Mentors launch ‘digital wānanga’ to manaaki businesses through lockdown

By Bronson Perich
Manaaki co-founders Andy Hamilton (left) and Jada MacFie (right) - Photo / Supplied

A group of business mentors and celebrities have launched an online forum to help businesses through the lockdown. Aptly called ‘Manaaki’, it is a place where business owners can be guided through COVID-19 by a network of 125 business advisors. Co-founder Jada MacFie (Ngāti Paoa, Ngāi Tai ki Tāmaki, Ngaati Maahanga-Houroa, Ngāti Kauwhata) decided to approach the economic issues of COVID-19 from a Māori worldview. Instead of focusing on themselves, they gathered their resources and went to work.

“We turned outwards, to see if everyone else was alright,” Jada MacFie says.

A Love Letter to NZ Businesses. Source/Manaaki. Used with permission.

Coping with COVID-19

Many businesses are unsure as to whether they will stay open after the lockdown. So for Tamati Norman (Ngāti Kurī, Ngāti Maniapoto) owner of Native Rituals, having access to quick guidance and advice has been vital for him and his whānau. The main difference between Manaaki and other services was how quick they could receive advice.

"We were able to ask questions at 8 pm at night, and have them answered by 7 am the following morning," Norman says.

Positive cashflow is vital for business survival. Having a positive cash flow means that there is more money coming into a business than what goes out. Norman credited the wage subsidy with helping his whānau stay on top of things. He’s also found additional work at a warehouse. Working outside of his business has helped him keep a clear mind, and plan for the future.

“Working my friends’ warehouse helped me come up with another two or three business models and plans," Norman says.

Tamati Norman (right) with his wife Rebekah. Source / Native Rituals. Supplied.

Helping businesses through the rāhui

Jada MacFie explains how when they first launched Manaaki, that the majority of questions were about business survival. Wage subsidies were a big topic, particularly how to get it, and what their responsibilities are.  Business owners are now asking about how they can navigate their entities through the lockdown, looking at online options.

“We’re starting to reach the one-man-band business, which are the ones that don’t necessarily have staff,” MacFie says.

Norman is optimistic for the future. He credits the ability of Māori to adapt to circumstances as being one of our greatest strengths. One adaptation he has made is a change in the marketing pitch. Despite being deemed an essential business recently, Norman says he no longer actively pursues sales. Being a health and well-being business, their new priority is for people to survive COVID-19.

"Instead of pushing for sales, we are pointing out where people can get kai. We are open for business, but we are focusing on helping people," Norman says.

Isolation well-being post - Source / Native Rituals Facebook

'It is people, it is people'

While the mission of Manaaki is to help businesses, there is a human element to their mahi. Jada MacFie explains that all over the country, business owners are wondering how they will be able to pay their workers. They are mamae, she says, for the wellbeing of their workers.

“Some of the questions, when we read them, you feel their pain.”

“As an employer, you know that whatever decisions you make, it doesn’t affect them, it affects their whānau,” MacFie says.

Manaaki, Jada MacFie says, is a free service and will be forever. She foresees that the economy will take a long time to recover after COVID-19 is gone. As such, she is planning to keep the forums open long-term so that they can continue to manaaki business owners.

“I just honour the people who have put their hands up to help and honour those who have been brave enough to ask their questions.

“If this process, can help exhort or uplift the ‘mana’ of someone going through hard times right now, you know, mana-aki, then that’s perfect!” MacFie concludes.