More Māori-Hi-Tech marriages needed

By Hemi Rolleston

As this year’s entrants to New Zealand’s Hi-Tech Awards celebrate tonight, Hēmi Rolleston of Callaghan Innovation considers what success for future Māori looks like in a world of increasingly fast-paced technological change.
Hemi Rolleston. Photo / Supplied
Hemi Rolleston. Photo / Supplied

Ask any Kiwi or visitor to New Zealand what Māori are well known for and they will probably talk about Māori culture, food, language and traditions, more than their innovation.

It's true, these components do make Māori unique, but alone they represent the past.

In 2017, with rapidly increasing technological change, the future is here whether we like it or not. And we need to embrace it by encouraging more marriages between Māori and technology. Because the situation is this: innovate or die.

There are some highly successful Māori-hi-tech marriages, proving how Māori can not only survive but thrive into the future, while maintaining their authenticity.

It's these exemplars that will lead the way and help create a mindset shift amongst Māori themselves.

The Māori economy is a significant and important contributor to New Zealand's economy. Māori producers contributed $11 billion (5.6 per cent) to New Zealand's GDP.

Which is why Maori success is not just about Maori, but about NZ Inc.

The latest reports show that the Māori asset base increased from $36.9b in 2010 to $42.6b in 2013, with the largest portion of the Māori contribution to GDP coming from the primary sector (contributing $1.8b to Māori GDP in 2013).

Maori need to evolve more from being landlords and primary producers, to invest further up the value chain into other areas such as tourism and food - for example, through inventing technology to pick kiwifruit instead of just owning the land it's grown on.

Two significant Māori entrepreneurs, Ian Taylor from Animation Research Ltd and Grant Straker from Straker Translations, laid down a challenge at the 2015 Hi-Tech awards for Māori to be more involved and recognised in the innovation space.

On accepting his award for Innovative Hi-Tech Services, Grant's words were bold: "We need more Māori here tonight, not just working behind the bar".

He was spot on - there wouldn't have been any more than 10 Māori in the audience.

Callaghan Innovation took up the challenge, backing a new Māori Innovation award category which launched last year, attracting 22 entrants.

The winners, Precision Seafood Harvesting (PSH), are a great example of taking the traditional Māori industry of fishing, and marrying it with technology to produce innovation that is tipped to revolutionise the global industry.

The PSH programme - a collaboration between Aotearoa Fisheries, Sanford and Sealord, the Ministry for Primary Industries, and Plant & Food Research - is commercialising fishing technology to ensure fish are landed alive, and in perfect condition, while safely releasing small fish and by-catch. This sustainable fishing technology has changed the way fishing has been done for the last 150 years.

Likewise, finalists were all doing amazing things in the technology world, including improving Māori health, teaching young Māori to code, providing software that empowers Whānau to take charge of their own well-being, and producing experiential digital books, focusing on education, culture and sustainability.

I can't wait for this year's entrants to showcase how technology can unlock and amplify Māori's unique story and products - be it through language apps, smart tag technology that tells indigenous stories via 3D pop-up images, or smart software for community based virtual health services.

What really excites me is the fact that Māori have some products and services that are unique and authentic, and the application of new technology will provide an intriguing new dimension.

Think of the current boom in tourism, and how Māori tourism and technology could tell virtual reality stories, allowing people to be part of a haka or battle for example. Or how Dr Lance O'Sullivan is challenging the Māori health system through technology, creating community based virtual health systems.

Technology is there waiting as an ingredient to success. We don't have to create it, we just have to understand it, embrace it and add it through working with other Māori and non- Māori companies.

Success looks like a really good blend of Māori and mainstream - which is why we support the awards.

However, there remains a lot of work to be done in bringing the Māori and mainstream worlds closer together, or at least having them talk to each other more.

That fact that the Aotearoa Māori Business Awards are happening on the same night, in the same town as the NZ Hi-Tech Awards is a case in point.

This year, we may not get more Māori in the room for this very reason, but it won't stop us celebrating the awesome success stories of Māori injecting technology into traditional sectors. To inspire us to think about how we can use technology to add value to our culture, environment, sustainability and our future generations.

These Māori innovators are the ones who will inspire others to challenge themselves to embrace new innovation, push through boundaries and really unlock their potential.

- Hēmi Rolleston is General Manager, Sectors, Māori Economy and Programmes at Callaghan Innovation

- NZ Herald

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