Business is Boring is a weekly podcast series presented by The Spinoff in association with Callaghan Innovation. Host Simon Pound speaks with innovators and commentators focused on the future of New Zealand, with the interview available as both audio and a transcribed excerpt. This week, he talks to Manawa Udy from co-working space Te Haa o Manukau.
Co-working spaces can be great little communities. There’s something exciting and energising about being around people that make interesting things happen. There are always new people with exciting news, connections you can make and a lot of people working on a global level. They are also little bubbles that can help you forget that life isn’t like that everywhere. In fact, even having co-working spaces available isn’t all that common, even within your own city.
One person who saw the power of community and worked to make a space in South Auckland is Manawa Udy. Last year, she spearheaded the crowdfunding and establishment of Ngahere Communities, which runs Te Haa o Manukau – a co-working space for the creative, innovative, entrepreneurial people of South Auckland.
Te Haa o Manukau is a project from the Southern Initiative, supported by ATEED through GridAKL, and is built to be a thriving heart and link to the wider innovative business space. Manawa has a background of pioneering community entrepreneurship projects such as a buy-one-give-one model driving school and forming the PETER collective. And as a creative director at Bob and Bob, Manawa tells these stories and others.
To chat entrepreneurship and community, Manawa joins us now.
How did you come to be involved with all of these community entrepreneurship projects? Because you actually first studied photography?
It was never really intentional, but I suppose coming from photography that was kind of my first touch with entrepreneurship. I grew up in Rotorua, moved to Palmerston North, studied photography down there, and really got into the commercial side of photography and moved to Auckland to pursue that career. But pretty quickly I realised that the passion I had for photography didn’t through in the commercial sense, so when I started trying to commercialise my skills in photography, I realised I didn’t actually like it. I liked it as a hobby.
That was my first touch with entrepreneurship. I ended up moving, over time, into youth mentoring, working in youth development. Then I ended up in a role with Auckland Council where I was working at a brand new youth centre called Russell Youth Zone. It was at that time when I started to see some of the very real needs that a lot of the young people in some of our tougher communities had.
You have kids who are hanging out every day after school and all throughout the weekend, and you can see so much that they don’t have. But for me, I always choose to see what people do have, and entrepreneurship for me is taking what you do have and turning it into what you need. While I was at Roskill Youthzone, we started to do that with young people. We did things like showing the kids how they could use a lawnmower to make $50 to spend during the school holidays, or how to make some cookies and package them really nicely and sell them off as Christmas gifts so they had some cash.
It started off with little things like that and just continued to grow. We ended up setting up, along with a team of awesome young adults, a cafe within the Youth Centre called Roskill Coffee Project which ran for a couple of years. It was a really awesome cafe that had a youth training element within it. We set up a screenprinting area which turned into a screenprinting business for one of the local young guys, and we set up a gym area and got young people to do personal training sessions. We were always looking for young people to use what we had, and the skills that they had, to turn it into the things they needed.
That was the start for me – it just kept growing from there.
Are those easy things to do in a sector where people often have lines in their head like ‘community work is just community, there’s nothing commercial’ and ‘entrepreneurship is just entrepreneurship’. Is it easy to be blending things like that?
Nah, it’s not. Even now it’s a constant challenge because not only do you have the challenge of commercialising something, but you have the challenge of building and developing people. They’re both really complex things. Commercialising is probably simpler.
For me, it comes from a genuine heart to see people thrive. I’m really passionate about people getting ripped off and people not reaching their potential. I think that’s what really drives me and makes it all worthwhile.
And how do you build these structures out from these organisations that allow you to do that? You’ve set up and run quite a few things yourself, how do you go through a process of winning the support and creating the space to be able to do these projects?
With the Roskill Youthzone, the thing we had was a building and my time was paid for. So that’s a big part of the overheads that you would generally have to take on. Then on top of that, we had a little programming budget and the Ministry of Youth Development or community trusts who have little pockets of funding that can add onto that.
I think that’s what I love about it. [I love] finding ways to be innovative with those little bits and pieces that you do have, and always responding to what the need is from the people you’re working with. The young people want some food, or they want the latest kicks – it’s really simple stuff that they want, and it breaks your heart to see time and time again that they can’t have that when you think that it’s not that far out of reach for them.