Ka Hao i te Ao – Going out and capturing the world with e-commerce

Participants at the Ka Hao final masterclass in Nov 2020. . Photo credit TWH.

Guest blog post from Shay Wright – Co-Founder, Te Whare Hukahuka.

When you hear of an ‘e-commerce business’, most people think of large multinationals like Amazon or Alibaba which sell thousands of products around the world. But increasingly, e-commerce is becoming a key part of small businesses too. It has been a growing trend, heightened during disruptions to ‘business as usual’ caused by COVID. E-commerce refers to all the activities used to promote and sell products online – through a complex mix of social media sites, email campaigns, data analytics, and platforms. E-commerce has now become more than a buzzword – it is a tool for economic empowerment. 

In 2020, Te Whare Hukahuka (TWH) noticed the devastating disruption that COVID lockdowns had on Māori businesses and whānau (families). Some enterprises that TWH was working with lost 80% of their income. Some whānau lost their incomes overnight when lockdown started. It was clear that there needed to be a new way to generate income. 

TWH had the experience in e-commerce and in training programme development to combine these two disciplines, and staying true to our mission of supporting indigenous communities to develop and grow sustainable social enterprises, our team set about developing an 18 week programme to teach Māori the A-Z of starting their own online business. We called it ‘Ka Hao i te Ao’ which refers to going out and capturing the world.

“What this programme has given me is the opportunity to learn about e-commerce and about how to level up our game. It allowed me to connect to like minded Māori and indigeneus people around the world”

~ Nikki Kennedy

When the call went out for applications, more than 280 Māori from across the country applied to be part of the programme. Looking at the hardships many faced, we wanted to offer them the chance to participate without making cost a barrier, and so TWH collaborated with several organisations, including the US Embassy to cover the programme costs, and provided 65 full scholarships to applicants who passed a series of Comfort Challenges and showed readiness and commitment. 

The Māori participants that were chosen were predominantly mothers aged 35-44, who lived in the rural regions around New Zealand regions, and had no prior e-commerce experience.

Photo credit TWH.
Photo credit TWH.

The participants embarked on 18 weeks of new learning and doing, with digital marketing, e-commerce tools and business strategy at the centre. Delivering to an audience of 65 participants based all around the country during a lockdown may sound challenging, but the mix of online readings and videos, peer-group projects and check-ins, coaching sessions, guest speaker sessions with indigenous entrepreneurs, and sharing a range of useful tools helped make the programme engaging and fun. One of the indigenous guest speakers was American doctor and entrepreneur Erik Brodt of the Minnesota Ojibwe people, who spoke about his online business, Ginew USA, selling indigenous-inspired denim fashion.

“Ka Hao has changed my life – when you surround yourself with like minded people and we tautoko [support] each other, anything can be achieved.”
  ~ Olivia May Paku

Through professional and peer support provided, and through sheer determination, 57 participants completed the full programme, representing an amazing 84% completion rate! But the aim of the programme was more than just increasing participants’ knowledge. The real goal was economic empowerment, and having participants apply the learnings to their own new business or project to establish a digital presence or start earning income online.

75% of participants that completed the programme launched their own e-commerce store and made their first sales. 

Of the 57 participants that completed, 43 launched their own Shopify e-commerce store, and made their first sales. The amount of income they were able to generate in the first few weeks tended to depend on whether they had an existing business and brand that they were growing via e-commerce, or starting their business from scratch.  

  (a)  Those with no prior business experience or e-commerce store – who generated between $50 and $1,900 in their first week of their e-commerce store going live; and

  (b)  Those with an existing retail business but no e-commerce experience – who generated between $6,850 and $28,000 in the month after implementing their new e-commerce knowledge.

These results were worthy of a celebration, and TWH hosted a graduation ceremony for the participants to acknowledge their successes. 

Photo credit TWH.

Below is a showcase of four of the e-commerce stores by participants:

Nichola Te Kiri

Nichola was able to double the growth of her online store by joining the programme. Since the programme she has continued to grow including scaling manufacturing in China and opening sales in Australia and soon to be China!


Benita Tuhiri

Benita Tahuri has built up a lot of skill in NLP and Hypnosis. With a mission to help people take action and awaken the invisible forces within them, she has been building online courses to share this knowledge. Since the programme she has grown her business by developing a second online training programme and doubled her prices, which increased demand.


Jamie Lee O’Brien

RYZN was born out of passion for clothing and health and fitness. A New Zealand owned and operated brand based in Whakatane, Bay of Plenty.


Holly Matai

Dirty Mulle creates hand printed, locally designed mens streetwear with a wider mission of bringing awareness to men’s mental health and suicide prevention within Dirty Mulle’s hometown of Gisborne, Aotearoa. The idea behind Dirty Mulle evolved from the personal experience of Founder, Holly and her desire to inspire her son during a challenging time.

With participants on average rating their programme satisfaction at 8.8 / 10, and with a Net Promoter Score of 9.6 / 10 (likeliness of referring the programme to others), TWH is now ready to grow the programme to enable more Māori to start their own online businesses, and continue to spread our learnings and our impact to support other indigenous communities to do the same. 

We thank all of the organisations, guest speakers and experts that gave generously to supporting the kaupapa (purpose) of the programme and making this new journey possible for so many. 

Articles featuring the Ka Hao programme:

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