YES company aims to sustain Pasifika culture

posted: 9:00 am - 11th December 2017
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(Picture caption: Minister for Pacific Peoples Hon Aupito William Sio with Meraki at the YES National Awards.)

Meraki was born out of a desire to know more about the Pasifika culture and traditions, and to spread this knowledge.

The social enterprise, consisting of four St Mary’s College (Auckland) Year 13 students, has collected the Ministry for Pacific Peoples (MPP) Award for Excellence in Pasifika Business at the recent 2017 Young Enterprise Scheme (YES) National Awards.

Meraki Chief Executive Annabelle Ryan, of Samoan and European descent, led the team of third generation Pasifika young women -  Angel Stowers (Samoa), Fangafua Po’oi (Tongan) and Taualofa Totua (Samoan/Tongan) - to success on December 6 in Wellington.

Annabelle says out of all the awards presented at the YES Awards, the MPP Award for Excellence in Pasifika Business is the one the team hoped to win.

“At heart Meraki is about Pasifika culture and helping Pasifika to learn about their culture, as well as others who want to learn,” Annabelle says.

“It is an honour to win this award, and it is satisfying knowing we have made a difference.”

The four students had joined forces for YES when they took Year 13 Business together this year.

The concept for their business came about when they realised that despite all of them stemming from Pacific heritage, they had all grown up not knowing their cultures in-depth.

“We also saw it as being an issue among our friends and in our community,” Annabelle says.

“So we began Meraki for the next generation, so they will know their culture and have a sense of identity.”

The young women have seen traditions and skills are not necessarily being passed on at home, so they decided to set up Pasifika art and wellbeing workshops in schools across Auckland.

These workshops are tailored to schools, with students aged 5-14 years, and include themes of visual arts, dance, drama and cultural values.

Throughout 2017, Meraki hosted nine workshops, and while they did not charge for the first two, they learnt to be sustainable they would need to set a student fee per attendance to survive.

Meraki has been fortunate to receive guidance from Pacific Business Trust’s (PBT) David Wilson.

“David gave us direction of how to get into the Pasifika community; advice about how to run our business authentically; the benefits of collaborating with other Pasifika businesses; and guidance around taking Meraki to the next level,” Annabelle explains.

Taking part in YES has given the group grounding in starting out in business, she continues.

“You have people mentoring you and giving you a clear direction about what you should be doing, how to pitch and run the business efficiently … it was a great experience.

On winning the MPP Award, the group took home $1000 to be put towards on-going business costs.

Annabelle says Meraki will continue to evolve and grow, and the group will take part in PBT’s Hatch initiative.

This is the tenth year MPP has supported the YES Awards, and Chief Executive Laulu Mac Leauanae says it is pleasing to see Pasifika entrepreneurs with a social conscience coming through.

“Congratulations to the young women of Meraki on winning this award,” Laulu says.

“Meraki is a great concept, and kudos to the girls for recognising the need to maintain links to their culture, as well as educating others about the Pasifika culture and identity.”

Meanwhile, Olelei from Henderson High School in Auckland took out the overall YES Company of the Year award for 2017.

Visit YES to learn more about the initiative.