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Iwi Entities: focusing on sustainable wellbeing and development of their people

23 Jan 2017
By Kristen Kohere-Souter
Maori Business Stories Tawapata South

Kristen Kohere-Soutar (Ngāti Porou, Ngāi Tahu, Rongowhakaata) is the Chair of Whai Rawa Funds Ltd, and Director of Ngāti Porou Holdings Ltd. Her previous directorships include eight years serving on ASB Community Trust and Aotearoa Credit Union. Her more recent professional roles include Head of Specialist Markets Strategy and Development at Kiwibank and she is now enjoying her role as Coalitions Manager at New Zealand Trade and Enterprise with a focus on honey, seafood and strong wool technology and marketing business Coalitions. 

Most New Zealanders would now be at least familiar with the halo of post-settlement success stories for iwi such as Ngāi Tahu (South Island), Ngāti Whatua (Auckland) and Waikato-Tainui who after a decade and a half of establishment and investments have grown their assets to $6b in combined assets. Such iwi authorities are the largest capital rich segment in the Māori economy, now valued $43b. 

The 40,000 odd plethora of Māori enterprises, Māori SME, non-government organisations, charitable companies, limited partnerships, whānau and Māori land trusts are largely derived from and owned by the Māori social structure of iwi (tribe), hapu (subtribe) and whānau (extended family). The six percent of total New Zealand land that remains inalienable under the Maori land tenure system is also administered by these entities. 

Modern iwi legal entities are now better resourced organisations and as such provide governance to the traditional social structure to support the needs of multiple shareholder and beneficiaries. In many cases iwi are significant players in their local economies providing employment and contributing to local (and often regional) economic development. So the purpose of iwi today is generally to focus on the sustainable wellbeing and development of their people and their regions. Ngāi Tahu’s strapline for example echoes this intergenerational commitment to whānau– “Mo Tatou a mo ka uri a muri ake nei – For Us and our Children After Us”. 

To deliver on these expectations, in 2017 at least 52 iwi legal structures typically operate an overarching charitable trust (such as Te Rūnanga o Ngāi Tahu) where elected representatives make decisions about strategy, distributions and non-financial objectives such as local environmental advocacy, water guardianship and engaging with government agencies. A separate commercial subsidiary (such as Ngāi Tahu Holdings and its subsidiaries) make both passive and active commercial investment decisions and manage businesses to generate annual dividends to their parent. 

Charitable distributions for social services, health, cultural and community development initiatives range considerably between iwi depending on the size of their asset base and profitability of their businesses. Examples of population size served by iwi range from Northlands Ngāpuhi’s 125,000, Tuhoe’s 34,890 and Manawatu’s Rangitane o Wairau’s 5,784 people. However, registered and engaged iwi members are typically much smaller. Ensuring equity of distribution, good informed communications and maintaining relevance to the many faces and aspirations of its active iwi citizens remains an ongoing challenge for iwi administrators. 

One success story is the establishment of Whai Rawa Funds Ltd in 2006 by Ngāi Tahu leadership. Whai Rawa is a managed investment scheme (MIS) offered by the iwi to all registered Ngāi Tahu from birth and provides an opportunity to put iwi distributions directly into the Ngāi Tahu household economy to help save for tertiary fees, first home and retirement savings. This MIS also has a key focus on raising the financial capability of the members. As Ta Tipene O’Regan notes, the scheme averts privatised welfare by design because whānau exercise their mana (authority) in having ‘skin in the game’ by jointly saving in partnership with their iwi. After 10 years Whai Rawa has grown to 23,000 members with funds under management of $54m and Ngāi Tahu families have drawn down $5m for their education, housing and retirement. 

So now iwi commercial success and independent economic development is well underway. However, the late Dr Apirana Mahuika, leader of Ngāti Porou, reminds us of a wider vision when he articulated the purpose of his own iwi as being - “To perpetuate the mana of Ngāti Porou in its entirety, its spiritual, temporal and environmental wellbeing”. The fostering and development of iwi values, principles, language and traditions is of equal importance to their capacity to support and uplift their peoples temporal needs. 

The Māori social structure is economically and politically organised through whakapapa (comprehensive genealogical records) and sustained by the belief in and application of key cultural principles such as mana whenua (rights and responsibilities to exercise control and guardianship over land accessed by whakapapa); mana tangata (rights to control one’s own affairs); iwi kaenga or tangata whenua (where a people or person chooses to exercise and protect their mana whenua) and in the case of my own Ngāti Porou people, mana wahine where female leaders have equal mana to their male counterparts in the roles of chieftainship. These principles still sit at the heart of culturally strong iwi authority governance today and more so in marae, hapu and whānau. 

In 2015, only three years into its post-settlement journey, Te Runanganui o Ngāti Porou agreed to a $500,000 investment to implement Te Reo Ake o Ngāti Porou, an implementation strategy for the proliferation of Ngāti Porou dialects amongst its people both in the traditional homelands and those residing in the cities. The investment recognised that deferred maintenance on the reo would come at the expense of unseen treasures unique to its mother tongue and way of life. Dialects are the product of high levels of variation and development across the many bays and historic communities of the people and for Ngāti Porou a default slide into the use of generic Māori is viewed as non-mana enhancing. For the current leaders it was an easy decision to make given the governance values and raison d’etre as perpetuated by their recently departed statesman. 

Principles guarded and upheld by iwi, hapu and whānau to exercise mana whenua, mana tangata and mana wahine are not dissimilar to more recent corporate and public discourses or policy positions. For example, encouraging ‘diversity’, ‘sustainability’ and ‘interconnectedness’ or ‘integrated solutions’ have long been propagated by Māori and upheld by iwi as an integral part of our cultural framework. Te reo Māori is an inherently poetic and beautiful language and contains an active treasure trove of indigenous viewpoints, wisdom, maxims and deeply held beliefs. Iwi hold distinct identities, dialects, regional provenance, and deep connections to our ancestral regions. What has been the norm for iwi provides much needed texture, colour and vitality to our New Zealand story in order to share and sell our country and products globally. 

In 2017 we see iwi organisations maturing and transitioning from survival and grievance to abundance, guarding and protecting to investing and growth, experimental but novel innovation to deliberate and purposeful investment choices leveraging their intergenerational memories and experiences to craft their mokopuna (grandchildren’s) futures. It will be their own cultural capital that provides the bedrock to guide these next steps and in doing so may continue to pave the way for our nation’s future identity.