Advancing Tikanga in a multi-cultural world

8 Feb 2022 by Steven Giannoulis

Tikana graphic

In the last few years Insight Creative has embraced tikanga design and te ao principles. We’ve been building our understanding and incorporating what we‘ve learnt into the way we engage stakeholders, our ideas and our designs. As a result, we’ve seen some great work for our clients and for us. With less that 10% of our team identifying as Māori, the biggest challenge we face in advancing to the next level is credibly representing Tikanga principles while always remaining authentic to our multicultural perspective.

In this first of two articles, we explore our multi-cultural perspective and how it becomes the platform for advancing our Tikanga focus. 

There is a lot of discussion about Aotearoa being a bi-cultural nation. We fundamentally disagree with that view. New Zealand is a multi-cultural society. We’re a migrant nation whose identity has been shaped by waves of adventurous people coming here for nearly 1,000 years for the promise of a better life. Each group has bought their unique ways with them, adding to the cultural melting pot that makes us who we are.

Today, over half of our population doesn’t identify with either of the two founding cultures – British or Māori – but with one of hundreds of other ethnic groups. As a Pacific nation, in both origins and positioning, we have extensive Pacific cultural diversity, coupled with rapidly growing representation from around Asia. This gives our identity a strong Asia-Pacific lens. Add to this the many other communities, such as Croatian, Dutch, Italian and Greek, that have established multi-generational roots going back over 100 years, plus a new wave of diverse cultures from Africa, the Middle East, and South America.

We see this multi-cultural New Zealand identity, and the benefit it brings, in the make-up of our own team. We represent over a dozen ethnic groups from right around the world. As a creative business we see first-hand that engaging this variety of perspectives, experiences, and ideas leads to better thinking and design. By embracing our diversity, we deliver better results for our clients, our owners, and the communities we are part of. 

But advocating for a multi-cultural society doesn’t mean we deny our British and Māori bi-cultural beginnings. Far from it.

There is no doubt we are a Commonwealth nation with proud British traditions. The distance from the ‘motherland’ and the challenges to get here attracted a certain type of pioneering earlier settler. This more adventurous, resilient and resourceful person has helped shape the core Kiwis characteristics we are well-known for.

But what makes our culture most unique is the Māori people who are Tangata Whenua (people of the land) and have customary rights under te Tiriti o Waitangi. No other country in the world has this unique world view available to them. And what’s even more amazing, is that while te ao principles have been around for a long time, they’ve never been more relevant than they are to today’s big global challenges like climate change, health, poverty and inequity.

We love that today’s more welcoming society is less obsessed with preserving a singular British heritage and is actively adopting inclusive and communal te ao Māori perspectives to inform their social, economic and environmental decision making. The more we embrace and embed Tikanga and te ao into our way of thinking, living and doing business, the more we differentiate ourselves globally, build cultural pride and support a multi-cultural society united by common values.

All these reasons add to up to why we are an agency embracing and championing Tikanga te ao principles in the way we do business.

First, we have an obligation to ourselves, and to our people, to help everyone understand and contribute to the culture of the country they call home. And, as a communication agency whose work shapes behaviours and perspectives, we have a moral responsibility to ensure we’re helping advance a positive national identity.

We also have an obligation to our clients to understand cultural shifts that shape how audiences perceive them and respond to their communications. There is a definite cultural trend, especially with Government clients, to highlight and celebrate the Māori aspect of our Kiwi identity. Doing this authentically is becoming increasingly important to them and we need to be able to respond appropriately in what we deliver and how we go about it. 

Improving our Tikanga understanding and application is undoubtably good for us, supporting us to compete for, and deliver, better business. Most of all, advancing a Tikanga perspective is about supporting a multi-cultural society that acknowledges and appreciates differences and uses them to build a common identity we can all be proud of.


In the next article, we explore the four pillars of our Advancing Tikanga programme – partnerships, understanding, alignment and engagement.