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  • 1 March, 2018

Navigating Business: learning from Pacific wisdom – Reciprocity

Musings of a Polynesian in the ‘uncharted’ waters of commerce

1000’s of years ago my ancestors embarked in trade and mercantilism that spanned the largest body of water on the planet.  They were curious and inquisitive, sensitive to the currents around them as they set out in their vaka to cross the vast Pacific Ocean.

30 years ago, my parents boarded a plane to leave paradise and build a life in a world that did not understand them, had no space for them and no respect for their ancient heritage and customs.  They were hopeful and courageous, sold on the story of a magical cold land that was over flowing with milk and honey.

Today the Pacific Ocean has been charted and our people speak the language of mainstream, but there are still waters of commerce and trade that remain a mystery for many of us.  It is with that same curiosity and courage that I set out on a journey of commerce to unlock the secrets of #ethical ecosystems and sustainable social enterprise.

It’s pretty damn exciting!

I share this journey with a crew of courageous, wise, sassy young people @ #HATCH.  I have the privilege of acting as ‘virtual CEO’ but even that is the language of the coloniser (Wakanda forever – sorry I’ve just watched that movie and it’s giving me all the feels).  What is a CEO?  What does leadership look like for a Pacific Islander?

All of these young people are Pacific and are staunch in their desire to bring all of themselves to business.  And they can here, coz when you own the damn company, you make the rules!  So let me share some of the nuggets of gold that have come out of the first couple of weeks with the #HATCH cohort.

Reciprocity: The whole idea of trade is about a transaction with other people.  You can’t do trade with yourself – well, accountants can but that’s a whole ‘nother blog.  Reciprocity is a founding value for many Pacific populations and we can absolutely apply it here.  Also, when conducting transactions that are reciprocal, you must be able to value them.  If one party is getting more value then the other than that va is broken and can lead to feelings of resentment.

Pacific also have a bad habit of asking for a hook up.  How many PI business owners have heard ‘C’mon uce, do this for free, I know you got heaps of money’?  Sis, I need a venue, can I use your offices for a meeting?  It’s a thing in commerce, not just Pacific; people trade with others they know and trust and often you get hit up for discounts or pro bono work.  Often when you’re successful you suddenly find a whole bunch of cousins coming out of the woodwork you never knew existed.

As budding business owners, you have to consider how you trade.  The way you do business is a reflection of your values as a person and as an organisation.  It’s great to be able to give back to the community and don’t feel bad about it.  But these transactions need to be fair, reciprocal, ethical and transparent.

If you’re on the receiving end of these types of transactions, you need to give back; and in a way that’s ethical and you won’t be embarrassed if you get hindsighted by the IRD.  And if you’re on the giving end, enjoy the feels you get from helping a brother out, but perhaps also take note of those who respect you enough to return the favour.