Rahera Ohia – Assisting Māori into business ownership


Setting up a business on your own can be a daunting prospect. While many new initiatives flourish into successful enterprises, many of us forge ahead with lots of passion, only to be thwarted by setbacks or distracted by the many other balls we all juggle.

Rahera Ohia QSM (Ngāti Pūkenga, Ngāi Te Rangi, Waitaha, Ngāti Raukawa and Ngāti Māhanga) decided to change that. She had seen too many good people give up on good business ideas only to take up low-skilled work elsewhere. She realised her iwi community needed to come up with a more sustainable plan if they were to help lift people out of impoverished circumstances.

Enter Business in a Box – one of the initiatives to come out of Ngāti Pūkenga’s post-2013 Treaty settlement process. Business in a Box is a business model for start-ups and essentially removes the ‘scariness’ factor of going it alone in business development. Rahera is assisting with its development and says the model helps people work out the feasibility of business ideas and get new initiatives underway. Instead of one person doing it alone, collaborative groups come together to support the business idea. They follow a step-by-step process to work out if the business will fly and, if so, get the fledgling enterprise started.

“I wanted to create more opportunities for Māori to become business owners themselves rather than having to work for someone else. But it can be quite intimidating doing it alone. Often people don’t have enough resources at their disposal and many have not had the experience of being in business before,” she says.

Smoothing the way for successful results

The model is helping Ngāti Pūkenga in two ways. Rahera is one of a number of people helping to find ways of initiating a social enterprise hub so her own marae community at Te Whetu Marae in Welcome Bay can investigate and develop sustainable business ideas to generate income for the Marae. For individuals and whānau, Business in a Box also helps people identify affiliate online businesses, where they can become an affiliate for an established business and not incur high marketing and product development costs.

Both options aim to smooth the way for establishing sustainable and profitable businesses, by finding business ideas which either require little financial outlay or draw on the skills and knowledge already held within the community.

She says one community example could be to investigate opportunities involving food and catering – something every Marae has plenty of experience with.

“What I want to do is get people to think differently about the skills and knowledge they have. We’ve already proved our production systems are in place for catering, so we can use that experience in different ways. With the business model, we test the efficacy of an idea really early on and if it doesn’t work then we move onto the next one – the fail fast approach. I have been incredibly lucky to have access to a team whose experience and knowledge is unsurpassed and without whom none of this would ever have been possible.”

The Business in a Box team trialled the model they had developed but noticed how difficult it was for people to stay connected to their business idea – people were sometimes intimidated by the effort involved in getting to the next stage of feasibility and then development. “So we had to look for business opportunities that had been developed by others and that could be either adapted or adopted by our target group while also knowing the training, support system and guidance would be an integral part of the process.

“Our team has created a model that includes a mentoring network so that people can get advice on the ground and additional support if they need it. The initial exposure to business ownership for people who haven’t contemplated or done it before can be overwhelming and our people lean more towards experiential learning, so support and guidance while you experience the development and ownership of a business lies at the heart of the model. There are lots of other models like it around, but not for the target group we’ve got.”

Building new skills and knowledge

Rahera is currently funding the feasibility process of three different micro business ventures and hopes to determine outcomes in the next month or two. If the businesses prove profitable she will arrange for others to step in as owners. It is her hope that people who might never have imagined themselves in business, will enjoy success and then become inspired to go further and enrol in a tertiary training course to learn more skills.

“That for me would be the perfect result,” she says. “Many people are constantly compromised by the circumstances in which they live, but if enough of us were offering business support and mentoring in our communities we could make a huge difference to the lives of others.”

Business in a Box is just one of Rahera’s many commitments. She is Lead Negotiator for Ngāti Pūkenga’s Treaty settlement and was the Chair of Te Tāwharau o Ngāti Pūkenga, the governance entity created to receive Ngāti Pūkenga’s settlement assets, for its establishment phase. She stepped down about 15 months ago. She is a council member for the Bay’s Toi Ohomai Institute of Technology, and is also involved in a long-term Te Puni Kōkiri project in Wellington to review child protection legislation. Rahera was awarded the Queen’s Service Medal in 2014 for services to Māori and in 2012 was named as one of Unlimited Magazine’s Top 25 Business Influencers.

“The most important thing for me is to help other people get to where they want to go, so wherever I’m working, whether it’s at Te Puni Kōkiri or with Business in a Box, what I enjoy the most is sharing my experience and teaching others what I know.”