Reflections on the Far North Social Enterprise Hui

Catherine Murupaenga-Ikenn has provided the following reflections and personal highlights[i] from the full day Social Enterprise workshop, at Te Ahu, hosted by the Akina Foundation[ii] and participants of the 2015 Far North Thrive programme.[iii]


These are my reflections and personal highlights[1] from the full day Social Enterprise workshop, at Te Ahu, hosted by the Akina Foundation[2] and participants of the 2015 Far North Thrive programme.[3]

My general impressions from the day were that it was very exciting and inspiring to see so much interest and collaboration to create resilient local economies more aligned with our constituencies’ wellbeing values – especially Māori values.  The group of near 80 attendees, included people from as far afield as Hastings and Wellington to speak and listen. Much appreciation to the organizers, and we anticipate lots of follow-up action.


Assisted by Far North District Council Community Development Advisor, Ken Ross, hui facilitators Jamie Emery and Kaye-Maree Dunn[4] introduced the day’s kaupapa, including some background context and history. Today’s initiative grew from community feedback about what they wanted re economic development.  Many people had enterprise ideas, but just needed help to turn that idea into a viable undertaking.  Since the start of this conversation, 22 social enterprises have been established.

What is Social Enterprise?[5]

“Social enterprises”[6] can be thought of as hybrids between charitable enterprises on the one hand, and purely for profit businesses on the other:

We saw a resurgence of social enterprises overseas as a response to recessionary times which forced people and communities to do business:

  1. In a more collaborative (rather than competitive) way; and
  2. Focusing on creating social, environmental or other wellbeing value (i.e. helping to address some issue or make a positive impact) for the wider public good (not just private business owners and shareholders).

Social enterprises can be any size, large or small. New Zealand’s laws tightly prescribe what “charitable” means, whereas other countries are more flexible (we may want to expand that definition so it’s more easier for people to be social entrepreneurs).   We want social enterprise to be the way business is done in Aotearoa.


Representatives of the following social enterprises presented to the hui:

Patu Aotearoa[7]

Integrating the ‘te Pae Mahutonga’ Māori model of health,[8] this enterprise engages out in communities, workplaces, schools – anywhere and everywhere where whānau are – to decrease inactivity rates in New Zealand, in particular Māori and Pacific Islanders.

  • The founders’ heart and passion for their people motivated them to start their business over on the East Coast, and quickly spread. They recognized that health is more than just about physical wellbeing, so they established a research team within their organization which is sharing their wellbeing findings internationally.  They use and prefer a ‘learning by doing’ method, and found that whānau training together produces best results.  However, they recognize that the world’s changing, so they’ve also developed systems and “apps” that whānau can use on their personal electronic devices to monitor their progress.
  • They teach others to establish their own Patu chapters in their own kāinga, so they have clients who go on themselves to be Patu trainers and business owners. The most successful are whānau-led and driven.


This nationwide programe was founded by Dr Lance O’Sullivan and his wife. The kaupapa is to keep our tamariki in school by keeping them healthy (e.g. treating skin infections, rheumatic fever, cellulitis…) and increasing health awareness.

  • They’re funded through the Ministry of Health, Northland District Health Board, and whatever other support Lance can secure (his high profile helps). Sometimes funding to keep the enterprise sustainable is a concern. They use a form of “telemedicine” (telecommunication and information technology to provide clinical health care from a distance): i.e. a personal electronic devices “app” collects health data, helps make a diagnosis, liaise with doctors and ensure medicine gets to their patients.


This Kaikohe-based enterprise seeks to leverage youth creativity, strengths of the kāinga and design principles to create positive change, thriving communities and develop innovative solutions to today’s challenges. Founder Ana Heremaia was drawn home from an architectural job in Melbourne to be happier pursuing her life purpose.  She recognizes the value of traditional Māori knowledge and education methodologies for today’s ‘modern’ education (so-called).  In her experience, it’s important to identify what young people love to do, connect that with their skills and natural talents, and it’s then easier to match them with mahi that’s meaningful and fulfilling for them.

  • Because funding is a constant issue, part of their enterprise is commercially-based to help supplement their income. They balance their contract work with their community and youth projects.

Tokotoko Solutions[10]

This enterprise provides mentoring and work training to support young people through their schooling years and into the workforce. Young people innately know more about the world than we give them credit for.

  • Director Isopo Samu believes what’s going on inside of ourselves is critical for success in life, and one’s ability to help others bears a direct relationship with how we are inside. One of their ‘scaffolding and construction’ training courses wasn’t fundamentally about conventional building at all, it was about ‘scaffolding and constructing’ the person themselves.  We need to be asking ourselves how do we build our own dream.  If we’re not doing that, then by default our efforts must be going towards building someone else’s dream!
  • In business, if you’re always worried about “funding”, you’re looking in the wrong place: we should as a priority seek to add value to others first (make happy people your ‘product’), then the business resources, funding and profit will follow. We should also expand our idea of what ‘work hours’ look like.  When you’re fully invested in your mahi, you’re in creation mode 24/7, and you’ll be motivated to jump out of bed or move any time of the day or night (if you don’t know why you’re in that business, or if you don’t feel this passionate about your mahi, then forget it!). Similarly, be flexible about where your ‘office’ might be – your home, your car, a school, another’s workplace, a café…
  • If you want to start a social enterprise, there’s plenty of business out there. All you have to do is identify a gap or a need, and go fill it.

