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Evaluation of SMEs Digital Skills Fund 2020/21: Building Digital Skills for Small and Medium-sized Enterprises run by Māori, Pacific peoples and disabled people

Success is about more than just the bottom line, it’s about contribution to community.

Thank you and disclaimer

The Department of Internal Affairs (DIA) extends its warmest thanks to all who generously shared their time and knowledge to this evaluation. This includes intermediary partners HTK Group, Kaitaia Digital Hub, Pacific Business Trust, Tātau Tātau o Te Wairoa, Waha, and Workbridge, and in particular the many small business owners and whānau who took time away from their busy lives to share their stories with us. We also wish to acknowledge with thanks Moana Research’s valuable contribution, for their work with Pacific Business Trust and Pacific small businesses.

We know COVID-19 is still impacting your whānau, your communities and your wellbeing making your contributions to this evaluation even more valued.

We developed this report in good faith using the information available to us at the time. We provide it on the basis that the authors of the report are not liable to any person or organisation for any damage or loss which may occur from acting or not acting with respect to any information or advice within this report.

— October 2021

Executive summary


The Department of Internal Affairs (DIA) administered the COVID-19 Recovery SMEs Digital Skills Fund between July 2020 and June 2021. This was one of a number of initiatives delivered as part of the Department’s Digital Inclusion Programme for 2020/21.

The Fund was designed to respond to a digital gap identified for people who run small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) in Māori, Pacific and disabled communities, which placed these SMEs at higher risk of being negatively impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic.

The outcome sought from the Fund was for SMEs run by Māori, Pacific peoples, and disabled people to develop new skills necessary to operate confidently and with ease in the digital world. This would enable them to trade online, maintain business viability and potentially save jobs.

The project’s intermediary partners

Six intermediaries, or partners, were contracted through a contestable process to deliver up to 1,000 digital skills enablement packages to SMEs in the 3 target groups. Packages offered were determined by an assessment of the barriers and issues faced by the small businesses in the respective communities. A digital package might include digital devices or connectivity, or simply be geared to building skills and capability.

The 6 intermediaries selected were:

  • HTK Group Limited
  • Kaitaia Digital Hub
  • Pacific Business Trust
  • Tātau Tātau o Te Wairoa
  • Waha
  • Workbridge.

These were selected for their strong relationships and networks with the Māori, Pacific and disabled communities they serve. Each of the intermediaries tailored their approach and the digital packages they delivered to serve the specific needs of their communities.


The scope of the project was to:

  • procure community partners / intermediaries through a RFP to implement up to 1,000 digital skills boost packages to SMEs owned by Māori, Pacific peoples and disabled people
  • design and develop digital skills packages in partnership with our intermediaries that lift the capability of the identified SMEs to participate, contribute and benefit from digital inclusion
  • tell the story about the implementation of 1,000 digital skills boost packages to SMEs owned by Māori, Pacific and disabled people through an evaluation process.


A project evaluation was undertaken that aimed to capture insights and lessons learned from the Fund, to assess proof of concept and to inform future policy and funding decisions. Initial findings were presented to intermediaries, their partners and government stakeholders in late June 2021.

This report is the outcome of this evaluation process.

Key findings

Feedback from the 6 intermediary partners and participating SMEs was that the SMEs Digital Skills Fund made a positive difference for target communities. Nearly 1,000 SMEs run by Māori, Pacific peoples and disabled people, covering a very wide range of industries, received digital assistance packages that helped boost their digital skills, their businesses and ultimately their communities.

The key findings from the project are as follows. 

Tailored, flexible approaches work

Marginalised or underserved communities need tailored programmes that address long-term social, cultural, and equity barriers. ‘One-size-fits-all’ approaches will not work well for the target communities. Enduring relationships based on trust are a core enabler, and allow for flexible delivery models, appropriate to the specific context and needs of the target community. Partnering with organisations who understand the nuances of their communities means the needs of the SME could be easily understood and accommodated.

Addressing significant digital capability gaps takes time

Sustained investment is required to uplift and boost digital capability for Māori, Pacific peoples and disabled people.

The problem is more complex than the need to acquire ‘digital skills’ alone

A low level of digital skills was part of the bigger problem contributing to digital exclusion. A range of access barriers (affordability of hardware and data, availability of connectivity in some communities, availability of fit-for-purpose hardware, lack of time or logistical support to access digital training), as well as trust and motivation factors are affecting businesses in Māori, Pacific and disabled communities in different ways. Intermediaries reported that in some cases those other barriers were pre-empting the acquisition of digital skills. National approaches to digital capability for small businesses in Māori, Pacific and disabled communities will work best if they include approaches that will address the reality of this mix of complex barriers.

Foundational business skills are a key component of digital success for SMEs

Many SMEs need support with developing basic business skills such as planning, budgeting and forecasting alongside building their digital competence. The varying levels of foundational business skills required a tailored, adaptive approach to the type of digital skills assistance provided to these SMEs, based on an individual needs assessment. Access to high-quality local business advisory services is a key component of building digital skills for SMEs.

Success looks different for different SME communities

One common denominator that emerged across the 3 communities is that small business success is about more than just the ‘bottom line’; it is about contribution to community. While the full impact of the investment might not be quantifiable by conventional economic measures, the Fund was judged a success in terms of meeting the target SMEs’ aspirations for improving their digital interaction in the business world on their own terms, and for the positive impacts on their wider communities.


The Digital Skills Fund was successful in addressing some symptoms of digital exclusion for SMEs in the target communities, as well as identifying underlying structural issues. Sustained investment in building digital capability in Māori, Pacific and disabled communities could therefore contribute to Aotearoa New Zealand’s economic recovery, as well as being part of the broader social transformation agenda.


