Is Te Ao Māori influencing the way we do business?

By Rob Fitzgerald

People and companies celebrated te reo Māori throughout Te Wiki o te Reo Māori in September. The event this year is a particularly special occasion given 2022 marks 50 years since The Māori Language Petition (Te Petihana) was presented to Parliament on 14 September 1972. It pushed for te reo Māori to be taught in all schools.

The petition was part of a movement that saw a wider shift in attitudes to te reo Māori. More than 30,000 people from around the country signed Te Petihana. Māori and non-Māori signed it.

Te Tiriti o Waitangi governs the relationship between Māori and our Government (the Crown). The Government must meet its obligations under Te Tiriti o Waitangi through   the principles of Protection, Partnership, and Participation. Under Article 2 of Te Tiriti, Māori are guaranteed tino rangatiratanga over their whenua and ‘taonga katoa’ — all treasured things. Te reo Māori is a living taonga, and one that people are encouraged to engage with.

Increasingly, business is recognising that it has a part to play and is incorporating te reo Māori me nga tikanga Māori – Māori language and Māori values – into its strategic goals, governance, and management, as well as its operations, and of course its marketing and communications.

Companies are increasingly incorporating principles and concepts such as kaitiakitanga, rangatiratanga, manaakitanga, and whanaungatanga into their business practices.

They have become enthusiastic champions of te reo Māori.

There have been controversies, as there always are when people feel threatened. The “get woke, go broke” brigade cried foul and piled on Whittaker’s decision to translate its Creamy Milk block to Miraka Kirīmi, which was not even a permanent change.

Similarly, TVNZ presenter Te Rauhiringa Brown faced social media backlash for presenting the weather forecast on the 6pm news in both te reo Māori and English.

The shrieks that te reo Māori is discriminatory against non-speakers have largely been silenced by the Human Rights Commission decision that it will no longer consider individual complaints over the use of te reo Māori (or the term Pākehā).

Some may claim it’s cynical for any corporate entity to engage with indigeneity. Exploitative even. There may be some truth to that. Te Ōhanga Māori (the Māori economy) has an estimated value of almost $70 billion, an opportunity to many businesses.

But tokenism is easy to spot – we know when a company is phoning it in. People expect progress – “less hui more do-ey”.

Of course, the concept of Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) isn’t a new one in the Pākeha world and has some values common with Te Ao Māori. It was introduced nearly a hundred years ago, with companies recognising their accountability to the public extends beyond the financial.

This has evolved into ESG (environmental, social, and corporate governance), a triple-bottom line framework designed incorporate environmental and social considerations into an organisation’s value – that is, a business is no longer measured solely on financial terms. Aotearoa New Zealand is also seeing an increase in “purpose-driven” organisations and social enterprises.  Increasingly companies are adopting a quadruple bottom line approach.

The fourth component evaluates the purpose the company serves. In other words, it assesses the essence, soul, or spirituality of an organisation apart from the material profits and losses.

Businesses are acknowledging their responsibility for social cohesion and are working to find a balance for multiple values and objectives spanning social, cultural, financial, environmental, and even spiritual.

These ideas have always existed in Te Ao Māori. Perhaps the incorporation of mātauranga Māori into the way we do business is a positive sign that we’re finally catching up.

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