Female Maori entrepreneurs flourishing

Luke Parker
Female Maori entrepreneurs flourishing

Teresa Tepania-Ashton believes entrepreneurship is naturally innate in Maori women and needs to be reawakened.

“If you go back in our history we’ve always been quite an entrepreneurial race,” Teresa says. “Even prior to Europeans arriving, we were very industrious; we traded overseas, and were highly active in industry.”

And as manager of the Maori Women Development Inc. (MWDI), Teresa is on a mission to help more Maori women start and run their own business.

Empowering Maori women to leap forward

Teresa says MWDI’s main priority is to provide last-resort micro lending to Maori women and their families.

“We are specifically targeting Maori women because from an ethnicity and gender perspective, generally Maori women find it very hard to get assistance in relation to finance.

SEE ALSO: Raising leaders, one child at a time

“This is about empowering them to take a leap forward and encourage them to be self-employed and independent so that they can also therefore assist their own families.”

In order to qualify for funding, they have to have been declined by a bank. Teresa says a lot of the time this is because of finance and security issues.

“For us it’s about overcoming those obstacles to be able to fill in those gaps.”

No shortage of interest

With MWDI helping hundreds of start-ups since its inception as the Maori Women’s Welfare League in 1987, and around 220 currently on their books and at least 70 on the waiting list, it’s clear there is genuine interest amongst Maori women to start a business.

She says you’d be very surprised at the types of businesses they’re seeing come through these days.

“Not the normal, I suppose, stereotype business but really a lot of women who are sitting alongside their partners and taking a lead which is really what we want.

“The most common industry is definitely food and hospitality. However, we recently funded someone who has their own rubbish collection business, a construction business, and a trucking business – so very diverse, and all around the country as well.”

Businesses are in the programme for a total of 5 years and provided a maximum of $10,000 per year.

Holistic approach

The MWDI is not-for-profit and receives its funding from Te Puni Kokiri.

With a permanent staff of 3, Teresa says they also work with contractors and mentors, partnering with organisations like Ngapuhi, Ngati Porou, and the Auckland City Council.

MWDI also run adult and youth training programmes, including Te Wero Pakihi.

“Our priority focus right now is around financial capability and so we’ve trained approximately 130 financial literacy facilitators in their communities so far.

“These are communities like Kaikohe, Kaio, and Rangitukia (Gisborne); very remote places so that they’re empowering their whanau to really hone in on their financial capability.”

A common struggle

Teresa says what they generally find is that when businesses are struggling, it tends to be because they are unable to manage their finances.

“When we surveyed further, it was also proven that not only where they struggling with their business, they were struggling personally. So we know that the two must go hand-in-hand.”

She believes one of the key ingredients for Maori women succeeding in leadership today is having a strong support mechanism.

“It can obviously be a lonely pathway for any leader, but specifically for Maori women, I think it would be great if there was sort of a collaboration of leaders sharing their pathways.”

Teresa’s 3 pieces of advice to inspire Maori women entrepreneurs

  • “Have a vision and go for it. If you have a strong vision you can overcome anything that’s in your path. I think women in general tend to do that with a little bit more loving care as well, and so really number one would be to go out there and plant that vision and go for it.”
  • “Stay true to who you are and never be afraid to celebrate the fact that you are Maori, that you have certain beliefs, and don’t compromise. Our culture has an empowering embrace of who we are as Maori women.”
  • “Share the wonderful strengths and skills you have to empower those that follow you. Share lessons you’ve learned along the way too.”

SEE ALSO: Raising leaders, one child at a time

, ,