#StandWithManaaki – What were they thinking? Part 1

Hey Vic, what were you thinking?

The more I delve into the campaign to discredit Manaaki, and destroy the reputation of its founders, the more astonished I become.  Much of the activity appears to be enabled and exacerbated by explicit Callaghan Innovation actions and inactions.

My current bemusement centres on the Callaghan Innovation Board, and why they are apparently choosing to double down on the “we did nothing wrong” stance of past and present CEOs, when there are so many things that seem, well, just not right.

Today let’s focus on the role of past CEO Victoria Crone, and what’s come out (in media interviews, and in OIA information releases) about her role or influence in the appointment and direction of the due diligence investigator, John Borland and the work that he did.

OIA releases show that she was contacted by a friend who suggested that Manaaki be investigated – nothing wrong with that, assuming his motives were pure.  He offered to connect her to an investigator (Borland) who had prior knowledge of the claimed dodgy dealings.  The friend suggested that Vic pass Borland’s name onto her procurement team.  This conversation started in December, 2021 – before the Callaghan tender process had even begun – with the recommendation reiterated in February, 2022.

Several months later, Borland was appointed to conduct due diligence on Manaaki and others shortlisted for a Callaghan tender.  He produced his initial report in just 2 days after signing his contract of engagement. An impossibly tight timeframe to investigate and report on all tenderers.  The press reports that he had been hired a number of months earlier, by a third party to investigate Manaaki.   A clear conflict.

Borland would have been obligated to disclose conflicts of interest.  Did Borland tell Callaghan that he knew the parties involved, and the details of their dispute?  And if so, what did Callaghan do about it – did they consider using an independent investigator?  Did Callaghan only become aware of the conflict at a wider level when it was reported in the press?  Did Callaghan at that stage seek an independent view of the alleged misdeeds? 

The fact pattern suggests that the Callaghan CEO should have known of the conflict from the beginning.  Did she declare a conflict of interest to her Board, in recommending a friend of a friend for the investigator role?  Did she tell them he had investigated Manaaki before?  If not, very poor practice – particularly for a government organisation.  Or did her friend not disclose to her that Borland had been investigating Manaaki already?

Either way, it then appears (again via OIA releases) that Borland was explicitly instructed by Callaghan Innovation that he should NOT interview Manaaki to hear their side of the story.  It may be that Borland at that point was trying to do the right thing –– but that was not to be.

So on the face of it we have an investigator, recommended by a friend of the CEO, hired without apparent proper process, with undeclared prior knowledge of the matters he was hired to investigate, and who was explicitly instructed not to talk to the accused parties? 

How can this be okay?
We continue to see swirls of fact, innuendo and fabrication.  People’s reputations and livelihoods are being destroyed.  The ecosystem is being deprived of players who have made a positive difference and want to continue to do so.

How can the Board of Callaghan Innovation be apparently unwilling to do the right thing? Commission a truly independent report.  Or withdraw the current reports and hey, perhaps even issue an apology.

What were, and are, these people thinking?  Or, one has to ask, are they thinking at all?

And what role does MBIE and the Minister have in all of this?

#StandWithManaaki – Tall Poppy Bashing

The ongoing campaign to destroy the good work of Manaaki and its founders Pat MacFie, Andy Hamilton and their colleagues, is sadly, and simply, a perfect example of New Zealand’s penchant for chopping down tall poppies.

In more advanced economies, they recognise that failure is the gateway to success, that people who have learned from their failures, make better business leaders in the future. But that is not the case here in Aotearoa, where our past misdeeds come back to haunt us, again and again; where the business media is amongst the first to take up the scythe when there are tall poppies to be felled.

The tall poppy in question here is not actually Manaaki itself (who have quietly and humbly gone about their business), but the inimitable Andy Hamilton, who has dedicated the past few years of his life to supporting his co-founders at Manaaki, honing the work he did in founding and building The Icehouse, to support business success. There is no doubt that Andy has made some enemies along the way – he is driven, opinionated, and definitely not always right! Well, I certainly haven’t always agreed with him.

But those of us who know him, whether we love him or not so much, will vouch for his relentless passion for raising up business builders, and in particular his willingness to give freely of his time and his unbelievably vast network of contacts. Andy is a giver.

Seeing him bowed down under the weight of the current campaign to discredit his co-founders at Manaaki, and destroy the great work they have done (and want to keep on doing) to support small business NZ, is simply heartbreaking.

THIS IS NOT OKAY

This concerted campaign, led by a small number of vicious haters – some not even living in NZ – is putting Manaaki’s very survival at risk. Armed with leaked private investigator reports, commissioned by a government agency, and passed on to other agencies, individuals and journalists (probably in breach of every rule in the procurement privacy book!), these bad actors have whipped up support from well-meaning commentators, spouting forth on things about which they are not fully informed.

