The Māori experience and approach is 'a natural resource we are lucky enough to have access to'.

The Sustainable Finance Forum's report recommends that New Zealand's finance sector — with a new mandate to act with wider interests in mind — would benefit from incorporating the Te Ao Māori worldview when transforming to a more sustainable model.

"A broader discussion with iwi/Māori on the design of a more sustainable model of finance for New Zealand and of Te Tiriti o Waitangi/Māori values will be important and useful," it says.

"The Māori experience and approach to life and business, you could argue, is a natural resource the New Zealand finance sector and business community are lucky enough to have access to, unlike other countries around the world," says Debbie Birch, a leader on the Aotearoa Circle's Sustainable Finance Forum and a company director with expertise in Māori economic development.

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"The New Zealand business community would do well to learn from local iwi about taking a longer-term view with no 'externalities' or exclusions," she adds.

Within Te Ao Māori there is a strong legacy for protecting cultural heritage and making decisions for future generations. With significant brand risks to New Zealand if exploitative practices continue, the Financing the Future report recommends a sustainable finance system could build a legacy of enhanced social, cultural and environmental capital over the long term.

"Our role is to take something finite and make it infinite for future generations," says the report.

Financial capital is a necessary vehicle to deliver that legacy, but it is not the overall objective, it adds.

Framing the use of land, resources, finance and other economic units as generative rather than extractive is something that aligns with the Māori view of stewardship for the future
In traditional economic theory, impacts to the environment, community and culture are classified as external to economic activity and excluded from GDP while in the Māori and iwi world view, these factors are core to fiduciary responsibilities.

The Te Ao Māori perspective is about there being one system — where everyone, including the business community, is viewed as belonging to the same community.

When the sustainable financial system is anchored in the Te Ao Māori way, business and finance are understood to operate within social and environmental system constraints and dependencies, says the report.

The financial system serves the real economy and enables this sustainable economic model.

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Within Te Ao Māori culture, there are a number of special relationships that resemble what the Western world would call fiduciary obligations.

Māori believe in the responsibility of looking after ancestral lands, mountains, rivers and other physical and cultural assets as well as children and future generations.

The thinking in Māori culture is that trust and confidence is in the current generation to do what is best for future generations who are not in a position to influence today's decisions.

Māori businesses are characterised by having a collective focus, motivation is the natural environment and people-focused rather than profit-focused and there is an inclusive or holistic philosophy, says Birch.

"For the growing numbers of young people concerned about their future, this far more inclusive way of running businesses is likely to spark their enthusiasm about joining the workforce and building companies which will make a difference for future generations to come," she says.

The responsibilities of Māori businesses are to protect the "taonga tuku iho" (cultural heritage) for future generations, to incorporate, or certainly not compromise, tribal and hapu tikanga and other cultural values.

Māori businesses, which are typically collectively owned, are also seen to be responsible for the socio-economic and cultural wellbeing of the beneficiaries. "There is an obligation to achieve not only optimal and sustainable asset growth and financial returns for the beneficial owners, but to assume some responsibility for socio-economic as well as cultural wellbeing.

Meanwhile, the measurement of success is not solely equity value or net profit but more practical benefits reaching owners or beneficiaries. Benefits may be education grants, or health and wellbeing initiatives.

According to IWIinvestor, the Māori-owned investment and financial advisory service, Māori companies commonly favour very long-term goals, sustainable returns, are risk adverse with decisions around natural resources and protecting taonga tuku iho for future generations.

The fundamentals also include respected leadership in cultural and business matters, beneficial owners having a sense of pride and identity with the business and a level of good communication and engagement, says Birch.

Read the Sustainable Finance Report here.