New Faces: Navigating Through Te Whare Hukahuka With Shay Wright
Shay Wright is a co-founder of Te Whare Hukuhuka, developed in conjunction with The Icehouse business growth hub.
The organisation enables indigenous community organisations to be more effective, through creating learning experiences around innovation, strategy, training workshops, coaching and advisory, and helping Māori organisations to pioneer new industries.
How did Te Whare Hukahuka come about? Tell us about the journey so far
I come from a small rural Māori community where there are a lot of social wellbeing issues, and unfortunately these are often felt across cultural lines. We know that Māori are over-represented in 80% of the social wellbeing indicators measured by government. To us that is not good enough and so we set out to change it.
Te Whare Hukahuka focuses on working with Māori organisations that exist to improve the social wellbeing of their communities. The name Te Whare Hukahuka refers to the froth on top of the waves in the ocean. In Māori mythology, Tangaroa, the god of the ocean, created all sea creatures from the froth, so essentially it refers to the domain of innovation and creation.
The organisation was developed and validated out of The Icehouse. This provided a really good grounding for us because there is a whole lot of expertise, resources and knowledge there around how to stimulate growth, how to take organisations from good to great, and become world-class. What we've learned is that much of the core content that's required to improve Māori community organisations is the same content used with startups and business owners going through The Icehouse. But there is a cultural context that is different and ultimately a social focus rather than purely commercial.
So what sort of organisations have you been helping out through your work? Are there any particular stand out stories of positive impact for you?
One story that stands out for me is with a Trust deep in the Urewera forest, in the community of Ruatāhuna. We're talking about a community which has about 65% unemployment and most of their income coming from government sources. Within this community we’re proving that by helping them to utilise their land to create a native honey businesses that is world-class, we can also re-energise their people to reclaim their sense of identity and self-worth, and create better social outcomes as well. We’re identifying different ways that we can innovate and leverage the cultural indigenous story, the “Pure New Zealand” story as well as the beautiful Urewera forest.
What trends do you think you'll see in the Māori economy within the next few years?
We're noticing a number of trends in the Māori economy, one of which is prioritising businesses that generate cash flow to fund more social and cultural initiatives. We're also seeing a trend towards building and developing capability for running successful organisations, both at a governance level as well as at a management level.
We are also seeing more world-class Māori businesses emerging, and a wave of others with this as their aspiration. Combined with this aspiration are more partnerships amongst Māori organisations – meaning really good social and business innovations from one part of the country are being shared between regions, creating greater growth opportunities for Māori right around the country.
What role do you see young entrepreneurs having in shaping the future?
Entrepreneurs share the idea that the world is not fixed, but that we can actually have a role in changing it and improving it. I think that young entrepreneurs bring an energy and a new understanding around how to utilise technologies and systems, and how to mobilise people for a greater cause. I’m talking both in terms of utilising algorithms and big data to extrapolate trends, but also in terms of building tribes and communities of people so that we can actually get movements for social good.
What are things that no one told you that you had to learn on your own?
One thing that people don't necessarily understand when starting out is that the goal of a “startup business” is to find and validate a business model that can be scaled and repeated. This doesn’t necessarily mean writing a full business plan anymore – those days are over. It means understanding your customer and their problem, and then taking your idea out to the market and making small tests to see whether or not you have something that people want to pay for, before committing to scaling it up.
Another learning has been the discipline needed when co-founding a business so that you minimise the risk of it falling apart. There’s so much to learn in terms of shareholder agreements, vesting, role descriptions, and valuing each co-founder’s different expertise and resources, and how that will be acknowledged. You also need to make sure that there are continual brave and honest conversations around how that relationship is going, and what your expectations are of each other.
In business, I have learned that when you have team members, it's really important to identify whether those team members are the right people,in the right seats, and whether they are paddling at the right time. And if not, you need to act fast to either shuffle the decks, or to ensure that you get the wrong people off the bus.
So what are some of the toughest decisions you've had to make, and what have you learned through those processes?
I think the toughest learning for me has been realising that startups and entrepreneurship take a lot of energy and sacrifice. It’s meant that I've had to make the decision to sacrifice other things to pursue this journey, including time with family, friends, my hobbies and other interests.
How do you think being young has influenced the way you have built this venture?
Young people often don’t rely on the same assumptions or limiting beliefs that older people may have, so we come in with fresh ideas, high energy, innovative thinking and will push the boundaries. We represent the next crest of the entrepreneurship wave, creating change in communities.
We also have a desire to be remarkable and to step the game up for Māori, creating a new benchmark of success that begins with the leaders and can filter down through communities. I think that we are re-energising people to develop new horizons of aspiration, and build confidence and belief in themselves.
How can we better help or support young entrepreneurs?
The best way that we can support young entrepreneurs is to connect them with talent. When you're a new entrepreneur setting up there are so many different things you've got to learn - sales, marketing, operations, finance, business models, capital raising and so on. If we get better at connecting young entrepreneurs with experts in each of those areas, and direct them to the best sources of knowledge and learning, it will mean they can make an impact faster. There is so much free information out there, but sometimes the barrier is in identifying which information is required at what time.
So what are the challenges in the world you feel best placed to solve?
Personally I think I'm best placed in the education sector, to help young people to reimagine what future skills they're going to need to serve a changing world, find their mission, and take steps to make it happen. I’m building another startup and writing a book on this at the moment. I just came back from the AwesomenessFest conference in Costa Rica with 350 other change agents and social entrepreneurs. What was interesting there was to see how many different ways people are making a difference, and improving the world and the wellbeing of communities.
What does it mean to you to be Kiwi?
What it means to me to be Kiwi is to come from a small community of people who act locally but think globally. We are innovative by nature and by necessity. We stand out because we have a deep caring for our environment, and we have a strong culture that we respect and cherish.