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2011 research puts the Maori economic base at $36.9 billion and Maori as the world's third most entrepreneurial indigenous people – and harnessing their business potential would have major benefits for the New Zealand economy.

Session three of the Unitec Forum for the Future 2011 – Enriching Maori Entrepreneurship Rangitiratanga mo te Kaipakihitanga Maori – was a lively and energetic session at the Unitec Theatre. The debate was facilitated by broadcaster and editor of TVNZ’s Te Karere, Shane Taurima. Panelists included the Minister of Maori Affairs and member of the Maori Economic Taskforce, Dr Pita Sharples; Kristian Beazley, a successful entrepreneur and director of Bold Co, an entertainment and event rigging company; Nga Puhi business owner Heta Hudson, who is also head of the WHK Business Growth Team; Leisa Nathan and Andrea Anderson from Ochre Business Solutions Ltd; and business and development advisor to iwi, hapu and government, Eru Lyndon MBA.

As the focus for Maori in business changes from a reliance on land-based commercial activities into a broad range of commercial ventures, a Maori taskforce has engaged Business and Economic Research Ltd (BERL) to investigate benefits for Maori in pursuing innovation, R&D and technology activities. As to how they can make the most of Maori business opportunities, three fundamental challenges must be worked through: governance arrangements, property rights and mandates, and commercial value creation.

Ngaire Molyneux, a lecturer in Maori Business at Unitec’s department of marketing and management, says: “The notion of Whanaungatanga – business and entrepreneurial skills – is compatible with the possibilities of community economic developments, social enterprise and business development. “An international survey of indigenous entrepreneurship found that Maori are the world's third most entrepreneurial people out of all 30 OECD countries, which should position Maori well into the future,” she says.

Shane Taurima opened the session by acknowledging the ancestors of Maori who were successful entrepreneurs and traders. He says the Maori population is continuing to grow and there is no escaping the fact the New Zealand economy is important to Maori – and vice versa. He then asked each of the panelists: just what is the Maori edge? According to Dr Pita Sharples, the Maori edge lies in the way they do business within their cultural traditions. This proved a bonus when members of the Maori Party travelled to China, as many of the Asian nations do business in a very cultural way. Indeed, the Maori and the Chinese got on very well and understood each other. Dr Sharples said of the $36 billion that Maori are worth to NZ’s GDP, $20 million of it is generated by small businesses – a fact which surprised the panel!