The pandemic has hit Māori businesses hard, but many find success online

Sheryl Sandberg, Chief Operating Officer – September 15, 2021


This post was also published in the NZ Herald on 15 September 2021. The same day, Sheryl Sandberg joined New Zealand’s Foreign Minister, Hon Nanaia Mahuta, to participate in a roundtable hosted by New Zealand’s Whāriki Māori Business Network, together with Indigenous SMB owners from New Zealand, Australia, Canada and the United States in the lead-up to APEC 2021, which is being hosted this year by the New Zealand Government. 

The success of Maureen Taane’s design shop HAPA is a story of resilience through two disasters. Maureen (Ngāti Maniapoto, Ngāti Uekaha) started by operating out of a shipping container as part of a project to reopen a mall in a part of Christchurch that had been devastated in the 2011 earthquake. HAPA sells gifts, jewelry, artwork, and homewares made by nearly 300 local and Māori artisans. People love them. Maureen now has two stores in Christchurch, and sells across New Zealand, Australia, and Hawaii through its website and Shops on Facebook and Instagram.

The second disaster has affected everyone. The pandemic meant that HAPA’s stores have had to close for long periods during lockdowns, and many of the designers have struggled to get supplies and had to juggle work with home schooling and care responsibilities. Maureen and her team focused their energy online to keep HAPA going, using Facebook and Instagram to reach potential customers and tell the stories of the designers they support.

Resilience is something business owners across New Zealand have had to show during the pandemic – especially for those run by Māori communities. As an APEC report concluded this year, whenever New Zealand goes into recession, Māori are disproportionately represented in the groups most vulnerable to economic shocks. Māori-owned businesses are also a big part of the tourism industry, which has felt the brunt of travel restrictions.

Facebook’s global State of Small Business surveys have also found a stark gender disparity. During Covid, female-owned businesses are more likely to have closed than male-owned ones, more likely to have seen sales drop, and significantly more likely to be concentrated in the sectors most affected by restrictions on business.

But there are real signs of hope. Like HAPA, many businesses have made it through by focusing their efforts online. For some, it’s been the difference between staying afloat or going under. For others, it’s given them a whole new lease of life.

Even before the pandemic, more and more people were spending their time and money online, and businesses were increasingly going digital to reach them. What had been a gradual trend accelerated dramatically last year when having a digital storefront, taking online orders, and reaching customers remotely became a necessity for businesses everywhere. The good news is all these things are much easier than they were just a few years ago – and that’s especially good for communities who have historically had fewer opportunities to succeed.

Over the winter Facebook ran a series of digital skills workshops for Māori-owned businesses in partnership with the Whāriki Māori Business Network. The message was simple: making the shift online needn’t be daunting. Here are three things every business can do to be a success online:

  • Establish your digital presence. For many this is the biggest leap. Yes, setting up a website can be complicated and expensive. But, in just a few clicks, anyone can set up a Facebook Page or an Instagram Business Profile for free. There are even free tools available to make it easy to take orders and sell online.
  • Learn the basics of digital advertising. Some small business owners think advertising is something only big companies can afford – and that used to be true. But with personalized ads you can reach people you think will be interested in your products for just a few dollars. Learning the basics is easy – you can quickly learn how to create effective ads, identify audiences to show them to, and measure your results.
  • Know where to get help. There is support out there if you know where to look. The New Zealand Government also has a Covid-19 financial support program for small businesses. Māori businesses can connect with friends at the Whāriki Māori Business Network. Businesses can also visit the Boost with Facebook Aotearoa New Zealand Facebook Group, learn from experts in Facebook Blueprint, and find user-friendly resources and trainings at Facebook’s Business Resource Hub.

After a period filled with hardship and heartbreak for so many, I believe there are many reasons to be optimistic. In 2021, you don’t need anyone’s permission to turn a good idea into a successful business.  The ongoing digital transformation can be good for businesses in New Zealand, especially for Māori-owned businesses and others that have often had barriers placed in their way.

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