Waikato MBA focuses on Maori world view

By Gill South

As a result of successful Treaty negotiations, the Maori contribution to GDP is expected to rise from 6 to 25 per cent over the next 20 years. Photo / File
As a result of successful Treaty negotiations, the Maori contribution to GDP is expected to rise from 6 to 25 per cent over the next 20 years. Photo / File

Degree is a tool for future leaders, says Gill South

As a result of successful Treaty negotiations, the Maori contribution to GDP is expected to rise from 6 to 25 per cent over the next 20 years.

If you are looking at doing a Master of Business Administration (MBA) to improve your chances for the next big promotion, rather than opting for something more traditional, why not consider a new Waikato-based MBA that is drawing the world's attention.

The Waikato-Tainui MBA, run by the University of Waikato Management School and the Waikato Tainui College for Research and Development, has just beaten international business school INSEAD's social entrepreneurship programme and other top European programmes to win the MBA Innovation Award from the London-based Association of MBAs (AMBA).

The Waikato-Tainui MBA differs from the typical business qualification in that it is not about individual progress or excellence, but more about a collective learning where everyone contributes to a greater benefit.

In its early stages, the main aim is to produce a cohort of Maori leaders who will take on new responsibilities in the coming years.

Its launch has been carefully timed. Successful Treaty of Waitangi settlement negotiations have led to the return of substantial land assets and financial benefits for tribal shareholders. As a result, the Maori contribution to GDP is expected to rise from 6 per cent to 25 per cent over the next 20 years.

This new responsibility will require future Maori leaders with the skills to operate effectively within the complex global business environment, while preserving Maori culture and values.

The college and university have bigger ambitions, too - with plans for their programme to link up with other indigenous groups in countries such as Canada and the United States to learn from their approach to business. An international MBA study tour will see the Waikato-Tainui participants travel to the University of Arizona in the US.

Dr Peter Sun, associate dean at the university's management school and director of the MBA programmes, says the international study scheme is about wanting the students to experience what indigenous business looks like. "I would say a lot of it is around values," he says. "There are some similarities in how they approach business, retaining cultural values, the identity, and how that's practised in a business environment."

Sun says students will investigate whether such indigeneity is transferable and good business practice.

In its first stage, the Waikato-Tainui MBA course is a mix of traditional MBA papers but done in a Maori style, with live-in sessions over the weekend, every fortnight.

It is unique in its curriculum, teaching and learning, and the involvement of alumni. Maori leaders who have done the MBA are course mentors and prominent Maori guest speakers include Professor Sir Mason Durie, the deputy vice-chancellor of Massey University, and Ngai Tahu leader Mark Solomon.

"The Maori style of leadership is different from traditional Western leaders," says Sun. "In Maori, leadership is distributive and spiritual, more about serving others."

The curriculum has been developed so it is culturally responsive, transformational and challenging.

The teaching incorporates Maori and indigenous-based case studies relevant to participants' skill sets.

Says college director Sarah Tiakiwai: "General business can learn quite a lot from the Maori approach." But she stresses the indigenous way of looking at business is not a rejection of Western ideas and techniques.

The Tainui-Waikato MBA is more about challenging the status quo.

Although participants learn traditional MBA methods, it is about "making sure we are clear [about] what values can we use to articulate our point of difference".

And if that point of difference is clear, how is that helping New Zealand global business advance?

"The level of discussion will enable participants to challenge their thinking," says Tiakiwai. "We provide them with outside mentors; guest speakers who challenge them.

"They are urged to ask themselves: 'What am I doing this for? Who benefits?' And to push against an individual benefit towards something which is much more collective, longer-term and sustainable. Non-Maori would see there's a certain respect, an obligation to being part of the programme. It's not so much what do we get out of it, but what can we give back to our community?

"The Maori outlook and that of other indigenous groups is not just about how we see the next one to five years, but how can we do things much longer-term, for generations."

Those in the New Zealand business community are watching the programme's progress with interest.

Sarah Trotman, the entrepreneur behind the nationwide Bizzone Business Expos, a business mentor who has worked with Maori businesses for over 10 years, says it's great to see Maori educating future leaders.

"What iwi leaders need to do is focus on educating their people, giving entrepreneurs the tools to run businesses," she says.

Maori have a strong sense of self, a real confidence about where they stand in the world, says Trotman.

"When dealing with Maori in business, there's a real sense of them as an entire person rather than being someone with a business hat on. I really like that - you build much better relationships and quality businesses."

Kiwi company TetraMap, which has produced a workplace training tool designed to inspire leadership, reduce conflict and improve performance and morale, works regularly with Maori groups as well as global corporates. The TetraMap approach brings in nature's elements, which resonates well with Maori.

Kataraina Pipi, a master facilitator for TetraMap, says: "I am not surprised that the Waikato MBA programme has received some international recognition. It is a combination of Maori frameworks and philosophies with Western concepts and philosophies."

- NZ Herald

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