Total Security Managers[11]

This enterprise is a collaboration between the Police and local businesses. Its aim is to reduce crime in Kaitaia and make our town safer through education and intervention.  It got some resistance from the big security companies because it was taking a share of their market.  But that’s fine, because TSM’s profits are re-invested back into our community (whereas those companies’ profits go offshore). Already, the result’s been a 60% drop in main street crime in Kaitaia.  This enterprise is evolving: it’s created eight full time jobs, and is expanding into other Taitokerau towns.


Under the umbrella of CBEC,[12] this enterprise’s catch-cry is “Less waste = more happiness” (especially with the Ahipara landfill being only 800m from the ocean, 50% of waste being food, and 40% being recyclable – things must improve!). They educate kids in schools, help them to design their own waste management plans, and as a result most in Northland are now “recycling schools”. They also work with businesses of all sizes to improve waste management systems. When Northland Waste won the Council’s waste management contract and stopped taking farmers’ silage wrap, Ecosolutions was able to find them a new provider to collect that plastic.

Whare Uku (Earth Home) Building

Rueben Porter spoke about how society today can be oppressive, so he’s known for resisting those aspects of society (especially the legislation, regulations and bureaucracy that undermines or prevents enterprise). However, people are what we love.  He spoke of the importance of relationships in building social enterprises and strengthening communities: if you lose your “people”, you have nothing.  Relationships with those in need are especially challenging because they’re suffering.  In business, we need to be allowed to make more mistakes and learn from them.

Social Enterprise Challenges

Some presenters stayed for this Q&A session on key challenges. Some key points included:

  • Building community trust is vital. Often trust is lost because we lose our “why”, our vision/kaupapa and our reason for doing what we do (a major issue for ‘Māori’ organizations, apparently).
  • A tip: define one problem you want to solve, or one need to fill. Focus your social enterprise around that (at least for starters).
  • Know what are the critical parts of your business (e.g. finance, health and safety, legal compliance), and ensure you have good systems in place to manage them.
  • Funding is a core component that keeps your business viable, so ensure you manage things (e.g. income/expenditure, cash flow…) well:
    1. Be careful not to become dependent just on one funding source. This will make you vulnerable.
    2. Reliance on charitable funding has its limits. Consider private sector investors.
    3. Be mindful of strings attached to funding. Selling the soul of your enterprise just for the money kills the point of the enterprise in the first place.
    4. Strive for efficiency and keep costs down as much as possible, but stay flexible. You don’t want to overly sacrifice the quality of your product or service just to save money. Find the right balance.
    5. As a community, we need to be louder with our voice and demands to Government about what we want for our economy and enterprise here in the Far North.
  • Take good care of your staff/team mates. Invest in them with personal development, etc.
  • Marketing is so important (how is anyone going to know you’re ‘out there’ otherwise?).

Open Discussion

Main points from this session included:

  • “Failing fast” in business (making mistakes) should be encouraged, as long as we’re learning from and building on that experience. We shouldn’t get too hung up on making mistakes because everything is imperfect, there are positive and negative aspects to all things (including our impact on the world), it’s part of the entrepreneurial journey – it’s a part of life. The main thing is our commitment to correcting the ‘bad’ when we see it.
  • Protecting Māori traditional knowledge, or any indigenous knowledge, is tricky in business. There are intellectual property protection legal mechanisms you can use, but these have limitations including the time protection it’s offered for and who can apply for the protection (e.g. a natural or ‘legal’ person – but not a hapū). Having said that, legal regimes are continuing to innovate (e.g. the Whanganui River[13] and the Urewera forest national park[14] gaining legal personhood status). The Mātauranga Māori /Flora and Fauna and Traditional Knowledge Waitangi Tribunal WAI 262 claim[15] is also expected to produce more innovations in this area (once the claimants re-engage with the Crown).
  • Regarding marketing to customers online, and the significant digital/e-commerce marketplace (which rivals traditional businesses in terms of ‘reach’ and value transactions), the hui was informed about Ākina and the Māori Women’s Development Inc’s latest project, “Te Hiringa Hinonga”, Māori approach to social enterprise comprising of “workshops and an intensive wrap around accelerator programme to help create opportunities for social enterprise to flourish within Māori communities”.[16] Education organization Te Whare Hukahuka[17] has also collaborated with Ngāti Pukenga to develop the online business startup program “Business in a Box”.[18]
  • For any aspiring scientists and innovators, Government funding is also available through the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment’s “National Science Challenges”.[19]
  • One person raised how hard it was for young people to enter into the workforce when so many employers required work experience. This barrier must be addressed.

How to invigorate our identity as successful social entrepreneurs?

The hui considered whether it would increase entrepreneurial activity and improve prospects for business success if people (especially Māori) had a better relationship with the whole concept of business and “success”. But how to achieve that?

