Ezra Hirawani and his friend, Ben Armstrong created a power company that allows the strong to support those in more need.


Many of us take for granted being able to use power in our homes when and as needed. Ezra Hirawani (Te Āti Haunui-a-Paparangi / Ngāti Rangi / Ngāpuhi / Ngāti Hako / Waikato Tainui) was the same, until he and his business partner Ben Armstrong (Ngāti Hine) had their eyes opened to the prevalence of power poverty in NZ. “For us it’s like, you don’t think about power, you just turn it on,” Hirawani says. “But then we started to learn about the social inequity in the industry – how many people went without power, the amount of households who struggle to pay for their power every week, how many people self-disconnect or ration their power so they have enough for the whole week.”

Knowing little at that stage about the complexiti­es of the industry, Hirawani and Armstrong wondered if they could come up with a solution. “It was very naive, but Ben and I were like well, should we just start our own power company? … We thought to ourselves, could we use power consumptio­n as a way to do good for whānau and community? That was our framing question.”

They founded Nau Mai Rā, a power company with a difference. It uses power bills to support the community by giving back a portion of each bill to a kaupapa (cause) of the customer’s choosing, such as their marae, kura kaupapa schools or Nau Mai Rā’s Whānau Fund, which assists those struggling the most with power hardship. Those who join Nau Mai Rā who are easily able to afford their power bills will help the most vulnerable members of society to keep the lights on, and those who join who are vulnerable themselves will receive support. Nau Mai Rā has committed to turning no customer away, and turning no home’s electricit­y off. “We thought, is there a way that we can apply a tuakana-teina model?” says Hirawani, referring to a concept in Māori culture where an older or more expert ‘tuakana’ helps and guides a younger or less expert ‘teina’, which in this context can be seen as referring to ‘able’ and ‘less able’. “So [we] use the ‘haves’ to support the ‘have-nots’.

"So [we thought], is there a way that we can work with those who can afford to pay their power bill, to dedicate a portion of their bill to support those who can’t afford to pay theirs?” Nau Mai Rā is undoubtedl­y a game changer for those in power hardship – particular­ly when they have been turned away by other power companies – but Hirawani emphasises that Nau Mai Rā is for everyone. “A lot of people think Nau Mai Rā is just for people in power poverty – that is who we are built for, but we rely on the support of our tuakana people who can afford to pay their bills so that we can provide a better service and make sure that we eliminate the gap between the haves and the have-nots.”

For those who don’t need to think twice about paying their power bill, Hirawani wants to get the message across that they “can do more with their power” by joining Nau Mai Rā. “They’re going to pay for their power anyway – why not pay less, or at worst, the same as what they’re paying now and then have the understand­ing that every time they turn their lights on with us, they could be helping a vulnerable consumer to turn their lights on?” he says. “You don’t have to be poor to join us, you don’t have to be Māori to join us, you just have to agree with what we believe in which is that power is a right and not a privilege, and that through the spirit of manaakitan­ga (respect, generosity) and working together, we can create power equality.”



 ?? ?? Ezra Hirawani feels electricit­y should be a right, not a privilege and his company is built on this credo.
Ezra Hirawani feels electricit­y should be a right, not a privilege and his company is built on this credo.

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