How could they be, when Manaaki itself has never been afforded the courtesy of access to the evidence against them, nor the opportunity to respond. Despite this, they are taking positive actions to find and redress their failings, as detailed in their post yesterday, linked HERE

This takes courage. This is the action of an ethical organisation.

Here is an organisation, with over 6,500 members, many from the Māori and Pasifika communities, doing good work to support business owners and job seekers to build better businesses, to succeed. 

Now it finds itself a victim of bullying, of tall poppy bashing, at the hands of people with the power to influence whether it lives or dies. Ironically, at the root of the allegations, there appears to be concerns about founder bullying – with the emotive overlay that the founder is question is neither male nor Pakeha, and therefore inherently more vulnerable in the face of the big, bad ‘investor’ guys. Allusions have been made to other founders who were bullied (by other players, including most notably the business media), and the need for more founder protection.

Be that as it may – and more about that in my next post, specifically about founder bullying.

But meanwhile, consider this. These are people who founded a business to support their people, who built a community of mutual trust and support. They have a “past” (don’t we all?) that they do not deserve to have trawled through the media. They have been successfully supporting small business – the lifeblood of the New Zealand economy – funded mostly by government contracts, won in fairly contested procurement processes, creating real impact for the business owners they support.

In the words of a small business owner posted on the Manaaki platform this week:

“I find it sad when others have to tear down people who are doing so well and helping others get ahead in life. It is hard enough at times just living life on your own terms. When you have someone who turns you down time into some horrible monster, they should be ashamed of themselves, as we all have a story or 2 or 3 that can be told. I for one have learnt so much from this group, and the support has been really great”. …Hold your heads high as you have a lot to be proud of. 
The old tall poppy syndrome! Sad but often true.”

If you, like me, want to take a stand against the destruction of yet another #TallPoppy, please #StandWithManaaki and show your support by sharing, speaking up, and telling the haters that this is not okay.

#StandWithManaaki – proud to be whanau

I am proud to be a member of the Manaaki whanau

In March 2020, when many small business owners saw their world falling apart, Manaaki.io stood up an army of volunteers, successful business people, mentors and advisors, to show their support for SME owners by answering their questions, providing advice, and just being there for them. I was (and still am) one of those “helpers”.

Motivated by a desire to help businesses survive, exhorted by the determined and passionate Andy Hamilton, we responded, often within hours, to desperate calls for help and advice. 

Could we save all those businesses – probably not. Did it help that we were there to listen, and suggest survival strategies – I do hope so, and the many, many messages of support on the Manaaki platform suggest that we made a difference (and continue to do so).

That was the genesis of Manaaki… and the platform for filling what in 2020 turned out to be the digital capability void in small business NZ. Vast swathes of retail businesses had no idea how to serve contactless coffee, promote and sell their goods and services online, email their customers, or even build a simple digital presence.

In March 2020, I stood up for Manaaki because I genuinely wanted to help, and because Andy Hamilton asked me to help. I have known Andy for more than a decade. While we have often disagreed on things, I know for sure that he is a good man, who has dedicated most of his working life to building a better New Zealand. When Andy asks, you KNOW it’s for a good cause.

In November 2022, I am standing up for Manaaki now because there are forces of evil out there who are trying to destroy them. A swirling torrent of rumour and innuendo, around what appears to be a business deal gone wrong, is literally sucking the lifeblood out of this incredible community. Thanks to the wider leakage of the Callaghan Innovation commissioned private investigator reports, the allegation of ‘unreasonable bullying’ is being played out in social, and now national media, with the founders of Manaaki the targets of this dirt-digging, value destroying campaign.

The fact that they have not been given details of the evidence against them is patently unfair, especially when “Confidential” reports have apparently been shared widely between government agencies, essentially black-balling them from any future contracts. THIS IS NOT OKAY. Everyone has a right to face their accusers; a right to defend themselves.

The personal attack by a national newspaper on Pat McFie late last week – to which he has responded in the article I’ve linked here – means that I can no longer stand by without raising my voice in their support.

If you, like me, are one of the many volunteers supporting the Manaaki kaupapa…

If you are one of those many SME owners who gained a faint ray of hope (or even some practical business-saving advice) from talking to us, or watching the many inspiring live interviews on IG celebrating business success…

If you are one of the  army of digital doers that Manaaki helped to create, supporting SMEs to go online…

Or if you simply believe that people, and organisations, should be judged by ALL their deeds, not just the things that went wrong, please join me, and #StandWithManaaki by making your support visible to the haters and the knockers.

I leave you with a quote from one of the many businesses that has benefited from Manaaki, posted in response to the current attacks on the organisation:

“It’s soo sad to see this in 2022! God bless you and your team as you navigate through this. I have experienced the impact of your program and today have an award winning business that was only possible through employing a graduate of your program. We’re here for you. Don’t give up!!!!”