Pūngao, kohara and ānga (energy, passion and drive) easily describe the collective essence of Theresa O’Brien and Sally Crown as they push forward an important kaupapa of “helping others live their best lives”.
Although history will show how many businesses were lost due to COVID-19, Theresa and Sally, established Tipu Ake Tonu Ltd during this time, with a vision to help others to succeed and achieve community well-being through economic development.
During the level 4 lockdown in March/April, the two friends and entrepreneurs set up regular zoom catch ups with others to share their lockdown experiences and to create a support network.
It was from these online hui that their idea to collaborate and create a business was born and since then it’s been a whirlwind.
“We were reflecting on our own experiences of the rāhui and the impact it was having on us and our whānau. We started thinking about how it was therefore impacting on other whānau, hapū, hapori (community) and iwi,” said Theresa.
The pair started looking at social and economic data and forecasts, while discussing the role entrepreneurship and the ability to be agile in business would play on our regional and national recovery. With the issues identified they worked on where they could add value.
Sally adds: “We wanted to start a business that utilised our shared passion for helping others combined with our skills and experience in enterprise and community.; a business that would specifically support the regions’ economy, underpinned by values and the Māori eco-system.”
Within a week Tipu Ake Tonu was registered and ready to go.
Sally is of Ngāti Rereahu, Ngāti Tūwharetoa and Ngāti Apakura descent. She has a background is in communications, business development, policy, governance and education programme development and delivery. She has worked as a consultant in these areas for community, iwi and private organisations and in 2019 became a Napier City Councillor.
Theresa is of Ngāti Porou, Ngāi Tuhoe and Ngāti Rarua decent. She was born and raised in Hawke’s Bay and has successfully worked in both the private and public sector as a consultant in business development, community development, project management and governance.
They both see business as a way to affect positive change and growth.
“If an individual is engaged in doing something that is meaningful, this has a ripple effect on whānau and the wider community,” offers Theresa.
Sally and Theresa say the strength of a Te Ao Māori lens on business is that it all starts with the people – he tāngata, he tāngata, he tāngata. However, from their experience they know that social outcomes aren’t the only indicator of success.
Sally says, “profitability and sustainability are also goals. The outcomes we aim for by harnessing the ‘people-first-Māori-worldview approach’. A successful business has to make money.”
Current start-up and business growth support is generally ill fitting for those looking to embrace Te Ao Māori values and frameworks. In addition to experiencing this first-hand as owners of several businesses, Sally and Theresa have noted similar experiences and requests for support from many others in the private sector who struggle to access culturally appropriate assistance.
“We find that Māori in business are incredibly motivated by values and social impact outcomes, but they hear language like ‘bottom lines’ and ‘pieces of pie’ and it doesn’t resonate with them and that puts them back a step. It becomes a negative experience and we are trying to make sure that our services are delivered in a culturally appropriate way – with a balance of both profitability and social impact,” says Theresa.
Recognising that the business model for Māori is linked to atua (deities), whenua (land) and whakapapa (lineage) and then supplementing that with western business fundamentals, the aim is to equip those they assist with the skills and knowledge to take the best from both worlds. This approach is applied across all of their services.
For example, Kurawaka, a multi-level start-up programme for wāhine (women) is a 9-week course that provides wāhine with the skills, confidence and networks to successfully launch a business.
It blends business foundations with Te Ao Māori and has been funded by Te Puni Kōkiri.
This programme is delivered primarily from the Te Oranga Pūmanawa whare in Maraenui, home to the youth employment programme that is owned by Theresa operates from.
She says, “it is a privilege for us to bring people to Maraenui for a positive outcome. The whare is a place of healing. It radiates so much vibrancy and is a space with unlimited potential.”
Tipu Ake Tonu also provides business growth and development coaching and mentoring and cultural capability services.
They have also led the revitalisation of the regional Māori Business Network – Te Aka Kaipakihi.
“By offering Māori businesses an opportunity to collaborate, connect and access education, mentoring and communication opportunities, we will grow and thrive together.”