  • It was noted that the language we use significantly influences the way we think about subjects. One idea (building on Isopo Samu’s presentation) was to empower our internal beliefs and thoughts around fundamentally who we are as creative Beings, and what truly valuable “mahi” really is. E.g. science has now caught up with indigenous knowledge and recognizes that humans have cosmic – one might say, ‘divine’ – origins, i.e. from the stars. This understanding of our miraculous greatness (“He kākano i ruia mai i Rangiatea”/ I Am a seed, born of greatness) should be our starting point that gives us courage and “the confidence to ‘think big’ in any endeavor. Also, to Māori the concept of “mahi” is more than just work: “ma” referencing “clarity” and “hi” referencing “hihiri”/ energy (the idea being that the clear, focused direction of one’s personal energy can produce many good and valuable results – whether in voluntary service, paid or self-employment). We also have “time” anxieties in relation to business development: but for Māori, we know we must respect that everything happens in its own time (i.e. “mā te wā” – not necessarily when we want it to happen).  The stories we tell ourselves shape our mindset, which in turn has a huge impact on personal and business lives.  This is an area which future social enterprise workshops will be focusing on, especially since our concept of “I Am”-ness (self-identity) can affect young peoples’ work ethic and “I Can”-ness.  Useful traditional and Māori knowledge in these areas can be revived to help build that sense of identity and self-empowerment.

It’s About Freedom and Democracy!

Some people resisted the idea of ‘business enterprise’ as it was associated with capitalism, corporations, individuals who wielded too much power, etc. In response, the more ethical “co-operative” business model was suggested – “an autonomous association of people united voluntarily to meet their common economic, social and cultural needs and aspirations through a jointly owned and democratically controlled business”.[20]

  • Timebanks[21] and complementary currencies[22] are also gaining more use. It was reiterated that all these social enterprise actions to create a ‘counter culture’ and ‘counter economy’ were actually ways to protect and strengthen our freedom and democracy against systems and agendas that would seek to economically oppress and enslave us. So it’s imperative in this time of highly disturbing political, economic, social and environmental upheaval that we normalize these initiatives and massively scale up their use everywhere!
  • The organizers notified that there will be more local hui and follow up action, and also encouraged attendance at the 27-29 September 2017 Social Enterprise World Forum to be held in Christchurch.[23]


[1] Not an official record.

[2] http://akina.org.nz/about/our-story/.

[3] http://akina.org.nz/expired-events/far-north-thrive-programme/.

[4] Affiliated with Māori Women’s Development Inc, http://www.mwdi.co.nz/; https://www.facebook.com/M%C4%81ori-Womens-Development-Inc-487121188099674/.

[5] See also https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Social_enterprise. The Government also has a position statement on Social Enterprise at https://www.dia.govt.nz/government-position-statement-on-social-enterprise.

[6] See explanatory video at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9_g5RqwW51I.

[7] http://www.patunz.com/.

[8] http://www.health.govt.nz/our-work/populations/maori-health/maori-health-models/maori-health-models-te-pae-mahutonga.

[9] http://www.akau.co.nz/.

[10] http://www.tokotokosolutionsltd.co.nz/.

[11] Contact the Police Station, or Facebook https://www.facebook.com/groups/529919257156471/?fref=nf.  Radio interview at https://tehiku.nz/sunshine-fm/toast-and-jams-with-erin/1085/total-security-management-in-kaitaia.

[12] The far north Community and Business Environment Centre: http://cbec.co.nz/

[13] “New Zealand’s Whanganui River Gains A Legal Voice” (18 September 2012): http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/09/18/new-zealand-whanganui-river_n_1894893.html.

[14] See https://www.nytimes.com/2016/07/14/world/what-in-the-world/in-new-zealand-lands-and-rivers-can-be-people-legally-speaking.html?_r=1.

[15] See the claimant website at http://wai262.weebly.com/; and media release by the Waitangi Tribunal (with links to more information) at https://waitangitribunal.govt.nz/news/ko-aotearoa-tenei-report-on-the-wai-262-claim-released/.

[16] See http://akina.org.nz/news/new-initiatives-helping-to-grow-maori-social-enterprise-in-te-tai-tokerau-and-tairawhiti/.

[17] http://twh.co.nz/.

[18] http://bibnz.weebly.com/.

[19] See http://www.mbie.govt.nz/info-services/science-innovation/national-science-challenges/features.

[20] See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cooperative.  For more, see many examples of co-ops affiliated with the Transition Towns movement, e.g. https://transitionnetwork.org/news-and-blog/people-powered-renewable-co-op/. See also the materials regarding coops at Democracy at Work, e.g. http://www.democracyatwork.info/ct_coop_prospects_practical_transformative_coop_initiative.

[21] E.g. see the Māori Womens Development Inc “Hine Timebank” at http://www.mwdi.co.nz/hine-timebank-2/, and the Kaitaia Timebank at https://kaitaia.timebanks.org/.

[22] For one list of these used around the world, including several already in operation in New Zealand, see http://complementarycurrency.org/ccDatabase/.

[23] http://sewf2017.org/.