Māori entrepreneur looks to Vietnam blockchain technology to connect whānau

A participant on the Foundation's Vietnam visit for social entrepreneurs late last year, Kaye-Maree Dunn is now looking to connect with a Vietnamese research and development company to help develop an online tool to assist Māori investigate their genealogy and connect with whānau.
The six entrepreneurs and Adam McConnochie

Kaye-Maree (centre front) with her fellow entrepreneurs and programme director Adam McConnochie (right)

Shortly after spending time with the Foundation’s Leadership Network in Waitangi, Kaye-Maree Dunn spotted a post on Facebook for an upcoming trip to Vietnam for social entrepreneurs.

Quick to seek the opportunity, she was one of five selected to visit Vietnam as part of the Foundation’s ASEAN Young Business Leaders Initiative.

Kaye-Maree likens her experience in the public and community development sector to a box of licorice allsorts, ranging from Māori health, tourism, housing, coaching, financial capability and enterprise to governance education.

As co-founder of Āhau, a digital data management platform for Māori to protect their whakapapa (genealogy) and archive their whānau stories using decentralised technology. Kaye-Maree was keen to explore what Vietnam was doing in the area of tech social enterprises.

“I’ve been training various Māori entrepreneur communities in social enterprise for several years now, and I wanted to understand what social enterprises look like in countries like Vietnam and how they thrive,” she says.

“It was great to meet the local people and hear their stories of social enterprises that had really helped people. The Vietnamese have an amazing work ethic – they work hard in loving and caring ways despite the hard conditions and their challenging history.”

In Vietnam she met representatives of Infinity Blockchain Labs, an R&D company engaged in intermediary and regulatory technology services using blockchain technology. Infinity’s vision is to empower Vietnam to become the global leader in blockchain research and development.  Kaye-Maree is very interested in the possibility that decentralised, self-sovereign systems can mean to Māori communities.

“I’m still nurturing the relationship with Infinity who already have an established relationship with our key supporter, Centrality” Kaye-Maree says. “Our vision at Āhau is to develop a way for individuals to validate and verify who they are in terms of their tribal affiliations. We want to help support whānau, hapū and iwi manage their genealogy and protect their information and personal data.

"In Vietnam they are building supply chain and identity applications. They can track their products from the ground through to the supplier, making sure no-one is tampering with it at any stage. For instance with this technology you can tell if a product’s chiller has lost its power along the journey, which is pretty amazing. It’s about safety and security.”

Kaye-Maree is keen to explore the possibility of a two-way staff exchange with Infinity for work experience within the next two years. “We’d benefit from their lower development costs – about a third of what they are here – and they could experience Māori manaakitanga (hospitality) also,” she says.

“The Vietnamese are interested in genealogy. As a country they’ve been through so much, with many parts of their history and culture destroyed. But they’ve come out the other side, maintaining and protecting their identity and language.

“Westerners tend to think countries like Vietnam have been left behind, but there’s a lot we can learn from them.”

Āhau’s mission is to empower Māori communities and individuals with access, ownership and management of their personal data. The data product, soon to be launched, will enable people to upload their genealogy details with an online training programme so they can do their own research and connect with whānau.

Anne-Maree addressing a group at the opening to the Hoi An Hui

Kaye-Maree addressing a group at the opening to the Hoi An Hui

The records created would be encrypted, which is where they could learn from companies like Infinity Blockchain Labs.  Āhau want to ensure individuals information can be accessed only by verified descendants using them to learn more about who they are and where they come from. These individuals could then apply to update whakapapa (genealogical) records through a digital registration that can be verified by trusted whanau, kaumātua (tribal elders) and Iwi.

“If we have our way, more people will be connected to their families,” Kaye-Maree says. “People wouldn’t fall between the gaps as they do now, when you have large numbers of our people disconnected, many in prison or tamariki in state care, 80 percent of whom don’t have connection with their wider whānau.

 “Our hope is that once we have verified descendants on a shared record, individuals will then be able to make online decision making, grant applications, and create a new platform for communication between individuals, whānau, hapū and iwi (tribes).”

 Kaye-Maree stresses that the Āhau focus is on indigenous peoples – “any indigenous person who wants to archive and share their stories.

“In terms of the future,” she says, “our eyes are on forging relationships with our indigenous connections in the Pacific, Australia, America, Canada, China, Vietnam and Africa.”