The Maori Women's Development Fund

Yesterday Tainui Stephens posted a photo of himself and Dame Georgina Kirby on Facebook. I haven’t seen her in ages but it reminded me of the time in 1987 when the Maori Women’s Development Fund was started. It is now Maori Women’s Development Inc.

Back then Georgina was president of the Maori Women’s Welfare League and a member of the Board of Maori Affairs. The Board had started the MANA Enterprises business startup project in 1986 and in 1987 was in the process of rolling it out to a network of tribal and regional providers. At the time I was the project team leader. Occasionally Georgina would invite me (command me) to the League office in Thorndon, Wellington for breakfast and a korero.

This one time the korero was about opportunities for women in business. I was an attentive listener because I too had noticed that almost all of the low interest loan funding was going to men. Oftentimes the men were good at what they did but were lousy bookkeepers and we would urge then to involve their wives in the business because often the wives were smarter and would make better financial managers. None of them took our advice of course.

What Georgina wanted to do was use some of the MANA Enterprise funding to create a fund exclusively for women. I told her to write a proposal and send it to me. She had a better idea. So I wrote the proposal right there and then. It was a very good proposal even if I say so myself. Georgina had it typed up and packaged into a very smart proposal and sent it to me that same day.

Guess what. I got this excellent proposal from the president of the Maori Women’s Welfare League and processed it. That involved checking out the kaupapa, the criteria for loans, the transparency and accountability mechanisms, and all that stuff. Proposals from the tribal and regional providers were usually lacking in some respects and were often sent back for improvement. But this one was perfect; tribute I suppose to the greater insight and ability of our womenfolk.

I analysed it and added my recommendations. At the next meeting of the Board of Maori Affairs MANA Enterprises Committee, just a day or so later, Georgina spoke to her proposal and I spoke to my recommendations. I think the committee members were impressed. And it was approved.

Now I don’t take any credit for the Maori Women’s Development Fund (now Maori Women’s Development Inc). It was Georgina’s idea entirely. And it was her idea right from the start to make me write it myself. I think she might have applied a bit of subtle or perhaps not-so-subtle Ngati Kahungunu whanaungatanga to make that happen.

Dame Georgina went on to run the fund for many years. It has now morphed into Maori Women’s Deverlopment Inc. MWDI’s objectives include:

  • To provide loans to Maori women to enable and assist them to enter into and commence business and/or to expand and restructure their existing businesses.
  • To establish, maintain and conduct a society for the promotion, advancement and encouragement of Maori women and whanau into business throughout NZ.
  • To provide developmental training programs for Maori Women and their whanau to empower and enable them towards economic and financial independence
  • To empower Maori business women and their whanau through sharing information and knowledge
  • To assist, support and foster the development of business ideas, opportunities and up-skilling amongst Maori women and their whanau
  • To encourage and support Maori Women into general wealth through business development.

That was pretty much what Georgina told me to write. Well, probably a bit flasher but that’s what she meant. A most worthy organisation indeed.

Nothing about Maori entrepreneurs in there I see.