As part of its all of government work to improve digital inclusion outcomes for New Zealanders, DIA identified that as many as 16% of all small to medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) are struggling with one or more of the 4 elements of digital inclusion — trust, motivation, access, and skills. Digital exclusion puts SMEs at risk of being unable to pivot to maintain their current business models to survive or thrive in the future environment. SMEs owned by Māori, Pacific peoples and disabled people are disproportionately affected, and COVID-19 exacerbated this situation (see Appendix 2).

DIA sought funding through the COVID-19 Response and Recovery Fund in 2020 and was successful with $5 million approved to be allocated via the Digital Skills Fund to intermediaries to deliver up to 1,000 digital skills packages to SMEs in the targeted communities. The Fund was intended to support these SMEs on their journey to acquire the skills necessary to operate confidently and with ease in a digital world. Further information on the Fund methodology is in Appendix 3.

Addressing the inequity arising from this digital gap was the driving principle for determining allocation of funding to SMEs under the Digital Skills Fund. The aim was also to allocate funding quickly given the urgency of the COVID-19 environment and the need for many businesses to go online to survive, and to access government information and support.

This report sets out the findings of a rapid insights evaluation of the SMEs Digital Skills Fund.

Fund intermediary partners and their programmes

The following section provides a brief description of the 6 Fund intermediaries, and the digital skills and capability programmes they offered to SMEs in their respective communities under the Digital Skills Fund project.

HTK Group — TU Matahiko

About HTK Group

HTK Group is a Māori organisation that specialises in working with Māori and indigenous groups to build better futures by harnessing the power of collaboration — “for our people, by our people and with our people.” It operates across South Auckland, Hawke’s Bay, Waikato and Te Waipounamu (the South Island), and its focus for delivery is pakihi Māori (Māori SMEs). HTK Group works alongside whānau, businesses, corporates, hapū / iwi, institutions and not-for-profit organisations creating tailor-made, innovative and dynamic solutions for business.

Founded in 2015, HTK Group was established to meet the growing demand for an organisation that understands the business needs of Māori and indigenous organisations across the spectrum — from start-ups, to existing businesses seeking growth support, to pakihi Māori pursuing investment opportunities. HTK Group offers a wide range of business support services and operates a Social Innovation Lab to develop local initiatives that create real social impact, as well as a commercial investment arm.

HTK Group

TU Matahiko

The Digital Skills Fund project allowed HTK Group to support digital enablement of 275 Māori SMEs in the Hawke’s Bay, Waikato and South Auckland region and the South Island through the TU Matahiko digital enablement programme.

TU Matahiko supports Māori SMEs to build digital capability and improve their digital health. This digital transformation is achieved by using technology to establish and improve business processes, practices and models, as well as create customer experiences that better meet market expectations and the ever-changing business environment. TU Matahiko aspires to be the national leader in building digital inclusion for Māori businesses, bringing together local and international leaders in digital technology and Māori business advisors to enable the ‘digital transformation’ of Māori SMEs.

TU Matahiko promotes digital transformation by using digital technologies to create new — or modify existing — business processes, practices, models, culture, and customer experiences to meet changing business and market expectations. TU Matahiko supports Māori SMEs to transition to digital technology so their businesses can leverage the efficiencies of digital marketing, cyber-security, digital transactions, accounting software, e-commerce websites, and HRM and CRM systems. Support provided included:

  • a digital needs assessment to determine SMEs’ digital needs, aspirations and opportunities
  • development of a tailored Te Mahere Matahiko ‘Your Digital Map’ unique to the needs of each SME
  • facilitation of access for each SME to incentives, services, support and training.

Our ethos is kanohi ki te kanohi, pakihiwi ki te pakihiwi … face to face, shoulder to shoulder. Always.

Renata Hakiwai, Managing Director, HTK Group

HTK Group’s TU Matahiko digital transformation programme weaves together the strands of contemporary business with traditional knowledge. The programme seeks to support — manaaki — and guide pakihi Māori into the modern digital age, supporting and building resilient, strong pakihi Māori for the future. TU Matahiko uses a te ao Māori programme delivery model. It connects locally-based, digital advisors and international technology leaders to pakihi Māori in order to design and execute a personalised, digital transformation work plan.

The programme focuses on supporting participants to transition from ‘old-school,’ archaic ‘pen and paper’ business operations, to digital solutions that create operating efficiency, while maintaining and honouring tikanga. They are doing it in way that enhances the mana of the pakihi, empowers whānau and their communities and continues to support their local economy.

Three simple principles underpin TU Matahiko’s approach:

  • a “to Māori, for Māori, by Māori” world view
  • investing back into the local community and local SMEs economy by using local service providers and products
  • building digital capability at all levels of the ecosystem, from service provision (using the Ako method of learning by teaching, and teaching by learning) to the local communities.

TU Matahiko

Success Stories — TU Matahiko

Kaitaia Digital Hub

About Kaitaia Digital Hub

Kaitaia Digital Hub was the first of 3 regional hubs to open in the Far North, offering a space to connect business and community through digital technology thereby allowing its mainly rural communities to enjoy the benefits of a digitally enabled economy. Kaitaia Digital Hub recognised that in order to close the Far North’s digital divide its SMEs need connectivity, and opportunities to upskill their digital literacy and technology. Its sub-regional approach allowed for digital skills programmes, heavily weighted on one-on-one contact, tailored to meet the unique needs of the local business community. The Hub is an initiative of Taitokerau Fibre Networks, founded in March 2020, with the support of the Provincial Growth Fund (PGF) and private investment from Top Energy and the Te Rarawa commercial division, Te Waka Pupuri Pūtea. The Kaitaia Digital Hub provides a shared space providing services to the Kaitaia community and businesses ranging from hotdesking, private room or venue hire for training, workshops or conferences.

