Doing good and making money
Earlier this year I had the pleasure of meeting a fascinating New Zealander by the name of Travis O’Keefe. I was sent to interview him for the second volume of Maxim Institute’s magazine Flint & Steel, and a longer version of this article appears there.
Now a sought-after business consultant, Travis grew up “a half Ma?ori, half Irish kid” on the East Cape in Whangara, a small town famous for being the hard-up locale of Whale Rider, and not much else. He recalls a childhood spent learning what he calls “grit, the ability to never give up,” taught by immersion in a community beset by family violence, unemployment, and poverty—a front row seat to what policy makers call “social deprivation.”
Hand in hand with grit came the ability to think outside the square; creativity driven by a lack of resources. These two “gifts,” as he calls them—grit and resourcefulness—first spurred him to early success as an entrepreneur, and they are what he now spends most of his time teaching other people to access.
In 2009, he happened upon a copy of The Social Report, a detailed chronicle of well-being in New Zealand from the Ministry of Social Development, across a range of different indicators including poverty, smoking, violence, loneliness, health, imprisonment, and alcohol abuse. The discovery that Ma?ori made up the majority of almost every negative well-being indicator horrified him, and spurred him into a flurry of activity to see positive social change for his people.
Travis has spent several years consulting to iwi leaders and representatives of Ma?ori Trust Boards, helping them to refine their business strategies so that they have increased funds to funnel back into their communities, to support Ma?ori achievement and solve social issues. Through his work with Ma?ori business leaders as a consultant for The Icehouse, and his new “Business in a Box” venture, he works to help others develop the entrepreneurial mindset that has made him a success.
Previously, his passion for entrepreneurship had been about proving a point: that he could be a success. Now he had a new model. “Business doing good,” or “business with a double bottom line, doing good and making money”
To Travis, business isn’t a dirty word. It’s a means of personal empowerment, an act of sustainable creativity, a tangible way that anyone can improve their own life and serve the needs of others.
Tattooed across Travis’ shoulder and back are two taniwha, locked in battle. Markers of his heritage, they present a visual challenge: dark and light, good and evil, greed and generosity constantly at war. As today’s business culture grows more and more aware of its impact on the world, some view solely profit-motivated business as “the dark side,” in competition with a society that cares for the needs of its people. In fusing his passions for business and people, Travis has found a way to feed both motivations at the same time—a double bottom line he can be proud of.
Flint & Steel | Volume 02 – when business meets social is on sale now for $13.95 online or from independent booksellers around New Zealand: