Keenan Kaiwai is passionate about his community. Of Ngāti Porou and Rarotongan descent, currently studying Māori Agribusiness, whilst working as a Māori student support co-ordinator at Massey University and a student mentor at Cloverlea Primary School, he’s keen to take his learning and experiences back home to the East Coast town of Tikitiki.
He is also one of four tertiary students chosen to be sponsored by ASB, Te Tumu Paeroa and KPMG to attend the 9th annual World Indigenous Business Forum, being held in Rotorua this month.
These students will each have their registrations fees, travel and accommodation covered, providing them the opportunity to network and learn from local and international business leaders, corporations and social enterprise initiatives.
Kaiwai says events that focus on culture, and businesses that are open to and take culture into consideration, can help promote greater inclusion and diversity.
“It can be daunting walking into big, and rather Eurocentric, corporations as a young Māori these days. But when a company is able to include a cultural perspective, a Māori perspective, it makes us feel like we belong and that we are in fact capable of succeeding within these organisations.”
“Last month I walked into the head office of Fonterra and was greeted by a traditional Māori greeting, a pōhiri, mihi and kai, all just to make me feel safe and comfortable within this space. They may not have realised but little things like a pōhiri and a mihi go a long way in breaking down those fears, and even to see that Fonterra has developed an app called Te Mātāpuna which encourages employees to learn the customs and language of Māori culture, it’s awesome.”
These sorts of initiatives aren’t just for the benefit of the culture being included, either. Businesses will be able to draw from the greater range of perspectives that individuals bring with them.
“Through my own experiences and what I’ve been involved with, I think there is a difference in the way we operate. Indigenous people are very culturally driven. Everything is funnelled through our culture. From a Māori perspective, we hold strongly to our values of manaakitanga, kaitiakitanga and looking after what we have for future generations. It’s all for the betterment of the future. “
Those different perspectives are what attracted Kaiwai to the World Indigenous Business Forum. The event is a platform for Indigenous people from around the world to discuss economic issues, network and develop partnerships and inspire one another.
“Obviously I want to learn more about the business side of things and build networks, but what I’m most looking forward to is observing the differences and similarities of how indigenous culture’s around the world operate in business. For instance, if there’s any difference between the way we as Māori and Pasifika people operate within business to the way the Native American’s operate, or from the Asian or Mexican people for that matter.”
These sorts of opportunities are what Kaiwai wants to provide for others. After he finishes studying he intends to return home and help others succeed, whether in the primary industries or outside of them.
“I’d obviously like to continue in agriculture, but after taking on these roles at Massey and Cloverlea school, I also want to focus on the development of our rangatahi. I want to go back home to the coast and apply what I’ve learnt to help other young people progress and succeed.”
“My passion and my drive is my people, my hau kāinga. So I feel as though my role in the big scheme of things is to find the best way to help prosper my community and iwi.”