Are you a Fire Keeper or Fire Seeker? Maori Innovators and Entrepreneurs

One thing I worry about us as a Maori people, is our sometimes inward focus and navel gazing tendancies. I don’t want to completely dismiss this practice as there is importance in ‘loving’ ourselves but we sometimes take this too far. The all-knowing Google defines navel-gazing as;

self-indulgent or excessive contemplation of oneself or a single issues, at the expense of a wider view

I get that we are awesome (and we are), but this constant inward focus at ourselves needs to be balanced (key word here is balance) and recognized that we live in a globalized world, and globalization is a serious threat to our existence and survival.

Globalisation can seek to encroach us in two ways. The first risk is our culture and language being completely consumed by western society and secondly our economic security is vulnerable due to our somewhat low status in certain factions of our society. How do we combat these things?

Innovators and entrepreneurs are now seen as a key aspect to our survival and can help to keep pushing back the invading tendencies of globalisation. The beauty of these concepts, is that they encourage the people themselves to find opportunities for development. This is quite different from past government strategies of development (colonization, assimilation and dependency for example) which sought to eradicate our ways of being. But our situation differs from mainstream, we are essentially fighting two fights and therefore we need two approaches…Fire Keepers and Fire Seekers!

Fire Keepers: Ahi Kaa Entrepreneurs and Innovators

Ahi Kaa is the cultural concept that explains our people who look after the homefront. They keep the home fires burning. These types of people are what I call inward focused innovators and entrepreneurs. They are important because they help to combat and fight against the disappearance of cultural taonga. They focus on rebuilding, maintaining, care taker responsibilities that look after our cultural capital and traditional values associated with whakapapa, whenua and whanau. These might include marae development initiatives, innovative reo strategies, digital application for things such as kapahaka, mau rakau, tikanga etc. It is imperative we look after our Ahi Kaa Entrepreneurs and Innovators because they take care of the heart and soul of our culture.

Fire Seekers: Ahi Kimi Entrepreneurs and Innovators

However, it is extremely important that our communities are not be developed in isolation with our external environment, it must be connected, advanced alongside and in connection with it. Maori society must have and design systems that integrate with it (not to be confused with being absorbed by it). Not enough emphasis is given to this.

The rate of change has increased dramatically with modernisation and this is especially evident within technology and innovation industries. These are hyper-competitive environments. To survive we need an adaptive and flexible culture that responds to change. Responding to change is helped by searching and seeking activities, and this is why fire seekers are important. Fire seekers are the modern day Maui, who go out there and into the big wide world and play with fire!

We tend to validate and give more emphasis to Fire Keepers and their work, and it is important work. But what needs to compliment it, is the work of Fire Seekers. Even when they are involved in businesses and products that appear to have no connection to Te Ao Maori, they still bring beneficial spillover effects into our communities. Fire Seekers explore and scan the environment, they bring information and messages back to our communities about what is happening out there in the world especially when the reach of our tribal eyes and ears are limited to what happening with Iwi or whanau politics. They bring new and fresh thinking into our tribal dynamics. They bring new connections, diverse relationships and social capital that we might not otherwise have access too.

In an ideal world our Fire Keepers and Fire Seekers interplay and are in constant communication with each other, each feeding into the other, to create a virtuous upward spiral of positive development.

So which one are you? Fire Keeper or Fire Seeker, maybe you are talented and are both! We need to develop the culture of Fire Keeping and Fire Seeking and build communication between the two. I encourage you to develop and ignite your entrepreneurial fire. To get involved in innovation and entrepreneurship means you believe in a better future. Entrepreneurship and innovation is actually another way of expressing hope for the future and if there is one thing our communities could do with more of, its hope.