Demographically, there is a high percentage of Māori, deprivation and rangatahi in the Far North region. It is vital that communities in the region have the opportunity to fully participate in the rapidly changing digital world. COVID-19 added another dynamic — a recent survey conducted by Northland’s Chamber of Commerce revealed that one-third of businesses surveyed did not have the capacity to operate online under COVID-19 restrictions, another third indicated they could only operate at 50% capacity, and nearly 18% stated they could not operate at all under Level 3.

The Far North is home to a diverse range of Māori businesses ranging from tourism to farming. These Māori businesses face a number of specific challenges that differ from non-Māori businesses. They are less likely to access consultancy services, invest in upskilling staff (such as in leadership and management) due to cost and time poverty. And, due to their perceptions about training, they are less likely to respond to generic programmes that offer little new advice and that do not to focus enough on the individual business owner’s needs.

Kaitaia Digital Hub (KDH) delivered digital skills packages to 90 Māori SMEs. Support provided included:

  • a digital needs analysis to determine levels of personal digital literacy, business digital literacy, device poverty and what challenges there are to businesses performing optimally in a digital environment
  • developing a tailored training programme for businesses based on the results of the needs analysis. Training programmes addressed differing skill levels from foundation through to mastery.

The 4 categories of training programme were:

  • Foundation — establishing the digital foundations necessary in a SME to develop primary digital skills, targeting key areas such as: digital connectivity, social media engagement, setting up email, instant messaging, video conferencing, online banking, online government services, word processing and spreadsheets, task and time management and financial literacy.
  • Intermediate — establishing core digital business systems and basic online marketing.
  • Advanced — integrating key business systems and implement basic automation, prospect and client communication through email and social channels, implement intermediate levels of digital marketing.
  • Mastery — implementing advanced automation and marketing systems, including advanced attribution modelling, advanced post-purchase customer nurturing processes, integrated sales conversion data with AI-based media bidding systems, and acquisition-based conversion and pricing optimisation, automation workflows to deal with wider administrative tasks.

Ka ua te hiku o te ika, ka tōtika te hāere … When the tail of the fish moves, the rest of the fish is not lacking for direction.

In a rapidly changing and advancing digital world, especially in a COVID-19 environment, it is vital that everyone is included and can fully participate.

Tia Hohaia, Kaitaia Digital Hub Coordinator

A feature of Kaitaia Digital Hub’s delivery of its digital skills programme was the creation of full-time and part-time positions to be the human interface by utilising the digital skills of rangatahi. This human connection is important for reaching the region’s digitally excluded.

Kaitaia Digital Hub

Pacific Business Trust

About Pacific Business Trust

Established in 1985, Pacific Business Trust is a national organisation with offices in Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch. Pacific Business Trust’s services are accessible to any Pacific business from any region, and it has over 1,150 clients registered across Aotearoa. Pacific Business Trust is made up of a team of experienced professionals and network partners who support business growth and success in the Pacific community. Pacific Business Trust provides advice, support and a trusted community of service providers to help the Pasifika community achieve its business goals.

Pacific Business Trust delivered 270 digital skills packages to support the business capability of Pacific-owned SMEs through its own established channels and partner networks. Pacific Business Trust model is based on delivering a customised solutions approach for businesses, groups of businesses and industries. Pacific Business Trust offers the following core services:

  • access to a business advisor
  • a detailed business health check assessment
  • a referral plan to guide the business’ next steps and direct it to expert support
  • community events and fully funded workshops delivered by professional service providers to address capability gaps
  • grant for services and tailored business support, including business mentoring, assistance with online marketing, sales and purchasing, and security and support, through the broader Service Provider Network
  • a procurement support service
  • Hatch — Pacific Youth Entrepreneurship programme.

The experts are the community. They know the problems because they live it every day — they know the solutions because they’ve tried it many times — we need people who understand.

John Faitala, General Manager, Pacific Business Trust

A range of research points to the difficulties that Pacific people have in accessing the internet and developing digital capability and that they are over-represented (with Māori) in digital exclusion. This research and feedback from Pacific Business Trust’s clients indicate that this high level of digital exclusion for Pacific people is based on several underlying factors:

  • financial barriers — lower incomes and the cost of having and maintaining a computer and internet connection can be an issue for Pacific peoples
  • general literacy difficulties mean that Pacific people can struggle to engage in digital and online processes and instruction
  • language barriers and lack of confidence with written English can be a challenge, particularly with completing important online processes in English
  • lack of desire to initially transact business online — Pacific peoples generally prefer face-to-face (or voice-to-voice) support in the first instance and feel more comfortable approaching other people in their community for advice.

These barriers result in Pacific entrepreneurs and businesses having more limited digital capability and ability to access online business processes and resources. These constraints impact on the performance of the businesses, with a high proportion of Pacific Business Trust’s new clients needing assistance with financial management software, digital marketing or online sales and purchasing.

Pacific Business Trust’s approach to addressing these digital constraints is to be a front-door and touch-point for Pacific entrepreneurs and businesses, with the focus on assessing needs and facilitating access to relevant support and expertise that matches the clients’ needs, stage of development, industry sector and aspirations.

This approach entails developing and piloting novel approaches to support Pacific innovation, in partnership with other providers, based on client intelligence and evidence. A key element of this model is utilising relevant and trusted specialist digital expertise service providers such as Deloitte — one of the Trust’s main established partners — for the initial client contact and digital assessment, and for follow-up support.

