4 Sep 2017

Building businesses 'new milk and honey' for South Auckland

11:05 am on 4 September 2017

A new generation of Pasifika leaders in South Auckland hope they can trigger an upsurge of entrepreneurship in some of the country's lowest-income communities.

The call by entrepreneurs Stella Muller, Nora Swann and Gustavia Lui for more support for new ideas, helped spark the fono.

The fono was partly inspired by a call for more support for new ideas by entrepreneurs, from left, Stella Muller, Nora Swann and Gustavia Lui in an RNZ Insight documentary. Photo: Raymond Sagapolutele

Fewer than two percent of the country's businesses are Pasifika-owned, and a recent two-day brainstorming session in Manukau is intended to be the first move to create more Pasifika enterprises.

More than 100 local leaders from social and health agencies and innovative businesses attended the fono (conference), Te Rerenga Manu, under the banner "unleashing the entrepreneurial Pacific spirit".

The fono was driven by local ward councillor Fa'anana Efeso Collins, who said the new generation needed higher ambitions than those of their parents who came from the islands in the 1960s and '70s looking for a better future.

"Before, it was 'we've just got to get a house, we've got to send money back to the islands'.

"Now, what's the new milk and honey? Is it 'can we start businesses', is it developing beyond just wanting Pasifika lawyers, doctors and accountants?

"Our people have shied away from starting businesses. I'm not sure what keeps us away from that, is it the danger, is it the risk, is it banks not wanting to throw money at something like that?"

The fono was partly inspired by an RNZ Insight documentary in which South Auckland entrepreneurs expressed frustration over South Auckland's untapped potential.

Find the RNZ Insight documentary 'Unleashing the Potential of South Auckland' here.

The fast-moving conference broke into 10 groups, each charged with coming up with a prototype product. One created the idea for an app that would link aspiring talent with a leader in their chosen field.

The speakers included John Belford-Lelaulu, a young architect who has returned from working in New York, with a grant to pursue social design - the concept of design aimed at improving people's lives.

An early step has taken him back to his old school, Mangere's De La Salle College, promoting the idea of a creative arts academy.

"You can see that the teachers really wanted this, you can see that these students really wanted a support system or a mentoring programme - so if anything from that one encounter it was 'yes, let's do it, let's get this going'," he said.

Fono convenor Dickie Humphries hoped the event had sparked the start of something.

"There's a strengthening that has happened around the issue. The prototypes and ideas are just the vehicles for it so the energy and commitment to it is what going to make the difference," he said.

Several speakers talked of building a network, modelled on a Pacific Island village, in which all the support for getting new business ideas off the ground was easily accessible in the community.

The owner of Otara-based marketing agency Bright Sunday, Stella Muller, said the next step was to create a sense of momentum.

Auckland Council's social development agency, Southern Initiative, planned to keep the conference attendees connected and the convenor has suggested more frequent gatherings on specific issues.

Get the new RNZ app

for ad-free news and current affairs