I recently spent two days attending the National Not-for-Profit Sector Conference in Wellington themed “Sustaining Real Community Value in Tough Times.” Like most conferences, the coolest conversations often happen in between formal sessions. For the Kiwis that means tea time. I met two innovators who graciously shared their stories with me.
I sought out Trevor Wilson, CEO of Whakatu Marae, after he spoke on a panel. He exudes warmth, intelligence, passion and generosity. He is a teacher at heart. In his public presentation and our personal chat, he followed the Maori tradition of opening with his personal story and that means naming the mountain and river of his iwi (tribal group). Two years ago when his Marae asked him to take on a leadership role, he didn’t hesitate to put doctoral studies on hold to take up the mantle. He said he was honored to serve his community. Trevor studied business and taught at Polytechnic for 24 years, and it is clear that he is putting his skills to good use, guiding the Marae to shift from deficits to growth and emerging sustainability. They have piloted enterprises such as paving, gardening and lawn care, employing residents who gain skills and income. Whanau (families) control the enterprises, consistent with the commitment to self-management that is part of Whanau Ora. These business ventures are just a small part of the vast array of social services provided by the Marae. Trevor does not describe these ventures as social enterprises, a term that is not widely used in New Zealand. Yet it is clear that he understands the power of addressing social needs in the community by creating employment opportunities and business services that deliver broad market value and can stabilize and grow the important work of the Marae. In my mind, Trevor is a savvy social entrepreneur.
I also met Stephen Keung, Deputy Chief Executive Officer of Whanau Tahi Navigator, an initiative of Te Whanau O Waipareira Trust. Whanau Tahi means Family First; they created this IT system to be person and family centric. It maintains data across health, education, social and economic sectors to aid service providers to support the whole person and whole family.
Like many indigenous enterprises I’ve encountered, Whanau Tahi states explicitly that it is designed to empower families to be proud and positive people (www.waiwhanau.com). Built on a robust Microsoft Dynamics platform, it was created by and for this indigenous community. As it expands its market reach beyond Maori clients, it is poised to grow and prosper so that funds can be channeled back into community social needs.
Like Trevor, Stephen was not terribly familiar with the term social enterprise. But as we discussed the idea of charities engaged in trade to channel profits back into social needs, he agreed that the term was applicable.
As tea and conversation progressed, Stephen asked Trevor if the navigator tool would be useful for the Marae. They talked about the need to have IT systems that are people-based and holistic. Sounded like the beginning of a sales opportunity to me.