Pacific Business Trust

Tātau Tātau o te Wairoa

About Tātau Tātau o Te Wairoa

Tātau Tātau o Te Wairoa is a Post-Settlement Governance Entity, established in September 2018. It represents the redress of 7 clusters of iwi and hapū across the Te Wairoa region. Tātau Tātau o Te Wairoa has instituted a project management capability that can address multiple stakeholder needs involving complex legal, political, social and cultural issues. A commercial company board was appointed in 2019 comprising 5 directors with commercial experience across a number of industries including infrastructure, food production and horticulture.

Te Wairoa district, located in the Hawkes Bay region of New Zealand’s East Coast, has a unique set of digital needs compared to those of other communities given its geographic and demographic circumstances. Of Te Wairoa district’s population of around 8,500:

  • 68% identify as Māori
  • 46% live rurally
  • 56% of the population have incomes under $31,000 (defined as ‘low income’)
  • 87% live in quintiles 4 and 5 compared with 40% nationally.

Equitable access to resources is impacted by Wairoa being in the middle of 2 large provincial centres. Wairoa is more than 3 times worse off than the rest of New Zealand in terms of economic and social status. Digital connectivity has been identified as a key initiative to bridging this digital divide. Wairoa currently has basic facilities delivering minimalist services. In terms of corporate, small business and personal digital it lacks the facilities necessary to participate on an even playing field with the majority of other New Zealanders.

Tātau Tātau o Te Wairoa

Pākihi Ora

Tātau Tātau o Te Wairoa delivered digital skills packages addressing the specific needs of 90 Wairoa SMEs through its Pākihi Ora package of products and services. These businesses’ needs were identified through extensive engagement with local SMEs since COVID-19 Level 4 isolation and drawing on the experience of partners working with Māori SMEs. The package was delivered through collaboration and partnership with the Wairoa District Council, Korou Digital and Creative Marketing.

Pākihi Ora focuses on increasing SME digital participation through providing access to:

  • a digital capability assessment focused on key recovery enablers such as access to market, promotion and sales. The assessment facilitates referrals to other critical business supports such as budgeting and human resource management
  • a tailored service covering marketing fundamentals and online marketing, a one-to-one follow-up session with a marketing coach to design a specific project brief
  • advice on budgeting, financial planning and the use of accounting software packages
  • support and education around the use of agriculture technology as a means of improving the utilisation of whenua Māori
  • support with online content and e-commerce trading packages.

Part of the Māori approach is ‘What is the uptake for this kaupapa’? I want to utilise whenua better, matauranga, my kids … this is not about money!

Lewis Ratapu, General Manager, Tātau Tātau o Te Wairoa

Māori perceptions of data as a taonga, and concerns about the privacy of their information, are also critical factors. Māori data sovereignty and protection were therefore key issues in the design of Tātau Tātau o Te Wairoa’s model for delivering digital products and services to Māori in the Wairoa district.

Consequently, Pākihi Ora, Tātau Tātau o Te Wairoa’s package of products and services aimed at addressing the specific digital needs of Wairoa SMEs, is underpinned by 3 key principles.

  • Place-based solutions — mā Wairoa, mō Wairoa, nō Wairoa (by Wairoa, for Wairoa, from Wairoa). Recognising that suppliers or providers who live in the community better understand the inherent resources and context in which services are delivered and are invested in developing community capability.
  • Kaupapa Māori — the package is designed and delivered using Māori values and practices, incorporates wellbeing as a holistic concept and aims to support the idea and goal of tino rangatiratanga or self-determination.
  • Equity — the package addresses structural barriers to Māori participation and incorporates the principles of Te Tīriti o Waitangi as a means to improving outcomes for Māori.


About Waha

Waha is a Māori Creative Agency specialising in Māori branding, communications and marketing. Waha’s broad experience covers industries including healthcare, education, technology, and the government and private sector, as well as Whānau Ora initiatives. Waha is focussed on producing technologically innovative, creative and culturally appropriate Māori strategies for its clients.

Waha Digital

Waha developed a digital skills delivery programme Waha Digital to utilise the opportunity provided by the SME Digital Skills Fund to deliver foundational digital skills to Māori businesses. The Waha Digital programme worked with Māori businesses in the Taranaki and Whanganui regions to increase their online presence and connect to a comprehensive Māori business network, positioning these businesses to be better digitally prepared for the future, and to be better connected to the world.

Hekeheke I Papa

Hekeheke I Papa is Waha’s model of care through the cultivation and nurturing of growing digital whānau marketing businesses. Through the Hekeheke I Papa platform, Waha Digital delivered 90 individual digital skills packages to Māori business in Whanganui, Hawera, New Plymouth, and Te Tai Hauāuru. The Hekeheke I Papa model supports the digital growth of Māori businesses, providing assistance with:

  • digital marketing plans
  • logo design and digital design assets
  • platform development
  • basic content development
  • ICT set up, administration and maintenance
  • mobile plans and devices
  • partnering to support business start up
  • developing business relationships.

We believe, together is better … ‘Kia Rangatira Te Whakaaro, Kia Rangatira Te Tuu’ … The Mission is to develop and deliver sustainable benefits to their people, marae, iwi to foster and grow long-term relationships for the future of Ngaa Raurutanga.

Tuteri Rangihaeata, Director, Waha

Prior to the Digital Skills Fund project, Waha had worked with DIA, the iwi of Ngāa Rauru Kiitahi, and their corporate entity Te Kaahui o Rauru, on research to understand the real digital inclusion and connectivity challenges the community faces.

The research identified a need for digital skills, digital education and digital training and access to affordable high-speed internet, particularly in remote and rural areas, to support digital inclusion. Interviewees were clear on the benefits that digital technologies can offer. Interviewees from rangatahi to kaumātua, were clear on the benefits of using digital technologies to support Māori cultural aspirations and social wellbeing. COVID-19 increased the motivation for engaging digitally.

