Date posted: 09/02/2021 5 min read

What did Māori business learn in the 2020 lockdown?

A BDO report details how Māori businesses coped with the loss of commercial activity and reset in the global pandemic.

In Brief

  • With the economic fallout from COVID-19, financial performance has emerged as a priority for Māori businesses.
  • Māori businesses struggled to keep on workers in line with their focus on cultural and social outcomes.
  • There were also positive outcomes from the lockdown, with Māori businesses tending to social needs and increasing their use of technology.

By Amity Delaney

The Māori sector suffered in a similar way to other businesses across New Zealand in the wake of COVID-19 lockdowns and restrictions. Closed shops and stifled markets hit the sector hard.

BDO’s second Māori Business Survey examines the business focus and goals of the Māori sector following the tumultuous experience of 2020. BDO surveyed 91 Māori businesses in New Zealand, of all sizes and industry sectors, to identify their priorities and challenges.

The report captures what those within the Māori business world already know – that the sector is underpinned by a commitment to people, culture and the planet.

However, with the economic fallout from COVID-19 restrictions, financial performance emerged as a priority – a shift for a sector that in the past has prioritised whānau (extended family) wellbeing over money.

“The global pandemic and fears of job losses have necessitated a big move in thinking over the past 12 months, with awareness that financial success is key to achieving positive cultural and social outcomes,” the report states.

“[When taken together] 42% of respondents named employment and profit as their top priority, with cultural, social and environmental factors identified as top priorities by 38% of respondents.”

Kylee Potae CA, a BDO New Zealand advisory partner and its Māori business sector leader, says the findings could have implications for the wider business community.

“Māori take a holistic view to their actions where we are always conscious of making a positive impact balanced over the people, planet and profits,” she says.

“[It’s] not to lift the focus above the people and planet, but to lift the line of sight on profits up for greater alignment. Having alignment of all three is the ultimate sustainable business model for intergenerational businesses.”

The impact of the COVID-19 lockdown

The report details how the strain of lockdowns and shutdowns heavily affected businesses and employment outcomes. And for many survey respondents that employed five people or less, COVID-19’s effect on employment was huge. Businesses struggled to keep on workers in line with their focus on cultural and social outcomes.

But there were positive outcomes, too.

Tending to social needs: Māori businesses found they had an important role to play in their communities during the lockdown. Social bonds have always played a key role in the Māori sector and the pandemic helped to strengthen relationships within their communities.

After New Zealand’s nationwide level-four COVID-19 lockdown began on 25 March last year, Māori businesses quickly switched to distributing care packages to the community, including food packages, hand sanitiser and face masks.

“COVID-19 sort of brought to the fore a social/volunteer focus and it built trust with the community,” says Potae.

Increased use of technology: Out of necessity during the lockdown, many Māori businesses expanded their ecommerce offerings and improved their internal communication channels.

“Isolation meant that was our only way of doing business and communicating,” says Potae. This increased use of technology could permanently broaden market reach post-pandemic.

Financial implications: [end bold] Some Māori businesses benefitted from more New Zealanders buying local and supporting their communities. Collective group Choice set up a Facebook page for NZ businesses and artists to display their goods. In Māori communities, many people got behind local cafes to help boost these businesses as COVID-19 restrictions eased.

“It created this huge swell of New Zealanders supporting each other,” says Potae. “There was a huge mindset of supporting local, more than just a local town but local New Zealand.”

Kylee Potae CAPicture: Kylee Potae CA.

“There was a huge mindset of supporting local, more than just a local town but local New Zealand.”
Kylee Potae CA, BDO

What can other businesses learn?

That sort of community commitment was not restricted to New Zealand. The Future Drivers 2023 report by trendcaster WGSN noted that the COVID-19 pandemic had driven a renewed appreciation of local community around the globe: “… community spirit in the face of adversity reinforces how vital communities are in forming and maintaining our mental, physical and financial wellbeing,” the report states.

Indeed, Potae believes the Māori lockdown experience resulted in a number of takeaways for businesses more broadly, including:

  • Being agile to be able to change operations quickly when you need.
  • Thinking of the collective, looking after the planet, keeping an eye on the profits and making sure all three are balanced for long-term returns.
  • Using technology to be efficient, but also maintaining a level of personal contact, because it’s important for wellbeing.
  • Looking after each other doesn’t mean forgoing profits 100%. You can make a profit and look after people. Keep this in mind when setting the purpose for your business.

“COVID-19 has taught us all a lesson of how connected to each other we are,” says Potae.

“Who would have thought that a virus in one nation could have spread across the globe as quickly as it did? This highlights the fact that we are all in this together, and that borders are meaningless.

“Māori undertake business in a holistic way, where we think and act with our whānau.

“This will bode any community well. The ability to think of the collective is a strength. It is challenging and can be hard work, however it will always give a better long-run outcome than short-term individualist actions.”

Read more:


Download BDO’s second Māori Business Survey.

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