Social media makes this ‘our time to shine’, say Pasifika businesswomen

Young Pasifika businesswomen say the rise of social media means now is their time to shine.

There are about 310,000 Pacific people in the country, living mostly in Auckland, with an average income of $40,300 a year, compared with $53,500 for non-Pacific, according to 2018 Treasury report The New Zealand Pacific Economy.

Factors weighing on the community’s economic performance include the young Pacific population – 46 per cent were under 20 years old – and lower qualifications and skills, leading to lower-paid jobs and lower income levels. But social media is opening the door to young Pacific people.

Mary Aue says social media offers amazing opportunities to Pacific people.

“South Auckland is such a rich place, and the opportunities for us to showcase the true heart of South Auckland using technology, using social media are amazing,” said social media specialist Mary Aue, managing director of online community noticeboard Coconut Wireless.

Born in Niue, and raised in the Auckland suburbs of Otara, Grey Lynn and Glen Innes before settling in Māngere, Aue said when she embraced social media six years ago, many people did not see its potential.

“Being a Pasifika woman, being Niue-born, [I have] an understanding of the different Pacific countries, also an understanding that social media is a huge tool that we have yet to harness the true power of.”

One of the challenges was getting people to see that what she did was a real job. “Four years ago they were saying to me, oh no, accountants don’t need social media, and I said, yeah, they do.” She built a consultancy business around social media, seeing the huge digital transformation that was coming. “I also built it on the basis that I effectively want to move back home, and will be able to run my business regardless of where I am in the Pacific.

“I was wanting to base myself in Fiji because, contrary to New Zealand and Australia’s perception, the centre of the region is actually in Fiji, and accessibility in terms of Papua New Guinea, Solomon Islands, Kiribati, a lot of them you can access them through Fiji.”

She and fellow online entrepreneur Hana Schmidt are hugely proud of South Auckland teen Josh Nanai, who as Jawsh 685 made it to the top of the global Spotify charts earlier this year.

His song Savage Love (Laxed – Siren Beat), a collaboration with American pop star Jason Derulo, first gained fame on TikTok, and has racked up more than 236 million streams worldwide.

‘If you aim high, you miss high’

Challenges for New Zealand’s estimated 1500 Pacific employers include cashflow, growth, and business development, the Treasury report found.

But the optimistic view expressed by Pacific businesses suggested that supporting more Pacific people into business and developing entrepreneurial skills would help unleash the community’s potential.

Hana Schmidt is aiming for the top, and hopes to inspire others.

Pacific participants in the 2018 research did not believe that financial success was the only indicator of wealth or prosperity.

Schmidt’s parents emigrated to New Zealand from Samoa, and she was born and raised in Māngere.

She started a business using Amazon FBA (Fulfilled By Amazon), which allows sellers to ship their merchandise using an Amazon fulfilment centre, and recently started an online talk show.

Taking the risk and adopting a business mindset was the hardest thing for her to get to grips with, she said.

“I’ve overcome that challenge, I’d say I’m aiming for Hollywood, I’m going to the top. If I don’t make it, that’s fine because if you aim high, you miss high.

“I’m from a community where our choices are limited because we don’t have that many resources, and I’m here to empower young people, to tell them that you do have resources, we can help you get your resources.”

Pasifika people were brought up to express themselves creatively, which translated well to social media, she said. “Jawsh 685 who is a beat maker from Manurewa, he really did clock it, and he’s only the start. And I’m so happy these platforms are coming, because we’re able to express ourselves in a way that’s not just on a piece of paper, that’s not writing, that’s not just speaking.

“For Pasifika people it is a revolution. We are people of dance, music, art and culture, so this is really our time to shine.” Samoan businesswoman Agnes Loheni, who started fashion label Mena with her sisters in 2002, said the business had changed a lot from its traditional bricks and mortar beginnings.

“Fortunately we were thinking ahead, and about five years ago we started to look into the online platform. I’m so glad we did because I firmly believe that it’s saved our business through this time.”

The online business platform was a great leveller, making it cheaper to start out, but finding success was still hard work and a big commitment.

She said the limits for young Pacific people were only what society’s expectations put on them. “And actually it is trying to push through what I call the soft bigotry of low expectations.”

Loheni, also a National Party list MP, was due to facilitate a Pacific Women in Business’ workshop on Monday with the Pacific Cooperation Foundation, but it has been delayed due to restrictions under alert level 2.5.


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