The New Zealand Herald
Teen Talent Seedlings of social awareness
In the final part of our series Jane Phare finds out why social enterprise is important and looks at some of the community projects young entrepreneurs have got in behind
During the country’s first lockdown, Kerikeri Primary School pupil Anika Beren decided to grow native trees. She and her grandfather Arthur collected seedlings, germinated them and, as they grew, planted the tiny trees in recycled pots from local garden centres.
It was the start of a project that would enable the 10-year-old to donate thousands of dollars to Bay of Islands Animal Rescue, a charity run by volunteers who rehouse hundreds of abandoned, unwanted or mistreated pets.
The project was part of Springbank School’s annual market day where children come up with an entrepreneurial idea, develop a business plan, and market and sell the item or service. They donate 25 per cent of their earnings to a charity of their choice and can keep the rest.
Anika decided to donate 100 per cent of what she earned from her baby trees to the rescue centre. It wasn’t her first philanthropic gesture. She once asked her friends to bring cat and dog food to her birthday party instead of gifts, so that she could donate it to the local SPCA.
She called her seedling business Amuri Gardens after her grandfather’s home village in the Cook Islands and sold the trees for $10 each. Purchasers were given the option of either planting the natives at home or donating them to two charities — Roland’s Wood dog park or Bay of Islands Animal Rescue.
Anika raised $2000 from the sale of her seedlings and, after newspaper articles appeared in the Northern Advocate and Cook Islands News, she caught the attention of spiritual guru Ching Hai, who regularly hands out awards to people doing good deeds, particularly those involving animals.
Hai donated a further $14,000 for Anika to give to the animal rescue group and gave her a “Shining World Compassion Award”. Hai, now based in Taiwan, is the founder of a spiritual movement, has a global chain of vegan restaurants called Loving Hut,
a fashion brand that includes “vegan fur” in its range, and a TV channel that broadcasts feel-good news.
Anika plans to keep Amuri Gardens going so she can contribute towards an airfare to the Cook Islands. Anika and her grandfather plan to visit Amuri village once the Cook Islands travel bubble opens later this year.
No ‘one size fits all’ for entrepreneurs
Social entrepreneurship is all part of the entrepreneurial package, says Professor Nathan Berg, who researches and teaches entrepreneurship at the University of Otago. Entrepreneurship does not just mean being a business owner, he says. Entrepreneurial skills can be used to start a non-profit or social enterprise to improve the environment or a need in the community.
“We also think that entrepreneurial capability in the public sector is what leads to innovation in government service,” Berg says. “Or you could go work for somebody else and create innovation and new value in an existing organisation. The academic literature is clear on this. It’s not one size fits all.”
Berg and his team have developed the Entrepreneurial Capital Assessment Tool (Ecat), a multi-faceted survey that measures “soft skills” such as attitudes to risk, mistakes, reward and uncertainty, confidence, “sticktuitiveness” and who they trust.
That is then linked to the hard data of economic outcomes. By using the tool before and after entrepreneurial training, Berg can also accurately measure the success of that training.
Using collected data, the Ecat profiles will show who is matched to what sort of entrepreneurship, be it social enterprise, full-profit business or “intrapreneurship” — being an innovator in an existing firm or organisation, or creating innovation within government services.
Hikurangi School in Northland is among those that teaches the value of social entrepreneurship.
Teacher James Duke runs a social enterprise programme and, in the two years before Covid-19, attended the annual Social Enterprise World Forum (SEWF) in Edinburgh and Ethiopia.
He was impressed at plans by the Scottish Government to integrate social enterprise into the fabric of Scottish society, including schools. Duke says it’s important to teach youngsters the value of social enterprise and thinks the subject can easily be integrated into the school system.
“If the family (community) is doing well, then you’re doing well. That has diminished over time. It’s more about ‘every man is out for himself’ mentality.” He tells those struggling at school that success doesn’t necessarily mean achieving high academic marks or making money in business, and that many of the world’s most successful entrepreneurs weren’t top achievers in the classroom.
“What they had was flair. They had a skill and a talent that I guess wasn’t appreciated in the school setting. Not all of us are going to be cut out to be lawyers and doctors,” he says. “I think that our schooling system really does need a huge overhaul in terms of what we value as being successful, and what success actually looks like. Our children are all different.”
Duke is also a member of the Whananaki community-led development programme, in partnership with the Department of Internal Affairs, a group that works with Whananaki School children on social enterprise projects in the community.
Those include running a community garden, developing balms from native plants and a school lostproperty project. The children collected up a mountain of school clothing, had it commercially cleaned and sold it back to parents at discounted prices. Money raised was donated to the Hikurangi community library.
“It teaches the kids that it’s not just about making money for yourself. It’s about sharing that wealth,” Duke says.
Berg would like to see more of an emphasis on entrepreneurship, in all its forms, at schools if taught the right way. There needs to be acknowledgment that enterprise should include the non-profit social, environmental and government sector, he says.
“We really want to turn people loose so that they get to create value on projects they are passionate about. Entrepreneurial skills can be used to make an activist group more effective, or help an environmental group clean up freshwater streams.
“A clear KPI is how to make the toxin levels go down. If a group can find a better way to do it that’s a valueadd right there, making the water cleaner.”
Social enterprise project taught valuable lessons
Anika Beren’s mother Mignon says her daughter’s Amuri Gardens project taught her many lessons, including project management, basic business practices, finances and responsibility. Covid-19, which postponed the school’s market day, and lockdowns taught Anika to adapt to change.
Anika agrees she has learned a lot from running Amuri Gardens, including that the tree seedlings need constant watering and attention.
“I learned that natives are really important for the New Zealand environment and helping the community. I’m quite proud of myself. I learned it’s good to let people help you.”
Last year she took part in Blaze Aid, a Springbank School gala that raised more than $7000 for victims of Australia’s bushfires. The students ran stalls, donating all their profits to the cause, and the local community got behind it. Musicians played for free, donated items were raffled off and hairdressers gave haircuts in exchange for donations.