks at older people’s participation in work and how we support that as a country. Te Au Rangahau’s part is to interview Māori participants who have an interest in business to find out what kind of support they have, and what outcomes and challenges they have experienced as older entrepreneurs.

‘There is a demand for Māori economy, entrepreneurship and management research. My hope is that with Te Au Rangahau and other partners inside and outside of Massey we are able to grow our capacity to conduct Māori and indigenous business research and make it meaningful and useful.’ Dr Mika believes that both Māori and non-Māori students, researchers and practitioners can and should be doing this research together for the good of the country.