'Sustainable' business as Resistance ( & tino rangatiratanga)
Being a small business owner can be a solitary, and at times lonely path. Working solo and from home much of the times and exacerbated by the pandemic, community is more often a virtual or online reality. Social media, emails, a rare phonecall. A lot of head down, tails up, learning the ropes and getting the mahi done.
When it’s mostly a solo-gig, sometimes it is almost easy to wonder whether what you do is even real.
Maybe it’s the fact that my day to day is shaped more by the demands of 3 small tamariki in my charge. Our youngest is only 8months old, so he’s with me all the time. Our 3yr old spends two half days at kindy. The eldest, is becoming a full time ‘job’ of kura drops and pickups.
Life is full, and Aho, fits into those two half days, and gaps around the edges, evenings and moments of unsuppressable momentum. Let’s just say, it’s not centre stage in this season.
So when I received an email a few weeks back inviting me to speak to some tauria studying sustainability in business, I, to my own surprise, agreed without hesitation. A sense of surprise that this mahi that sometimes feels rather sidelined and occasionally a little make-believe could be of interest to students seeking to learn about alternative and sustainable approaches to business and life caught my imagination.
As these things often go, I mused in the car on the way home about the things I could have said but didn’t think of in the moment.
It was a room full of predominantly young women.
I spoke about sourcing and relationships. Ethics of supply line and production. Of understanding whakapapa, and driving business from kaupapa and core first and foremost, staying resolute to your values.
But what I forgot to mention is possibly, in hindsight, the most important bit.
That on a personal level, this business is about sustainability as a wahine, as a wife and as a Māmā in a world designed and built by men.
The purpose of a business, conventional thinking (aka, models built by a patriarchal society) would have you believe is to return a profit to the shareholders. The more money the better.
Capitalism, or perhaps neo-liberalism would have us believe that there is good to be found in endless growth, insatiable want and maximised profits above all else (environmental, social, personal).
For me, as a Māmā, a wahine and an indigenous person, sustainable business looks radically different. At it’s core must sit ‘enough’, people before profit, a responsibility for protecting the world my babies will one day inherit. A desire to model for them a way of living that is sustainable in itself. One rich in time, relationships, experiences, shared kai and community.
I started Aho in this business form while our eldest grew within me.
The dream wasn’t to show her kickass sustainable business models.
But for her to know I’d have time to inspect the 50th dandelion.
Time and presence.
The dream was to be able to have creative freedom to explore, deepen, nurture and develop ideas that give me life. Discovering the processes, projects and passions that seem to ignite an energy, determination and enthusiasm that can only come from within. The kind that makes the long nights, stressful days, failures feel worthwhile in the bigger picture.
The dream was to have enough time to nurture a garden and cook real food from it. Unhurried and intentional, a resistance to the hurried, consumer driven model of capitalism.
Aho is nearly 6 (as I am reminded of with excited and increasing frequency by our nearly 6yr old).
I couldn’t have dared to look so far ahead when we started. When the days were slow, the sales trickling in, I bootstrapped everything (though, to be fair, few things have really changed in this respect), but I was there with our pēpi.
Three babes in, and sustainability looks like actively not growing our business. Actively suppressing or redirecting opportunities for increased earning or profit.
Actively choosing time as my currency of preference.
Presence with my whānau as my KPI.
Looking at our business and thinking ‘we could grow that, but actually, what we have is enough’.
Sometimes it is recognising that projects are demanding more of my attention that I have the capacity to give, and so letting them go. Or rest.
In this time, as a Māmā to three small humans, it looks like finding help with things I can entrust to others. Streamlining systems to operate without me. Learning to trust that it can.
It is moving my body regularly, reading/ listening to good books. Growing a garden. Creating creative things just for fun.
As a small business owner with a brand deeply entwined with who I am and what I love, it’d be easy to let it expand and fill every corner.
But as a Māmā, a wife, friend and person in my own right. Sustainability in business means keeping these identities in balance.
While I was hapū with that first pēpi, I was reading a book and the words stick with me to this day.
“How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives.”- Annie Dillard.Each day, a small but definitive act of resistance against the tides of capitalism, consumption, more, more, bigger, growth, profit. And a gradual leaning in toward time, space, movement, observation, creativity and presence.
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