However, a wariness about interacting digitally was also acknowledged, particularly in regard to the safe use of online tools, impacts on mental wellbeing and upholding cultural traditions and forms of communication and connection.

The Waha Digital programme’s approach to building the digital capability of its SME community was therefore focussed on the seamless integration of digital foundation skills with education that connects with mahi in the local economy. The approach taken supported the community’s wish for an iwi-led digital learning hub where whānau can learn from one another and normalise the digital learning environment to cater to all ages groups and genders.

In delivering its vision for strengthening its community’s digital capability, Waha was able to draw on its own iwi and whānau connections, and with wider local and national networks.


Workbridge — Grow Digital

About Workbridge

Workbridge is the largest New Zealand-owned employment agency for people with a disability, injury or illness, filling 3,500 to 4,000 vacancies around New Zealand each year. Workbridge assists employers meet their recruitment needs and resolve their skills shortages by linking them with workers they may not have previously considered.

Workbridge is part of the disabled community and has a deep understanding of the needs, challenges, opportunities and aspirations of disabled people engaging in and interacting with the business world.

The disabled community is representative of the diversity of New Zealand: culture, ethnicities, spiritual beliefs, and gender. Workbridge connects with each person with understanding, respect and dignity recognising and supporting their individuality. For the disabled community there is not a ‘one-size-fits-all’ answer with each requiring specialist knowledge and approach.

The disabled business community faces significant challenges. While many of these are shared by all SMEs, the magnitude is greater for some disabled people. For some, the greatest challenge is the lack of tools that enable them to operate digital devices at all. Lack of awareness, access, specialised support, and cost of the assistive technology exacerbates this challenge.

Further challenges are accessibility and usability of digital services, products and solutions. Accessibility tools built into computer operating systems are not feature-rich enough for some the community’s business use. To interact with staff, suppliers, customers and utilise back-office systems often requires the SME to invest in additional costly accessibility tools and supplementary support.

Digital transformation information and advice is not usually written for or from the perspective of a disabled user nor provided in a location or format that can be found and consumed.

In addition, critical interactions with legal, finance, technology suppliers, and the vast numbers of services resellers are not disability accessible or confident, a compounding obstacle to change. Similarly, the inabilities of many suppliers to operate with disability confidence and in a manner that is easily consumable is an ongoing challenge. Suppliers enabling the digital world within their business can inadvertently create a greater challenge for the disabled community. Working within the constraints of these relationships and managing the operational cost becomes a real barrier.


Grow Digital

Grow Digital is Workbridge’s digital support service for small business owners that employ disabled people or for disabled people who manage and run their own small businesses. The service aims to provide these small businesses with the right tools and training to transform their businesses’ digital capabilities. Grow Digital provided 100 packages, helping businesses boost their digital skills with support, which included:

  • developing digital roadmaps that outline business goals and identify digital initiatives to help businesses get there
  • developing training plan that support the work set out in the digital roadmaps
  • developing skills to improve business performance and diversification into digital markets
  • establishing good business networks
  • building a digital presence including with store front, set up and management of social sites
  • advising on business grants and funding availability
  • connecting businesses with quality, low-cost options to begin their digital presence
  • advising on assistive technology that may assist businesses owned by or employing disabled people to operate smarter.

The needs and aspirations of our [disabled] business owners are the same as any business owner — to be successful. How each owner describes success will be essential to determining how digital skills enhancement can contribute to their goals.

Phillip Hendry, Chief Operating Officer, Workbridge

Workbridge’s delivery approach was focussed on individually boosting the skills and providing support that would digitally empower its SME community in a practical way. It aimed to assist business owners to utilise tools, techniques, business networks, and skills that are relevant to their business goals. Many of the owners wanted advice on how to start, where to look, and what to use, and to identify the advantages of the digital world for their specific application. The disabled business community is extremely able in adopting and adapting skills and technology once underway.

Workbridge’s approach draws on its proven capability to identify, assess, design and deliver digital skills packages suitable to the needs of businesses owned by disabled persons. Its digital skills packages were tailored to the needs of the individual business owner, considerate of their operational position (market, clients, sector), their organisational potential (capability and capacity) and their disability supports.

Every day, thousands of former Workbridge jobseekers are using their skills and experience to contribute to workplaces ranging from law firms to major hotel chains to banks.

Grow Digital


The SMEs Digital Skills Fund made a positive difference for target communities. Nearly 1,000 SMEs run by Māori, Pacific peoples and disabled people received digital skills enablement assistance that helped boost their businesses and ultimately their communities’ wellbeing.

What went well

Knowledge of SME communities helped address challenges

Intermediaries’ links and knowledge of their SME communities helped address implementation challenges.

Lengthy project establishment procedures and ensuing time pressures meant there were challenges and delays for the intermediaries in implementing the digital skills enablement packages. Across the board, intermediaries found that delivering digital uplift packages for small business owners takes a long time. Most had to ‘nudge’ business operators hard and they struggled with recruitment initially. Some SMEs were initially dubious about what was being offered, and uptake was slow.

However, because they knew and understood the communities in which their target SMEs were operating, the intermediaries were able to anticipate and largely address challenges. With persistent encouragement from trusted people, they were able to bring these SMEs to the table to take advantage of the opportunity on offer. They were also able to provide SMEs with the pastoral care and support which was key to their success.

People find change is hard, business fundamentals are low … [there is a] high risk aversion to failure.
Tātau Tātau o Te Wairoa

Flexibility of delivery approach

Flexibility of approach was key. The absence of prescribed outcomes or targets in their implementation models allowed intermediaries the flexibility to adjust to the needs of individual SMEs and empowered them to deliver effectively according to their needs and circumstances.

