This blog looks at reframing innovation in the context in which most of my research in the last decade has been – transforming Māori communities.

Some scene setters:

The Māori Economy is estimated to be worth $42.6 billion (BERL Report, 2013).

The Ture Whenua Māori Bill intends to recognise and provide for the mana and tino rangatiratanga, protecting Māori land-owner rights to retain, control, occupy and develop their land as they see fit.

Māori have an entrepreneurial and innovative culture (e.g. He Kai Kei Aku Ringa Action Plan, 2012-2017).

Māori/iwi economic growth must coincide with Māori social and cultural well-being. These two trajectories are brought together by Māori economic development (Smith et al., 2015).

Proposed herein the innovation, or new idea, isn’t so much a new idea, but rather a reframing of existing ideas so that they come into focus.

The idea is simple – economic development isn’t just about making money.

We need to remember the much broader scope and activity of economics.

Adam Smith posited cultural and social imperatives are an important part of developing prosperous nations where all people would benefit (Smith, 1759, in Beugelsdijk & Maseland, 2012)

So even though on the face of it an increase in personal incomes and GDP are generally accepted as a good thing, how are they realising the cultural and social imperatives Adam Smith discusses?

DHimg1 DHimg2

Indeed, neoliberal policies have led to increased inequalities and increased violence (Springer, 2015).

Recent market failures and financial crises show the influence, greed, and power of the financial markets and their impact internationally (Keen, 2011, in Smith et al. 2015).

To many of us it doesn’t seem that much has changed – have we not learnt from the Global Financial Crisis?

Maybe a shift in thinking is required. What might we learn from indigenous knowledge and world views?

Buen Vivir or ‘the good life’ is a philosophy applied by the people of the Andes. It places indigenous communities at the core of economic discussions, and includes pluralities such as ancestral and traditional knowledge, a collective (versus individual) focus, and human and environmental relationships, which provide the conceptual glue to ensure harmony and the non-abuse of resources (Fatheuer, 2011 in Smith et al. 2015).

Such an approach is mirrored in many Māori organisations, through principles and practices of Kaitiakitanga. Indeed, outdoor clothing company Patagonia, in their Common Threads Partnership challenges us to “act on behalf of the natural world as it sustains us”

Common Threads Partnership from Patagonia on Vimeo.

Both buen vivir and kaitiakitanga provide visions, previously ignored by many, for prosperity where people can nourish, greater social cohesion is achieved, leading to increased human well-being with fewer resource impacts on the environment (Smith et al. 2015).

Well-being economics is “the expansion of the ‘capabilities’ of people to lead the kind of lives they value, and have reason to value” (Sen, 1999, p.18).

This expansion of capabilities refers to a person or a community’s ability to be able to achieve well-being if they have access to education, health care, social safety nets, and the freedom to make choices for themselves (Smith et al. 2015.)

There is a chorus for ‘more than money’ economics – for cultural and social benefits. What about happiness economics? e.g. (Layard, 2011) are we measuring that?

Satisfaction is on the increase, but is satisfaction satisfactory?


In summary, the Māori economy might be worth $42 billion – but are Māori happy?

The Ture Whenua Māori Bill will provide for tino rangatiratanga – but who is speaking for Papatūānuku?

How can New Zealand shift to well-being and happiness ways of thinking?

Therefore, the reframing and sharing leads to innovation, not by creating any new information, but by sharing and connecting existing knowledge. The real innovation comes from challenging status quos that could be leading us to disaster, and by daring to imagine futures currently unimagined and then creating them.

Beugelsdijk, S. & Maseland, R. (2012). Culture in economics: History, methodological re ections and contemporary applications (2nd ed.). Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.

Sen, A.K. (1999). Development as freedom. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press.

Smith, G.H. (2013, November 22). Transforming Māori economic development. Presentation at Ko Te Amorangi ki mua, ko Te Hāpai Ō ki muri: Dualities in Indigenous Leadership and Economic Development Conference, Te Whare Wānanga o Awanuiārangi, Whakatāne, NZ.

Smith, G, Tinirau, R, Gillies, A, Marriner, V. (2015). He Mangōpare Amohia – Strategies for Māori Economic Development. Whakatane, Te Whare Wānanga o Awanuiārangi.

Springer, S. (2015). Violent Neoliberalism: Development, Discourse, and Dispossession in Cambodia. Palgrave MacMillan, US. 219pp.


Dr Hikuroa is an Earth System Scientist with interests in the integration of mātauranga māori and science to realise indigenous development. Some recent projects include: Restoring the mauri to Te Kete Poutama – a toxic-contaminant bearing industrial waste site on waahi tapu; A Kaitiaki Geothermal Development Model; Determining the impacts of the grounding of the MV Rena on Otaiti; Restoring the mauri to the Tarawera River; Restoring the mauri to Ōkahu Bay. All projects have been undertaken by invitation, with and within Māori communities. Dan has established himself a world expert on integrating indigenous knowledge and science to reach solutions that neither body of knowledge could yield in isolation. Most recently he has co-edited a book for emerging Māori academics and been invited to speak internationally on his published ideas regarding the social responsibilities of scientists.

A note from Figure.NZ

Unfortunately, we don’t have data available on Dan’s blog post topic of the Māori economy. Whilst Statistics New Zealand has collected some data on Māori authorities, which we’ve published, there’s a real lack of open-access, in-depth data collected on the topic.

It’s a great example of how important collecting and publishing accessible data, with Creative Commons licensing, is for communities on topics such as these.

Know a source of data on Dan’s topic that’s not mentioned here? Let us know at

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