Bringing Māori culture to boardrooms – Precious Clark means business

Auckland lawyer Precious Clark is on a quest to bring Māori culture to boardrooms all across the country.

Previous Clark

Through a training programme known as “Te Kaa”, she hopes to give business people and the legal community a greater understanding and appreciation of tikanga and Te Reo, as well as giving them an insight into the burgeoning Māori economy.

Her objectives are already being embraced by some of the major players in the business world, such as Air New Zealand and Microsoft. Earlier this year, she held a workshop with 200 staff from Microsoft, and is now teaching workers from Z Energy to correctly pronounce the locations of their petrol stations.

Ms Clark told LawNews that Te Kaa is delivered in a way that is “safe, fun and exploratory, building up one’s knowledge base”. “By the end of the programme, participants are more confident to engage with the Māori world, and have a deep understanding of how Māori culture is relevant to them as individuals and the opportunities that exist for their organisations.”

She says the response from the business and legal community has been overwhelmingly positive. “The impact on people has been powerful and many feel a stronger sense of identity as a result. It has also given people the confidence to instigate change within their working environments.”

Ms Clark says many of the people she encounters in the training sessions “express disbelief about their own levels of ignorance of the Māori world and the history of this country”. “However, they come to an understanding of the universality of Māori values and express a commitment to participate more actively in things that shape our nation, particularly around biculturalism and the role of the Treaty of Waitangi in the development of our country.”

She sees many important benefits accruing from Te Kaa, especially in relation to New Zealand’s economic well-being.

“I see a lifting of the veil of ignorance about all things Māori, which creates a platform for shared understanding. It helps us have informed conversations about shaping our nation, moving beyond popular conjecture. From an economic perspective, the Māori economy is on a trajectory to continue to grow, so parts of the commercial sector are keen to understand it and engage in it with authenticity.

“Engaging with authenticity is the difference and Te Kaa provides insights on how to achieve this. Also, Māori are a youthful population and will make up tomorrow’s workforce. Organisations are wanting to know how to connect to current and future workforces to get the best out of them. Understanding cultural drivers helps provide clarity in this space.”

Ms Clark’s legal career began in Wellington, where she became a policy analyst for the Ministry of Economic Development in intellectual property policy. She then moved to a senior role at the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry, before heading off to London and a job as a legal policy officer for the Security Industry Authority.

In 2011, she returned to New Zealand. She currently sits on four boards, among them Ngāti Whātua Ōrākei Whai Rawa Ltd, Auckland Regional Amenities Funding Board, Foundation North and the Auckland Museum Taumata-ā-Iwi. Recently, she started her own consultancy business, Maurea Consulting Ltd, which assists organisations with strategic planning and development, including the Te Kaa training programme.

Given her bicultural upbringing, it is perhaps no surprise that Ms Clark is spearheading Te Kaa. The second youngest of eight children, she was brought up in Grey Lynn by parents Nobby and Patu Clark. Her Pakeha father served in the Royal New Zealand Navy for 21 years while her mother, of Ngāti Whātua descent, used to be a well-known singer in the Auckland club scene, and also happens to be the sister of Joe Hawke, who led the occupation of Bastion Point in 1977-78.

“We were taught about social justice early on, through our participation in fighting for our whenua during the occupation of Bastion Point,” Ms Clark recalls. “The occupation of Bastion Point was formative for me – coming to understand the social injustices that had occurred for my Ngāti Whātua tribe, understanding the strength of my uncle Joe’s leadership and the value of peaceful resistance.”

Another formative experience was attending Auckland Girls’ Grammar School and learning about New Zealand’s colonial history. “I had been aware of what had happened to my tribe, but this opened my eyes to the widespread impacts of colonisation experienced by Māori all across Aotearoa – it pained me, and empowered me,” she says.

“I try to find creativity in all that I do, whether it be in the delivery of Te Kaa or having a different perspective at the board table,” she says. “There was a time when I thought I had to leave that outside the board room, but then I realised I was leaving myself outside the door, and that restricted the impact I could have.”

Ms Clark says New Zealand has come a long way since the Māori occupation of Bastion Point, with many people acknowledging and embracing Māori culture and Te Reo.

