A truly grassroots social enterprise, Hiko Health & Fitness (HHF) is the embodiment of Yanetta Hiko and Helen Te’o’s combined will to make healthy lifestyle changes for their loved ones.
Yanetta Hiko (or as everyone calls her, Bubba) and Helen Te’o are co-founders, co-directors and co-managers of HHF.
It all began as a response to Bubba’s mother’s diagnosis of type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, sleep apnoea and obesity – non communicable diseases prevalent amongst Maori and Pacific communities.
“In 2010 Whanau Fitness the programme, was born in the backyard of Bubba’s house, really,” recalls co-founder, co-director and co-manager Helen Te’o, who works within the operations and administration part of the business.
What began as family exercise sessions between their families three times a week, quickly grew to include five other families, and evolved into a 12-week fitness programme.
Before they knew it Bubba and Helen were getting enquiries from across their Wellington community.
The business now operates from what they call ‘The Hub’, a leased space on Cambridge Terrace which Hiko Health & Fitness acquired in 2013.
HHF runs much like a gym but offers more of a family feel and welcoming space for people to work towards being healthy.
“When we began, we had nothing- and even now- we’re still here,” says Helen, who also works part-time for an NGO that provides resources and training for people who work with families that have suffered grief.
Helen and 30-year-old Bubba, who also works part-time with the Heart Foundation delivering healthy food programmes and nutrition advice to primary schools, both scaled back from their fulltime jobs two years ago to focus solely on HHF.
Helen insists that it hasn’t been a venture of just the two of them.
“It hasn’t just been led by Bubba and I, it’s been led by our longstanding members, our families, and that’s how we’ve gotten to be where we are today.”
The business is, and always has been, a venture that puts people and families first.
“It’s driven by heart,” says 55-year-old Helen, whose own motivation came about losing weight for the sake of keeping up with her twin grandsons.
“It’s never been about the money, if we can make a difference in people, families, and their communities- then we have to be in it one hundred percent.”
Because of HHF’s holistic approach to fitness, and Helen and Bubba’s heart for their communities, financial gain has taken a backseat to the development of fitness programmes for the benefit for everyone that walks through their hub’s doors.
“Everything we get from the business goes back into the business.”
While the bulk of revenue comes in from membership and programme fees, Helen says a business growth grant from the Pacific Business Trust to help them with marketing, has been invaluable.
“Every little bit helps us and we’re always very grateful. It ‘refuelled’ us.”
The grant reinvigorated their vision, as did being a finalist for the 2016 National Pacific Business Trust Awards in the social enterprise category – which although they didn’t win helped them network with other Pacific businesses.
“It helped to re-boost our energy and belief in our ability to produce evidence of change within our members and community.”
They’ve been working with PBT Business Growth Manager David Wilson to explore the social enterprise opportunity of delivering their mission in a commercially sustainable way.
“As HHF grows it will create greater impact for its community but it won’t be reliant on external funding to survive,” says David.
“Every person that joins is literally helping these ladies help more people. There’s nothing to lose and everything to gain.”
David says the impact HHF has is nothing but positive.
“What Yanetta and Helen deliver is incredibly special and important for the community they serve,” he says.
“They’ve made it so affordable and the results their members get are so valuable both physically, mentally and emotionally,”
Word of mouth is helping to propel them forward.
“As word spreads and families see and feel the results of a happier, healthier, longer life for everyone, the change gains momentum,” he says.
“More and more Pacific and Maori families realise that it is simply a matter of swapping old limiting habits for new and invigorating ones in an environment that feels like an extended family. Confidence rises and so does the realisation that you can do and have anything you want with the Hiko whanau beside you.”
When asked what their long-term goals are for HHF, Helen says of course sustainability, but also a larger space and better equipment.
But for now they’re happy trucking along, running a business with outcomes bigger than financial gain.
“We want to be here forever, and we want to be able to continue to serve all the good people that one by one come into our lives.”