Thousands of whānau Māori in Te Waipounamu are thriving as a result of direct commissioning by the South Island’s Whānau Ora Commissioning Agency, Te Pūtahitanga o Te Waipounamu, according to independent research released today.

The evaluation by Christchurch-based Ihi Research looked specifically at the agency’s latest Wave 16 social impact investment, which saw a total investment of $2.7 million spread across 83 whānau-led initiatives from Nelson to Bluff.

Ihi Research examined both the social impact of the Wave 16 direct whānau commissioning and, in partnership with Professor Paul Dalziel and Distinguished Professor Caroline Saunders, co-directors of the Agribusiness & Economics Research Unit (AERU) at Lincoln University, also measured the impact of commissioning to determine a return on investment (ROI).

Unveiling the findings at the opening of Whānau Ora Symposium 2023, which kicked off in Ōtautahi Christchurch this morning, Te Pūtahitanga o Te Waipounamu Pouārahi, Ivy Harper, said the findings were compelling.

“The returns from Te Pūtahitanga o Te Waipounamu Wave 16 investment have seen whānau shift from state dependency and subsistence living towards  independence and wealth creation.

“In line with that, whānau who participated in Wave 16 initiatives also reported higher life satisfaction than the general Māori population,” said Harper.

“This is significant and emphasises the enormous value of direct whānau investment, in a social, cultural and in an economic sense.”

The study found that across the 83 funded initiatives, almost 5,000 Māori were positively impacted, with a net present value of up to $87,433 per person. This reflects how much extra income they would have to receive to get the same increase in life satisfaction.

AERU estimated that the economic value of increased life satisfaction combined was at least $7.2 million, but likely to be many times that as the impacts rippled through all participating whānau.

Even the minimum impact implied an economic benefit of $2.40 for every $1 of investment, with the possibility of much higher returns from this investment in whānau agency and wellbeing.

Harper said the Ihi Research report was not the first to back the Whānau Ora approach but  was remarkable in terms of singling out the economic return on investment.

“This evaluation shows clearly that we are supporting an improved space for whānau, and we are doing so with a fraction of the spending allocated to traditional agencies.”

Dr Catherine Leonard, Director at Ihi Research, described Wave investment in capability as “turning the dial for whānau” and said the results indicated sustained positive change in the lives of whānau in Te Waipounamu.

“It emphasises, too, the need to value outcomes that are valued by Māori – the right of whānau to strive and thrive on their terms based on their own notions of wellbeing and success.”

Professor Paul Dalziel said using the New Zealand Treasury’s extended cost-benefit analysis tool, the AERU confirmed that the return on investment was “significant and more than covered the total investment for Wave 16”.

The results demonstrated the huge economic value of supporting Māori to invest in their own futures, he said.

“Whānau reported a wide range of positive impacts from what the funding has allowed them to do,” said Dalziel. “Many impacts are profound but impossible to quantify, such as increased hope and intergenerational aspiration. Other impacts are measurable in economic terms, such as increased life satisfaction reported by project participants.

“The public investment of close to $3 million in Wave 16 has provided very good value for money.”