In working with their SMEs, intermediaries found that solutions to the problem of digital exclusion may be as much about addressing the lack of knowledge of business fundamentals, hardware, mindsets or just time capacity as about building digital skills.

Flexible delivery models therefore allowed for holistic and sustainable approaches, which could be aligned with sometimes complex family, cultural and community commitments that were part of the context in which the SMEs operate.

Whānau trumps everything … when they have tangihanga, they just adapt around it and this will be prioritised … I don’t need to explain my whānau commitments.

HTK Group

Identifying and addressing key barriers to improving digital capability and inclusion

Key barriers to improving digital capability and addressing barriers to digital inclusion for target SMEs were identified.

An unexpected finding of the evaluation was that the most significant and impactful barriers being experienced by the target SME communities were not necessarily about digital skills alone. Motivation, trust and access related barriers were for some SMEs presenting more fundamental obstacles than digital literacy and skills barriers.

Across the board, what was holding SMEs back from digital capability was lack of fit-for-purpose hardware, lack of connectivity in their communities, affordability of hardware and data, limiting mindsets, or simply capacity — having the resources and logistical support to take time away from busy work lives and family priorities to give attention to acquiring digital skills.

Connectivity and access to quality internet is a key barrier for SMEs in Te Tai Hauāuru communities and has limited [our] ability to deliver to some communities and SMEs effectively.


Not having devices that are fit-for-purpose is a barrier to digital skills — hardware capacity impacts skills capability. Busy lives and family commitments can be competing priorities for some SMEs despite their motivations for digital skills training.

Pacific Business Trust

Foundational business skills are a key component of digital success

A further finding from the evaluation was that many of the SMEs needed support with developing foundational business skills such as planning, budgeting and forecasting, alongside building their digital competence. The varying levels of ability in respect of foundational business skills required a tailored, adaptive approach to the type of assistance provided to these SMEs, based on an individual needs assessment. Access to high-quality local business advisory services is a key component of building digital skills for SMEs.

We can’t separate digital confidence from business confidence because the basics of running a business … digital is there to help us get there quicker, help reducing or enhancing experiences with employers and staff, helping us connect with customers but, if you don’t have confidence in your business, then it is unlikely that you will naturally move in to having digital capability.

Pacific Business Trust

What did not go well

Problems arising from lengthy establishment processes together with feedback from RFP applicants prompted an opportunity to reflect on the commissioning processes supporting the Fund. In March 2021, the DIA project delivery team and the agency procurement team held a ‘reflections’ discussion to identify what did not go well, as well as what had worked, so lessons could be identified for the future.

Compressed timeframes for delivery

Time pressures were a significant constraint for realising the project’s objectives. The Fund establishment phases of procurement and contract negotiations ran longer than planned and were not completed until December 2020. The remaining time for delivery (January to June 2021), including allowing for engagement with and recruitment of SMEs, was therefore compressed, which placed additional pressure on the intermediaries to meet targets and to spend the money by the end of June 2021.

In the case of Workbridge, the tight timeframe for delivery was in direct tension with the significant time required to recruit and support disabled business owners. In May, Grow Digital forfeited a portion of their funding in anticipation of an underspend, and these funds were redistributed to another partner that was oversubscribed.

Procurement and contracting processes

The Fund was established quickly and progressed at pace under conditions of high uncertainty against the background of the COVID-19 pandemic. There were significant unknowns around what the programmes would look like on the ground. The Fund therefore had to operate in a highly adaptive way.

In addition, procurement in the context of Māori and social services entities had not been an area of expertise for DIA. Given this complexity, a stronger focus on building trusted relationships and flexible contract provisions at the outset could have better supported Fund success.

What aspects of the Fund made a difference for target communities?

The intermediaries identified early benefits for the SMEs they worked with. These are summarised in the table below.

Table 1: Intermediary benefits 
What the intermediaries saw In their own words
Opportunity to dream, participate, contribute to society — to their own, their families’ and communities’ successes.

“We need to go one step further back … to develop a marketplace … and encourage people to dream.”

— Jonathon Mosen, CEO Workbridge

“If it weren’t for this programme my business idea would still be just an idea …”

— Phil Sales, Business Coach, Workbridge

Ability to step away from the daily grind into another place — to be able to think about their business in depth.

“Māori are creative about building the brand … if they started at the start line with everyone else, there is so much talent untapped … if you can remove yourself from the noise — having to put food on table …”

Wananga, HTK Group

“You don’t begin to self-actualise until you have these kinds of basic needs met … people don’t become people until they have purpose — this is key.”

— Phillip Hendry, Chief Operating Officer, Workbridge

Exploring the digital space alongside whānau and community at a pace they are comfortable with and in an environment that inspires them.

“Technology is important — [but] really difficult for me … This training was great — locals love locals, we like being taught by each other so it was easy with Esra.”

— Trainee, Kaitaia Digital Hub

“… the ability to contribute to my society in a way that delivers value because it gives SMEs … value. This is the biggest thing that these programmes drive … you have value, you can contribute, and you matter.”

— Phillip Hendry, Chief Operating Officer, Workbridge

Not having to explain their context, their values, their priorities, to people who don’t understand.

“Our Pasifika values … helping one another … is also reflected in the way we do business.”

“Local faces in local places …”

— Pacific Business Trust

“Not having to explain who I am before getting into the mahi … I don’t need to explain my whānau commitments …”

— HTK Group Wananga

Having appropriate hardware that validates and affirms in their own minds that they are business people.

“We have provided devices to clients … who don’t have a laptop to use at all — they borrow a family member’s, use one at a library, or try to use their phone to operate their business … By providing them with a work laptop, they are able to operate their business when, where and how they need to, meaning they are more productive, and can operate their business using the right tools.”

