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Courses on culture, ethics, alternative world views and history are not usually part of the core curriculum of a postgraduate business degree.
But studies in these areas are central to the Maori Masters programme at the University of Auckland Business School, the longest-running programme of its kind in New Zealand and one aimed at furthering the business and professional skills of the country’s large indigenous population.
The reasons for such studies are two-fold, says Manuka Henare, the programme director.
First, he says, the Maori view of business encompasses these areas. “There is a focus not only on profit margins but on the social good that a business might do, and a view that a business ought to reinforce culture and be another way of transmitting cultural values and world view,” he says.
Second, he says, it is important, through the history courses, to chart the origins of Maori business, such as the population’s role in developing New Zealand’s timber industry, to demonstrate that commerce and entrepreneurship are intrinsic to the population’s culture and heritage.
“Being a business person is being a Maori,” he says. “There is a tendency to see it as a European thing.”
The programme was initiated in the early 1990s, partly, Mr Henare says, for reasons of equity: the business school recognised it should be addressing better the needs of the Maori, who form almost 15 per cent of the population but a far smaller proportion of graduates, especially in commerce.
From small beginnings, the programme is now offered from two other regional sites, as well as from the main campus in Auckland and accounts for about 10 per cent of the school’s 1,000 or so students.
It was augmented in 1999 with the establishment of the Mira Szászy Research Centre for Maori and Pacific Economic Development, named after a prominent Maori woman.
“The centre reinforces the values of the business school and ensures our teaching is research-informed and market relevant,” says Mr Henare, who is also the centre director.
“There are also opportunities for some postgraduates to enhance their capabilities by working alongside professional academics who are involved in consulting.”
The Maori Masters programme is aimed primarily at middle and senior managers, and at small business operators, with students’ average age 41. Students, almost all of whom are Maori, begin by taking a postgraduate diploma in business – Maori Enterprise. This provides a pathway to a Master of Management (MoM) in Maori Enterprise or an MBA – the former being more research-based than the latter.
An important attraction of the programme, says Erima Henare, a Maori leader from northern New Zealand, is that it admits students without undergraduate degrees, provided they have sufficient work experience, and is also flexible in tailoring courses to meet individual needs.
The head of one of New Zealand’s largest Maori-owned health service providers, with 400 employees, Erima Henare, a former diplomat, has studied for the MoM himself and has sent nine of his managers on it.
Keen to expand his business internationally, beginning in the South Pacific where there are populations with cultural and other links to Maori, he says the school has been able to provide his staff with training in entrepreneurship, globalisation and leadership rather than focusing only on management, an area in which they are already well versed.
Something unique to the course, adds programme director Mr Henare, is the sense of “kinship” – an important element of Maori culture – that the students bring to the programme.
“There is a strong sense of group solidarity and this is a common factor in their success,” he says.
But equally, Mr Henare says, the course highlights how some cultural practices need to be adapted in a business environment.
For example, many Maori companies or organisations are tribally owned and run (it is mainly through tribes that restitution and compensation for colonial injustices have been channelled). But such traditional tribal hierarchies can be “horrific from a governance perspective” if they are replicated in a company structure and fail to provide sufficient operational autonomy from the board for the executive.
Despite the programme’s success, its director, Mr Henare, and Anne Salmond, the university’s pro-vice chancellor with responsibility for equal opportunity, say much more needs to be done to advance Maori education.
Mr Henare says the culture of business is not well developed among young Maori, many of whom, lacking role models or direct contact with business people, are not even familiar with every day commercial language and concepts.
“We do a lot of school visits with our graduate student success stories,” he says. “You’ve got to drip, drip, drip away and get the kids inspired.”
Prof Salmond, who is also one of New Zealand’s leading scholars on Maori issues, adds that improving Maori educational success is crucial for the future. By 2050, children with Maori and Pacific Islander backgrounds are expected to make up 57 per cent of the total.
“Within the OECD [Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development], New Zealand is ranked the second most unequal in education. There are different expectations of Maori and Pacific Islander children – a lurking racism,” she says, noting that these groups account for just 8 per cent of university students.
“We have a relatively youthful population mainly because of Maori and Pacific Islanders. If we don’t improve our educational system, we won’t benefit. This should be an urgent priority.”