Strong cultural identity key

Nikora Ngāropo (Te Rarawa, Tūhoe, Ngāti Porou, Ngāti Kahungunu) is a Māori digital exponent and tech entrepreneur whose engagement in Asia is thriving. Nikora is the director and founder of NNMD and Young Animators, a Māori-led, design and animation company.
Nikora talking to a group in Vietnam

Nikora: “We share manaakitanga and kaitiakitanga; our hosts were always ensuring everyone was culturally safe...We gave koha and so did they..."

Nikora was recently appointed to the Digital Council for Aotearoa New Zealand, and in 2019 he became the first Māori to be named in the Asia Society’s leaders programme. Suffice to say, Nikora is definitely one to watch.

The Asia New Zealand Foundation recently had the pleasure of hosting the dynamic entrepreneur as part of a delegation of social entrepreneurs who travelled to Vietnam to build networks in Vietnam’s entrepreneurship and social enterprise ecosystem and gain an understanding of the business culture and environment.

Vietnam has been steadily developing its tech scene and start-up environment and is now considered one of the hottest places for innovation in Southeast Asia. Nikora predicts that the Vietnamese digital workforce will be increasingly influential on a global scale, shaping the way that technology continues to trend in the future.

“Vietnam is going to be one of the major contributors to the world’s tech economy, with 250,000 developers in Ho Chi Minh city alone and with a culture directed towards aspiration.

"Their digital workforce will start to shape what we are seeing in the next three-five years globally. I think we will also see an increasing trend of businesses outsourcing work to this region.”

When asked about his success as a Māori tech expert in one of the world’s leading tech regions, Nikora stressed the importance of shared cultural values, particularly a commonality in the way that we engage.

“We share manaakitanga and kaitiakitanga; our hosts were always ensuring everyone was culturally safe...We gave koha and so did they..."

Strength in cultural identity as a fundamental factor in relationship building was another significant factor according to Nikora.

“The other thing is our ability to create relationships. Within Asia, Māori share an ability to relate to people, and to create rapport. Their people do that without hidden agendas, meanwhile our people are mutually open and honest.

"This is how we break bread together. It’s not just talking about business, but finding out about the person, where they come from, their family, and their story. The relations that are created are built on a stronger foundation.

“I think one of the things that’s most powerful is that we’re all so grounded. We know who we are so that piece of identity is something that we can always fall back on in terms of where our families link to and how they link to other people in Aotearoa and then by default how we connect to others abroad.


The Vietnam trip not only provided the entrepreneurs insights into Vietnam's start-up scene but also gave them a chance to learn about each others start-up journeys

Nikora also saw similarities in Asia with the concept of manaaki being about building up self and others.

“I was so proud to be Māori...In terms of all of those things that we bring to the table - how we manaaki.

“For me, manaaki is also about helping others achieve greatness. We move as a group under a Māori lens. As Māori, you’re not just thinking of yourself, you're thinking about your community, who you can take with you so you can all rise.

“Stepping up into leadership roles is about putting your hand up to help and creating opportunities for others.”

When asked for his one takeaway on succeeding as Māori in Asia, Nikora saw confidence in culture and a values-based approach as pivotal to our progress in the region.

“The future for us in this space has to be built around culture. By culture I’m talking about values. Within that it’s pivotal for us to be creating relationships that are enduring and based around cultural nuance.

"A lot of people don’t understand the intricacies of culture and terms of being very sensitive to culture and that’s where I think we excel.”