— Justine Cummings, Programme Manager Pacific Business Trust

“It makes me look more professional.”

— Hayden, OB Painters, Waha client

Access to tailored and holistic advice — digital capability plus business fundamentals plus technology advice.

“I can't tell you how great it has been to have Vanessa carry out this work, sitting alongside me, guiding, supporting and enabling me to make the most of the platforms. This has been the best funding I've ever received. From the pain-free application process to getting [being] teamed up with local experts ... I'm now starting to see my dream come true.”

— Julie, WHY NOT board game innovator, Grow Digital client

Observable leadership is important to these SMEs, as are models of success in other small businesses — run by ‘people like me’.

“You have to be able to see it to be it … we don’t have many CEs like me … We don’t have many disabled leaders in politics and media so basically there are few mentors and people they can look up to … this is the capability problem.”

— Jonathon Mosen, CEO, Workbridge

Motivations around acquiring digital skills is different for SMEs in Māori, Pacific and disabled communities and can inform how we measure success. Motivational drivers relate to the impact of digital skills for whānau and wider community well-being,

“It isn’t just about having a digital online presence, it is also about all the other connections, family elements to it, community elements, that is an important thing … as well.”

— Pacific Business Trust

“Celebrating success for Māori doesn’t look like boasting about their awesomeness, it’s about sharing and manaakitanga — giving back to those who are about to take the journey; inspiring the future.”

“Equitable outcomes, initial inequitable inputs.”

— HTK Group Wananga

Lessons for future programmes

The evaluation and reflections process allowed the DIA project team to draw useful lessons that could inform the delivery of future initiatives aimed at enhancing digital capability. These are summarised below.

Working with intermediaries and local experts contributed to the initiative’s success

Delivering the Fund by working through intermediaries and local experts contributed significantly to the initiative’s overall success.

The intermediaries worked in communities they understood and had established links with. Trusted intermediaries were able to deliver tailored approaches that addressed complex barriers specific to their communities.

A flexible approach was needed

A flexible approach to programme delivery was necessary given the COVID-19-specific context of this funding.
The Fund was set up and implemented urgently. The intermediary partners also needed to act with agility to deliver their programmes under rigid timeframes, procurement delays, and unanticipated difficulties, for example with the initial recruitment of SMEs to the programme. For example, HTK Group had to manage community expectations of recruitment due to being oversubscribed within weeks of ‘soft launching’.

Measures of success were different for the target communities

For these SMEs success was about the positive impacts of their participation in the programme on their communities. Conventional measures of the impact of such investment, such as the number of skills training packages delivered, devices provided, or increased profit margins, does not capture this. The way success is perceived by small businesses from Māori, Pacific and disabled small businesses should inform the measures of success.

Relationships with intermediary partners contributed to the success of the project

The relationships developed with the 6 intermediary partners contributed to the success of the project. The DIA project team worked closely with these partners, supporting their delivery of practical digital skills enablement packages to the target communities. These relationships helped mitigate potential tensions, with the intermediaries having to deliver against a background of contract and payment delays, tighter than planned timeframes and constrained resources.

Demand for more tailored business and digital support

The Fund generated excitement and created a demand for further tailored business and digital support. All 6 intermediaries expressed concern that there was no provision to scale up or extend the project, to provide sustainable long-term support to their SME communities.

Appendix 1: Case studies — Six SME stories in their own words

1. Chev and Jason Reti — Mauri education and social services specialists

Kaitaia Digital Hub clients

‘Chev’ Siobhan Reti (Ngāti Kuri, Te Aupōuri, Te Rarawa, Ngāti Kahu) is an education specialist and director of a full immersion home-based Early Childhood Education (ECE) service with her husband, Jason Reti, who is a radical social worker providing social services for Tane and rangatahi Māori.

Chev and Jason stand with Kaitaia Digital Hub members and a DIA member in the office.
Chev and Jason Reti (left) — parents to 7 tamariki, Waka Ama sprint champions and coaches. Pictured with Ezra Houghton, Hecktik Consulting (middle), Tia Hohaia, Coordinator, Kaitaia Digital Hub and Paula White, Evaluation Lead, SME Digital Skills Fund, DIA.

Growing healthy and resilient whānau

Mauri means life source — and represents their passion to make a difference for their community.

Better people, better individuals, create better whānau and this will create better community. We think it all starts with the individual and helping them recognise their hopes and dreams […] I’ve got a good story myself. It’s so important to secure resources our whānau need … and the ability to mobilise and access services and information.

Jason Reti

The couple are working towards a dream of providing NZQA-approved training, bridging education and pre-employment opportunities especially for young men. They would like to see more government investment in the Far North to create local jobs and keep local expertise in the region. They see a real opportunity to invest in building waka and paddles, where currently there are only 2 artisans in whole of New Zealand. “It’s a beautiful sport.”

Business has outgrown its digital footprint

Digital is critical for their business that operates satellite sites (home-based ECE contractors) as far North as Hokianga, as well as Jason’s highly mobile work across community, provider settings and prisons. Chev is a digital pragmatist and the team use free platforms including Google docs, drive and calendar, jotforms for enrolment, and for project management. Mauri has grown quickly — their education team currently has 50 contractors — and a 5-person management team and a new office space. The high volume of paperwork involved in social services means they have outgrown and need to find a better solution.

We wouldn’t have prioritised it.

They had tried looking into digital solutions in the past, but with their busy lives and work didn’t get to it. Jason: “Without [this training] today we wouldn’t have prioritised it.” Chev admitted: “You don’t know what you don’t know — I didn’t realise what MS is capable of.”

