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”
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.
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.
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.
“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
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.
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