It’s fair to say that those who know Kaye-Maree personally would describe her as nothing short of a force of nature. For the purposes of this article, and with reference to her role as a director of Āhau and her personal consultancy Making Everything Achievable Ltd, I will describe her as a social enterprise exponent, business catalyst and tech entrepreneur.
There are many other descriptors to choose from including Sir Edmond Hillary Fellow, indigenous finance broker and all round Māori economic development ninja, all lending towards the most obvious choice for Te Whītau Tūhono, the Asia New Zealand Foundation, which chose Kaye-Maree to join our 2019 social enterprise delegation to Vietnam to share knowledge with local entrepreneurs and investigate opportunities for partnerships.
At a technical level, Kaye-Maree describes Āhau as a ‘tribal management digital identity platform enabled by blockchain technology”; however, she’s quick to point out that at a fundamental and ethical level it’s a kaupapa Māori-centered company that has many alignments with the western concept of social enterprise.
“I've been on a journey of developing a traditional knowledge platform which focuses on whakapapa (genealogy). For the last 12 months, Āhau have been working with communities to ask how they'd like to collect their genealogy, stories and information.
”Individuals no longer want others holding and managing their own personal information. It’s about Rangatiratanga - personal control of personal information.”
“We’re looking at how to do it in a decentralised way, so that we don't as a company control the access to the information ourselves. You have your own pātaka: your own information and you store it how you want and share the details with those that you want.”
When asked whether she felt that, given the cultural similarities, being Māori gave her the edge in her engagements in Asia, Kaye-Maree respectfully points out that there is an element of “same, same but different” particularly in realising the social aspirations of enterprise. While the retention and realisation of rangatiratanga in all areas of life including intellectual property is fundamental to a “kaupapa Māori” approach to business, Kaye-Maree acknowledges the barriers that some local communities in Asia face in aspiring to attain the same.
“Culturally, there are strong similarities with Māori. We connect in the realm of whānau, in living with multiple generations closely connected, and maintaining those connections through storytelling, good humour and even better food.
“In saying that, we are also very different. Vietnam's been colonised three of four times so there are multiple layers to understanding their identity. Our narratives are also different. It’s about trying to understand the layers within the story.
“Politically, there are also distinctions. With respect to intellectual property rights and tino rangatiratanga there aren’t the levels of confidentiality that we take for granted in New Zealand."
When speaking to Kaye-Maree, I’m left with a lasting impression of her consciousness in ethicality, something existential to her way of operating as Māori and which she is committed to standing by in her dealings in Asia.
If anything, in Kaye-Maree’s view it was this genuine kaupapa Māori approach to engagement underpinned by tikanga Māori that gained her the respect and kinship of her hosts, and ultimately led to the establishment of a number of key business connections to explore blockchain collaborations.
“Firstly, as a Māori, the way that I was communicating was from a place of humility.
“Secondly, I’m looking at how any ventures can be mutually beneficial for both of us. I’m thinking about how we might bring them to New Zealand to take advantage of the exchange rate and develop trade opportunities. How can we partner in a way which is mana enhancing for both sides.
“I'm trying to negotiate as I would expect from a good Treaty Partner. That's how I wanted to conduct myself in their country.”
Kaye-Maree has since returned to Asia to speak at the SFX Switch Fintech Expo in Singapore on financial technology, banking and digital identity from an indigenous perspective. Her ultimate vision is to develop an indigenous to indigenous digital bank, underpinned by a principled approach to mutually beneficial partnerships that enable true realisation of rangatiratanga, thriving self-determination.
“We really need to be looking at Asia as future partners in a way that is mutually beneficial. We face similar challenges and need to look at what that looks like for us as Māori to be able to co-create and lift ourselves and each other out of poverty.”