GFAR blog, Partnerships for impact

Trust, togetherness and tea: Adding value back into collaboration


“Collaboration” is a pretty simple concept, isn’t it?

We all know what being “inclusive” means.

Or do we?

Words get tossed around and jargon changes over time, but we would all agree that we come together as development practitioners because we want to reach a goal for the common good. Our ultimate goal is to eradicate hunger in the world. There’s nothing controversial about that. Complex to achieve, sure, but not controversial.

But does having a noble goal mean we necessarily get the process right? Is it the act of working together itself that defines real collective action? Or is it also about having shared values that unite and guide us?

Yesterday I attended a side event to the 43rd session of the Committee on Food Security, on the topic of Connecting Indigenous Food Systems to Markets: The Maori experience in New Zealand. The session explored how value can be added to indigenous food production systems by connecting local producers to markets, while still respecting their preferences and maintaining their cultural identity.

Noble Graham, Te Rarawa, Sweetwater Station, Pukepoto

The first presenter, Mr. Hemi Toia of Te Waka Pupuri Putea, an asset holding group working with indigenous tribes of New Zealand, gave an engaging presentation about a values-based, cultural approach that has long defined Maori business. Mr. Toia himself belongs to a Maori tribe, and he seeks to support local communities by empowering them to grow a sustainable economic base. His company does this by applying four overarching, culturally-rooted principles in their work.

Guiding principles, you say?

I was intrigued, since the Global Forum on Agricultural Research is a community of partners, from across all sectors, working together to make agriculture and food systems more efficient, adaptive and transparent by advocating for farmers’ concerns, sharing knowledge and innovations, catalyzing the right investments and connecting up and transforming institutions. In short, our approach is inclusive and our actions are collective: our guiding principle is that we work better together.

“Success is not individual – it is collective,” Mr Toia said during his presentation. I knew right then I had to interview him.

Here are clips of that interview with summaries of his key messages:

Q: Yesterday in your presentation, you spoke of the four pou principles that guide all of Te Waka Pupuri Patea’s activities. Could you explain a little more about how these four pillars guide your business priorities?

The four pou principles for success—economic, cultural, social and environmental—are considerations applied in all Maori commercial activities. They help keep business deals balanced, not just about the balance sheet. The pou remind us that success is only really success if it is the product of a fully accountable process.


Q: You talked about the importance of cultural values, but where partners from diverse backgrounds are concerned, is working collectively enough of a value in itself to drive collaboration and inclusiveness?

Having a common value is enough, whether it’s culturally based or not. What binds us together is an understanding that we are better together. And the question is not whether doing things collectively is a good thing. The real question is what it is that empowers us to work together, and what keeps us together. Relationships built on high trust and mutual benefit allow collaboration like that to happen, and isn’t disrupted when we make mistakes.

Q: GFAR’s mission is to catalyze collective actions to transform agri-food systems—from the local level up to the global. For example, GFAR’s Global Foresight Hub helps build the capacity of rural farmers and producers to take a participatory approach to responding to future challenges, working with them to plan the future they want for their communities. Our work on Farmers’ Rights centers around building local farmers’ capacity by providing them with instructional materials in their own languages about how they can protect  the biodiversity of their traditional varieties and have a voice in national policymaking. From your experience, how is building on local contexts and cultivating the trust of the local people key to your work?

Inclusiveness starts by sitting down to talk with one another, and when Maori do business, that means “a thousand cups of tea”. It’s about building a relationship, even if it takes time. A lot of governments and businesses interacting with indigenous peoples are not interested in getting to know them, in finding the mutual benefit, but are eager to make a transaction as quickly as possible. “That’s just trying to cut a deal, that’s not collaboration.” But, cup by cup, real collaboration can be built.

During the Q&A session of the CFS side event, Mark Holderness, GFAR Executive Secretary, posed a question directly to Mr Toia relating to his own field experience in Papua New Guinea. In a context where there are great obstacles to inclusion and dialogue—where strained race relations, tribal tensions and gang violence persist—how can these messages of inclusiveness, trust and mutual benefit be taken to those communities?

I felt Mr Toia’s answer summed up the heart of what Te Waka Pupuri Putea is striving for, and what GFAR has always sought to do despite obstacles that a global forum can face:

“You have to go in with an attitude of collaboration: We will not do it for you, we’ll do it with you.”



Hemi Toia manages the day to day business activities of Te Waka Pupuri Putea Limited.  Hemi  has a background in banking, business managment, consultancy work and self employment.

For more information contact Hemi Toia on 09 408 1971 or via email at hemi(at)



Blogpost by Charles Plummer, #CFS43 Social Reporter and GFAR Social Media Administrator–

This post is part of the live coverage during the 43rd Session of the Committee on World Food Security (CFS). 

Image credits: 1-Google; 2,3-Te Waka Pupuri Putea Limited

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