“What I see is significant goodwill to engage with Māori culture in a way that is authentic and meaningful. We are also recognising that Māori culture sets Aotearoa apart from the rest of the world. In the age of globalisation, we are searching for ways to remain unique. Our kids are embracing Māori culture and will be largely responsible for tipping Aotearoa over the line, and my hope is that, in 25 years’ time, my daughter won’t need to do the work I’m involved in, because it will be redundant.”

Nick Wells

Precious Clark’s ground-breaking efforts to bring Māori culture to the corporate world have won many plaudits from those in the legal and business community. Nick Wells, Chief Executive Partner of Chapman Tripp, is an ardent supporter.

“Te Kaa is a great initiative,” he says. “Precious’ work has now helped more than 10,000 people in New Zealand learn more about – and positively identify with – Māori culture. And it’s an important step for the business world. For example, we expect to see tikanga-based dispute resolution and arbitration clauses becoming more commonplace in commercial contracts, and we advise those wanting to engage with Māori businesses to take steps now to become more familiar with such customs.”

Mr Wells told LawNews that companies opting to learn more about Te Ao Māori, and to educate their staff, are showing true initiative.

“The simple fact is that the Māori economy is a significant part of the wider New Zealand story, valued at more than $50 billion in asset value – which is about 6% of the total New Zealand asset base. That is only going to grow off the back of outstanding Treaty settlements and increased joint venture and merger and acquisition activity, further strengthened by iwi becoming more and more diversified across the New Zealand economy.

“While iwi investment initially focused on primary industries, we now see that diversification into other areas – for example, digital, services, education, housing, tourism and geothermal – and we expect this will expand at an accelerated pace.”

Mr Wells says MBIE’s latest report forecasts the Māori asset base to grow to $100 billion by 2030, which is relatively rapid growth. He says many iwi have demonstrated considerable business acumen and could teach Pakeha business leaders a thing or two.

“I think the key difference between traditional business and the Māori view of business lies in the values and objectives. Most traditional businesses often appear purely return or profit-driven in the short term, with the goal of maximising that return for investors and shareholders. While Māori also look at maximising return, they take a far more holistic view of ‘return’, and over a much longer time horizon. For example, commercial interests need to be balanced with the intergenerational needs of their people in terms of health, education, language/cultural development and the environment.

“Interestingly, MBIE noted this year that some of the strongest performers in the Māori economy were so because of innovation, collaboration, and a proven ability to protect intergenerational wealth.”

Asked whether Chapman Tripp had embraced Te Kaa and, if so, how it had impacted on the company, he said:

“We first started our Māori legal practice focused on iwi in 2009, and before that, we were advising government, including the Office of Treaty Settlements. For us, this has taken many forms – we have Te Wake Ture, our Māori Legal Group, Te Reo classes across all offices, and we teach iwi governance courses at undergraduate and Masters levels, we have an iwi governance scholarship for university students to increase development in the area, and we give pro bono advice to a number of Māori enterprises.”

Kirk Hope

For his part, Kirk Hope, the Chief Executive of BusinessNZ, says there is much community of interest between Māori and wider business with “an openness to tikanga among New Zealand businesses generally”.

“I enjoy seeing mainstream businesses paying attention to Māori stakeholders, like Zespri’s Māori kiwifruit grower forum, or BNZ’s work supporting the development of Māori business. There’s always payoff from synergy and it often comes in unexpected ways. Tikanga Māori and tikanga Pakeha, when they rub against each other, can produce amazing new insights and potential for business.”

Mr Hope, who is of Ngāi Tahu descent, says the Māori economy is a lot more than the big iwi businesses that sprang out of Treaty settlements.

“Berl in 2013 reported that individual self-employed Māori had a combined asset base of $6.6 billion, while Māori trusts, incorporations and other tribal organisations had a combined asset base of $12.5 billion. Another significant factor is the Māori propensity to export – Māori businesses are often export orientated and do especially well creating links with Asian markets. There’s no shortage of entrepreneurial talent among Māori.”

All of which is grist to the mill for Precious Clark and Te Kaa.

ADLS has an upcoming seminar focusing on Māori and the law, entitled “Te Ao Māori and the Law: Navigating Pathways” on Tuesday 20 February 2018, from 4pm-6pm (followed by drinks and nibbles). For more information or to register, please visit www.adls.org.nz/cpd

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