13 Oct 2021

The older entrepreneur - making life better

From The Detail, 5:00 am on 13 October 2021
Hokianga DNA not SNA protest

Lynette Wharerau at a protest over designation of land at Hokianga as an SNA.  Photo: Supplied Lynette Wharerau

The populist image of an entrepreneur is a young, slick, tech-savvy, go-getter driven by the desire to get super rich. 

The reality is many of them are older, and making money is not always their prime motivation.  They are out to improve the lives and economy of their whānau, hapū, and local communities.

The pandemic has pushed more people into their own business, and others just want to stop working for someone else.

"Entrepreneur is a difficult word," says Dr Judith Davey, a senior associate at Victoria University, who has researched the topic.

"When we put a question in the survey to try and recruit people who had done this we didn't actually use the word entrepreneur because we thought it might be a bit off-putting."

Today The Detail delves into the growing number of senior entrepreneurs, and asks what’s driving people aged over 50 to start up their own businesses.

Davey recently spoke to a conference, Vision for Ageing in Aotearoa, on the rise and significance of senior entrepreneurship.

She interviewed 20 senior entrepreneurs for a study that was part of the MBIE-funded Massey University research programme  "Maximising Workforce Participation for Older New Zealanders".  

The study found that older entrepreneurs do not take advantage of business advice.

"A lot of people we interviewed were a bit suspicious of business mentors, they felt, ‘what could they tell us that we don't know already’," Davey says.

Anne Purcell of Ākina Foundation says there is a massive opportunity for older people to contribute socially and environmentally through "impact-led" businesses that are driven by "more than profit". 

Purcell is director of capability at Ākina, which works closely with community enterprises and whānau businesses that are made up of two or three generations.

"Often the visionary leading out with the ideas to make a difference through their business is the older person," she says.

But older people are mainly seen as a problem to be solved - or a resource for younger go-getters - and what's missing for them is a lack of support.

"One of the things that really drives our work at Ākina is how can we create the conditions that will enable social entrepreneurs to thrive - and right now it is ad hoc," Purcell says.

Sharon Brettkelly also talks to Lynette Wharerau, of Ngāpuhi, about why she has given up her high paid corporate career to fix the housing crisis in her hapū in Hokianga where many whānau are homeless, but not landless. 

She's leading a collective, tentatively named Hokianga Hapu Housing to build 200 houses, from papakainga to single-family dwellings.

Wharerau, who is in her 50s, knows what it’s like to live in substandard housing - she's recently upgraded from bus to a small cabin.

Her vision for her hapū is "off grid housing solutions, waterless toilets, multiple dwellings on a block of property, very healthy families able to live together on their papakainga, electric vehicles that mean they have a legal car to go into town".

She explains the hurdles, from going to the bank to ask for money, to getting absent members of the hapū to agree, and knowing how to deal with multiple agencies and organisations.

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