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NZ’s Maori innovators are on the rise

Māori are enjoying a stellar year of innovation, with record numbers engaging in R&D, and making up nearly half the finalists in this year’s New Zealander of the Year Awards.

Ian Taylor was named New Zealand’s innovator of the year, adding to his achievements including last year’s CIO award for outstanding business and tech contribution, and Māori Business Leader of the Year Award in 2013. 

He says Māori representation in this year’s New Zealander of the Year Awards is a milestone moment, but it is overdue and much more could be done.

Taylor, whose Dunedin-based company Animation Research has broken barriers in the digital sector, says he was thrilled that two of the four people named as finalists for the innovation category in this year’s awards were Māori.

“It shows what’s possible for Māori, who for decades have been missing from mainstream achievements,” he says.

But Māori and Pasifika are still under-represented in every aspect of science and technology, skills critical for resilience in the workforce as traditional roles are disrupted. 

He says Māori businesses need to reach out and inspire, while iwi could pay a bigger role in investment.

“More iwi investors need to recognise that these sectors will provide the high-value jobs our children will need to engage in. While it may seem hard to understand, they should stand tall in the fact our ancestors led the world in technology and innovation - it’s in our DNA.”

Taylor believes Government support from organisations like Callaghan Innovation and NZTE has been a key factor spurring Māori innovation. 

He says the establishment of a Māori Economy team at New Zealand’s innovation agency, Callaghan Innovation, has “shifted the playing field” for Māori.

“It’s made Sir Paul Callaghan’s legacy relevant to Māori. And we are now seeing evidence of this progress.”

Lifting Māori business innovation

Callaghan Innovation CEO Vic Crone says the number of Māori businesses the agency works with has increased by about 20% for each of the last three years.

“From almost zero, we now work with over 115 technologically complex and ambitious Māori businesses, and more of these are in our high-growth portfolio with global reach,” says Crone.

“Five years ago, at the start of Callaghan Innovation, most of the Māori-led businesses we worked with were in the traditional sectors of food & beverage and agriculture.”

“We are experiencing explosive growth and over the past year, we have seen Māori digital customers come from almost zero to 25% of our portfolio, overtaking agriculture and now on par with the food & beverage sector.

“We now have Kōkiri, New Zealand’s first Māori tech incubator; we have young innovator programmes like the Pūhoro Stem Academy to lift Māori and Pasifika STEM engagement; and this year we’ll host our third Matariki X Innovation event, having attracted 600 participants last year.”

“But the levels of participation are not where they need to be. We’ve got to partner with more Māori businesses and make sure pathways for Māori innovators are clear and compelling.”

Among the 18 finalists for the Kiwibank New Zealander of the Year Awards were at least eight Māori, including Marewa Glover, Mike King, Sir Mason Durie, Kendall Flutey, Shay Wright, Steve Saunders, Ian Taylor and Pera Barrett.

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