Young Maori business enthusiast Shay Wright is buzzing about developing a new kind of business support framework for Maori.

As the new Head of Maori Development at The Icehouse, Wright says it's rare to get a leadership backed opportunity with full flexibility.

"We're not constrained by standard 'business' thinking. We've kept our ears and nose to the ground to make sure we are really listening to Maori businesses and iwi about their key challenges. We are making no assumptions about what we think Maori business leaders need."

Wright says the goal is to make Maori an economic powerhouse, starting with enabling Maori Trusts who have established businesses. "The trusts have the greatest potential of becoming the driving economic engine. When they generate profits, we will see reinvestment into our people, housing and marae. We will be able to create opportunities for youth, engage deeply with Maori entrepreneurs, and help bring back the culture of entrepreneurship that Maori were once renowned for."


He believes that Maori are sick of the tick box mentality that has become the status quo; at best this has only delivered incremental change.

Wright says most mainstream business organisations have never cracked the Maori model. This is partly because they use a transactional approach to build the relationship with Maori, partly because of the scepticism, and partly because of a general lack of understanding of how Maori actually think and operate. "Maori are inherently inter-generational thinkers, so the process and timeframe for making decisions can be significantly longer - and the decisions consider factors other than just financial reasons."

For the Icehouse, this has meant a rethink of the engagement strategy with Maori, and acknowledging that the traditional content and delivery of business programmes may not be the most effective model for Maori businesses.

Teresa Nepia who completed a pilot programme late last year says it was valuable to meet and talk to others in the business community and learn from their experiences.

"As my first journey into the world of formal business learning, it was an awesome first step - challenging but interesting. The facilitators and guest speakers were the highlight. My experience of the Icehouse approach was user friendly for those who are new to the concepts and for those who have been in business for a long time," she says.

The next programme Maori have asked for is aimed at developing competencies within Maori Trusts.

"Trusts utilise decision-making by committee. The whole decision-making group needs to be involved in the learning journey together. One trustee coming on a programme and trying to convince the others about their new ideas just won't work - trusts have quite a bit of scepticism, conservative thinking and lack of knowledge around taking opportunities."

The first Maori Trustees Programme is expected to be held in Auckland in April.