The Māori asset base has grown past $40 billion but there is a warning of barriers to continued rapid growth.

Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment figures estimate Māori assets are worth $42.6b — a 15.4 per cent increase from 2010.

These assets are held in Māori trusts, incorporations and other entities, including $6.6b owned by self-employed Māori, and are growing faster than the economy as a whole. And the value of Māori enterprises is tipped to grow as the final Treaty of Waitangi settlements are made.

But Massey University School of Management senior lecturer Jason Mika says too little is known about the Māori economy — and that will be costly to New Zealand in terms of lost employment opportunities and lasting sustainability.


He says Māori business is defined by four key characteristics:

•Self identification
•Māori ownership
•Māori values are an explicit or implicit part of the business
•The enterprise makes a deliberate attempt to contribute to the wellbeing of hapu/whanau/community.

"Not all Māori businesses would necessarily identify as such — they might say, 'I'm just a hairdresser or a taxi driver, I'm just trying to feed the whanau and live the Kiwi dream'," Mika explains. "But when you dig a bit deeper you will usually find a whakapapa and start to see those characteristics."

But although Māori authorities and trusts are relatively easy to identify through tax records, little information is available about small to medium enterprises (SMEs).

"They are there — they fill out forms and they pay tax, but there is no mechanism for identifying them. We're relying on matching Census with business data. But how many are there? What are they doing? Are government policies benefiting them in the way we would hope? What policies are harming them? Unless we have a good idea of how big it is, we're shouting in the dark. We need a complete picture."

But Mika says the arrival of artificial intelligence (AI) in workplaces will also disproportionately affect Māori — and is another reason more research is needed.

"If we can forecast the level of disruption, we could do something about it. We could do some estimates about the potential impacts. How will the community respond? How can we build resilience?"

A deliberate strategy that looks at the role of Māori in, for example, tourism, is vital to ensure not only the wellbeing of Māori people but to ensure the sustainability and cultural integrity of a distinctive and unique part of New Zealand and its economy, Mika argues.


"We have certain obligations that didn't end on February 6, 1840. It's about ongoing respect, rights and privileges. We need to support Māori to develop as Māori. We have to acknowledge that there's Māori culture, Māori stories and we have to provide for that."

Mika believes the growing economic power is another stage of the Māori renaissance that began in the 60s and 70s and at the heart of Call for insight as Māori asset base moves beyond $40b it is an acceptance by Māori and the wider community that their culture and language has value. "So many initiatives have spun from that — we have kohanga reo, wananga, Māori TV, Māori education."

"Unless we have a good idea of how big it is, we're shouting in the dark. We need a complete picture."

Waikato University senior lecturer Dr Maree Roche says Māori leaders balance traditional influences with modern influences as they head complex organisations, leading often marginalised communities, and weaving Māori kaupapa — purpose, policy — with contemporary influences on their leadership styles and practices. She says five key values guide Māori leadership.

1. Whakaiti (humility)

The leader does not self-nominate as a leader, does not take credit for work, but enables others. There is no self-promotion. Humility means great leadership is behind the scenes.

2. Ko tau rourou and manaakitanga (altruism)

Manaakitanga reflects the importance of caring for another person, doing the right thing for them, and ensuring their wellbeing. Ko tau rourou can be generosity of spirit, or creating wealth that is not necessarily material. "Essentially, this is a form of co-operation that enables development through giving," Roche explain.

3. Whanaungatanga (others)

Broadly, this is the idea of collectivism but also refers to relationships with current, future and past generations, and the closeness and depth of those relationships.

4. Tāria te wā and kaitiakitanga (long-term thinking, guardianship)

The idea of the long journey, with a clear direction but the need for patience is reflected in the idea of kaitiakitanga, or guardianship.

5. Tikanga Māori (cultural authenticity)

Roche says tikanga Māori, or the "Māori way of doing things" was a fundamental guideline for Māori leaders who draw on "traditional principles while managing the interconnected world".

Mika predicts the sector will take off in the next 20 to 30 years as a significant population of young people seek work in Māori businesses and tribal enterprises, and as capability and confidence increases.

The Māori philosophy of sharing — not so much "trickle down", says Mika, as "trickle up" — will benefit the entire community.

"We exist to provide the opportunity to develop our people. It's about contributing to collective wellbeing — not just providing jobs.

"So many different ethnicities want to learn the culture, so it's not just for Māori; it's for everyone who wants to work inside the environment."