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Silver Linings: Where are they this lockdown?

We chat Q+A style to Manaaki and Kami about what they are up to this lockdown. Get to know how an essential business operates during an Alert Level Four Lockdown.

Our exhibition Silver Linings: Aotearoa Innovation During Covid, looks at some superstar brands that adapted and launched as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic. We all know and love innovators and helpers during lockdown, but while Aotearoa battles it’s second level four lockdown we thought it was about time to check in with out Silver Linings superstars again. We chatted to Manaaki and Kami about how this Delta-variant lockdown is impacting them.

How is your business working throughout this Delta outbreak?

Manaaki: We are going fine, what is more important is how are our small businesses going across NZ through this outbreak. It does depend on what industry you are in, but there appears to be a lot more challenge in the market for small business right now. It is a tough time. 

Kami: As an EdTech start-up, agility is key. While we’re headquartered in Parnell, we have team members spanning across the United States and even South America, so we are fortunate enough to have had agile capabilities ingrained into our business from day one – so the team is prepared to handle whatever working environment and circumstances that come our way.

Where are you operating?

Manaaki: We operate digitally so we operate nationally. 

Kami: When Alert Level 4 was announced, the team was easily able to collect their individual setups so that they can work safely and comfortably from home / their bubble, with minimal disruptions. With most of our NZ team in Auckland, everyone is still at home and doing their part as the ‘Team of 5 million’, and we will continue to work from home / our bubbles until government restrictions have eased and it is safe to do so.

How are you supporting the community during this time?

Manaaki: We have just launched our second iteration of Manaaki as a Community Platform - and we already in 10 days have 2,500 small business members who have joined. It is awesome to see people coming into the platform and engaging and supporting each other. We have also been super busy with running lives on Instagram - here is a snapshot of our work!

  • Manaaki Community - a platform for small business to engage, at scale with a series of sub-groups. We are also in the process of establishing a TV/Content channel for all the short-form Lives, Content Shows focused on small business. 

  • Manaaki Do - marketplace where small businesses can seek help on jobs from a freelancer community that we will curate.

  • Manaaki U - series of branded and white-labelled education offerings that will be both free and paid. 

  • Digital Doers Academy - a 20-week programme for digital doers to be upskilled to enable
    doing on digital in small businesses. Combination of learning (12 weeks) and internship (8 weeks). 2021 will see three cohorts undertaken, ambition for 2022 is to scale to 1500-3000. 

  • Manaaki U Grants with partners, is to target segments of the small business community to attract them to come to Manaaki and to also award small cash grants with value-add tech packages and mentoring, focused on actualisation and implementation. Target categories include general, māori, pasifika, wāhine, youth, chinese, indian, aged, and more. Check out video of last winner here

  • Small Business Day - uplifting days and events for small business that includes an Annual Small Business Day, an Annual Small Business Awards and then one-offs like promotions on Cyber Monday, Black Friday.

Kami: Kami’s premium product subscriptions are, and always will be, free to New Zealand schools. Beyond making sure our educators and students feel supported, it is incredibly important to us that the internal team at Kami is too – so the Kami founders have enjoyed organising care packages to be sent to the homes of our 50 staff members and we have also introduced many remote initiates to keep the team culture alive and morale high.

Why was it important for your business to support the community?

Manaaki: Because behind every small business is a person is a family that is relying on that small business for their income, their livelihood. 

Kami: To ensure that no student gets left behind, giving back to the local education community that Kami first emerged in and ensuring our technology is available to every student in every school who could benefit from it, is incredibly important to us.

What are your top priorities?

Manaaki: At the core our focus is on supporting and enabling the individuals that drive our kiwi small businesses, and we are trying to do this scale. That leads to a threefold focus for Manaaki - (1) attraction (2) engagement and (3) sustainability.

Kami: The safety and health of the Kami team is of the utmost importance. We would be nothing without their contributions, which together have helped us to have a positive impact on the education sector and our 28 million users across 180+ countries throughout the Covid-19 pandemic.

Beyond the internal team at Kami, we are focused on supporting the educators and students across the country to ensure they have access to the resources they need to connect, collaborate, create and learn – at home and in the classroom.

What have been some challenges you are being faced with?

Manaaki: We are just like any other business. Our challenges are focused on aligning our ambition for the purpose and the funds and resources we must fulfil. Sometimes, many times we get these out of whack! 

Kami: Throughout the Covid-19 pandemic and its impacts on educators and students the world over, one of the biggest challenges for us has been around how we can continue to focus on innovation when we build and improve our solutions, with our students and educators at the heart of it. Kami is a learning platform that not only enables classrooms around the world to interact and engage with schoolwork, but it’s also helping to digitally
transform schools and nurture the next generation.

Who are they key people leading your brand through this time?

Manaaki: Our whānau at Manaaki so many of our team have worked tirelessly across NZ. 

Kami: One of the many factors that sets Kami apart is how we democratise our brand and customer engagement throughout the business. With more than half of the company talking to a customer every single day in one way or another, we all lead the Kami brand.

We also have a team that simply gets it when it comes to knowing what’s right for the Kami brand. For example, that is why there was no hesitation in much of the team stayed up until midnight the night Level 4 was announced to refresh and communicate our free license offer to New Zealand schools and teachers thrown back into remote learning. At the time, we were
getting ready for our busiest time of the year, the US back to school season, so it wasn’t something that would drive the business forward, but it was just the right thing to do.

As a testament to how well everyone at the company leads and upholds the brand, just last week we won the best customer service award at the Australasia Social Media Awards - a great lockdown morale boost for the team too as we tuned into the awards livestream!

Any tips for the community?

Manaaki: Be strong. Take time. Lean into the grind and just keep the momentum up by making small steps forward every single day. It is a marathon, not a sprint. 

Kami: We’ve been here before and while we know we will get through it again; we also know the steps to preventing it happening again in the future. Stay home if you’re sick, get vaccinated, and don’t forget to check in on others – lockdowns can really take their toll on people!

How can other businesses help the outbreak/lockdown situation?

Manaaki: Look out for each other. Pick up the phone. Buy local. Support local. 

Kami: We knew we had the perfect product to help teachers during remote learning and so it was an easy decision for us to make to help teachers in need. While not every business will be in a similar position to help so directly, think how you can. And if you can’t, there’s many businesses out there that are doing a fantastic job of deploying their resources in engaging and entertaining their audience and customers throughout lockdown which will only pay off for them in the long run as they humanise their brand and build connections.

The MOTAT Team can’t wait to welcome back our whānau once we reach Alert Level Two. It’s the last chance to check out the origin stories of Manaaki, Kami, and other amazing brands in our Silver Linings: Aotearoa Innovation During Covid exhibition before it closes on 31 October.