Public Interest Journalism funded through NZ On Air
Māori-owned power company Nau Mai Rā has aspirations to go global with its latest initiative, Kia Tuakana.
The initiative uses company profits to help struggling customers pay their power bills.
Nau Mai Rā , a kaupapa Māori energy retailer, doesn't run credit checks and will never turn off a customer's power.
Since Nau Mai Ra started 3 years ago, customers have had the choice to direct part of their payments to a kaupapa of their choice, including whare kura and kohanga reo.
Co-founder Ezra Hirawani (Te Āti Haunui-a-Paparangi, Ngāti Rangi, Ngāpuhi, Ngāti Hako, Waikato Tainui) says Kia Tuakana is for everyone "who cares about people and thinks that power is a right and not a privilege".
The energy idea was born after Hirawani's daughter was bullied in school, and her younger sister offered support.
"It can be anyone. Everybody goes through different experiences in their lives and at different points, you'll have a different tuakana," the former Young New Zealander of the Year told the Herald.
Tuakana-teina is a Māori concept referring to relationships between older and younger people, but in educational spaces and a modern context, it can indicate awhi (help) and tautoko (support) to someone in need.
Hirawani has his sights set on expanding the company into Australia and beyond, to connect with indigenous communities and share tikanga-based problem-solving ideas with a community approach.
It's also an opportunity for Māori overseas to contribute to their people in Aotearoa.
"I want whānau in Australia to join so they can pay their bill over there and it connects them back home."
Hirawani acknowledges the misconception that non-Māori can't join Nau Mai Rā.
"Our whakaaro is na te Māori, mo te katoa. By Māori, for everyone."
"Anyone can jump on our waka, whether you're Māori or not," says Hirawani.
Hirawani says he's had many responses from both tuakana and teina customers, but one situation stands out from the first month of the initiative.
"The bro is a regional Māori business banker.... He fell in love with the kaupapa, and we accessed the fund for his whānau [when they got into financial trouble]."
Hirawani and co-founder Ben Armstrong have stayed true to themselves as Māori in the industry.
"We go to meetings in Crocs. We haven't had to change who we are, as Māori, as the brothers, to do what we've done. We've stayed one hundred per cent pono to who we are as people and our whakapapa, to achieve our goals, shoulder to shoulder with our whanau," Hirawani said.
$10,000 a month is currently going into the Whānau Fund, with a total of almost $120,000 raised from 5118 tuakana customers.