Jason: “This [MS software] is going to make life much easier [and] leave more creative thinking time for our employees […] we are dealing with serious issues and need that time to find the best possible solution for our clients.” Jason sees potential for digital to support their work on the ground even more — accessing systems via their phones, clients signing forms digitally, and connecting remotely via AVL with clients in prisons.

As a competitive waka ama whānau and coaches to several youth teams, they also need to be able to access systems and data at a time that suits them “because we put our kids first.”

2. Michelle Tahuri — Tahuri Mai

Tātau Tātau o Te Wairoa client

Michelle is Wairoa born and proud, with 3 daughters aged 21, 19, and 5, and a 1 year old son. She runs a Kohanga Reo at Takitimu marae, was a representative netball player and is passionate about sport development. Her parents relocated the family to Auckland, where they all excelled and coached in sports for 2 decades, before a whānau decision to move back to Wairoa.

Michelle holds her baby, with partner and daughter beside her. They wear matching sports hoodies and are in an exercise room.
Michelle Tahuri (centre) — netball player, sports coach, mother of 4, business woman. Pictured with whānau.

Michelle saw that netball had declined in Wairoa and set about developing a programme to revive it. She successfully pitched the idea to community and netball delegates, then brought on board trustees, a committee and 9 coaches. The 8-week programme started in mid-2021 and delivered to some 120 tamariki and young people prior to the start of the netball season.

Tahuri Mai is values-based and literally means ‘to turn towards’

Tahuri Mai is a values-driven business where money isn’t the driver. Nor is it just about the sports. “When we were growing up [sport was] about discipline and commitment [and] putting [those] skills […] into our life — so we learned never to give up, and to train hard.” Michelle thinks it’s important for former players to share their knowledge through coaching and to role model the positive life skills. There is an intergenerational learning and giving [model] underpinning Tahuri Mai. “I’ve had the privilege of playing netball with my daughters, my Dad also plays — that’s normal for us.”

The programme is deliberately low cost and just enough to cover the bills. The coaches (6 are from Tahuri) are volunteers and use their own balls, cones and resources. When the local kura kaupapa sought out the programme and it scaled up, she won council funding for stadium fees.

“It’s to empower people here in Wairoa, through the waka of netball, using the fundamentals […] with our support. Because we know that once you get out there if you get a bit lost, who do you turn to? You can always ring home, always go home if you get a bit lost.”

I was uneducated around this [digital, social media] stuff […] it opened my eyes.

Michelle heard about the digital skills training through a friend and while hesitant at first, she went along to see how it might benefit the programme. The first session on governance structures confirmed for her the value of being a charitable trust to apply for funding. After a marketing session, she got help from her daughter Grace via partner programme Korau Digital — a digital employment programme that sources projects and creates digital content while building youth skills. Grace produced a Tahuri Mai video for Facebook, with endorsements from parents and videos of the players — to enhance programme mana and give more visibility to parents and funders. Michelle sees a website as a good progression in future — to host videos and where people can register online.

A whānau wellbeing vision

Demand for Tahuri Mai is increasing and the plan is to roll out T-ball and softball next summer, sports that Wairoa was formerly renowned for at national and international levels. The sport development aspirations are just one part of the bigger Tahuri family hauora/wellbeing vision. “We want to open a centre — myself, my mum and I are all in education, my brother is a doctor and one of his parents is a doctor as well […] we want to branch out into education and he wants to open his own health clinic within the next 5 years.”

Tahuri Mai — Facebook

3. Hayden O’Brien — OB painters

Waha Digital client

Hayden is the owner of a small New Plymouth painting business and has over 20 years’ experience as a painter and decorator. He and his partner are parents of 2 teenage daughters and they work as a team — she does the bookkeeping and helps out with the website. For Hayden, it’s about the relationship with the client and quality workmanship — “As long as I see a big smile on the client when the job’s finished … I love being my own boss!”

Hayden and Rohario from Waha Digital stand proudly beside a van painted with OB Painters logo with a mountain and Hayden's contact on it.
Hayden O’Brien (left) — Taranaki-based mentor, professional painter, husband and father to 2 teenage daughters, his own boss. Pictured with Rohario Rangihaeata, Waha Digital.

It took a lot of encouragement to get to the training

His older brother told him that Waha were helping small businesses to develop websites for free. At first, he thought it would be a waste of his time and ignored it — he just wanted to go with the flow on his own and having his name get around by word of mouth because he admits, “I’m not really good on computers.” His partner finally encouraged him to sign up. On the morning of the session he tried to convince her to stay home, but she had already packed their things to go!

It makes me look more professional

Doing the training gave him confidence and new ideas around how he can promote his business. He’s had business cards printed, set up a website, new sign-writing on his van and is crowd-sourcing online testimonials to the OB painters Facebook page.

“I like it. You’ve got your story [and] pictures of you painting the houses [you can] actually see me with my spray-gun, it’s just good promotion. There are some good photos and testimonials on there.” The positive feedback on the website from friends, family and colleagues has been exciting too. “ ’Cos I come from a little place called Patea […] people from home are real stoked to see someone like me doing alright.”

Now he would encourage others who are starting out to give it a go and develop a digital presence to advertise their business.

I want to make something happen

Hayden would like to grow his business with at least a couple more workers. “I would have my own truck and the boys can have the van.” He’s realistic that it’s going to take a couple of years and doesn’t want to grow big too fast. He’s enjoying learning on the business side first.

Hayden enjoys training people, was a foreman for 5 years and is an experienced mentor. Hayden knows exactly what kind of boss he will be — “I try not be hard on them [because] they really want to put up the best. At the end of the day I give the boys praise if they do something good. Because when I was an apprentice I hardly ever had that.”

OB Painters

4. Mo + Co — Digital creatives

HTK Group client

Mo + Co is a business that specialises in producing high quality creative social media marketing and end-to-end event management services. This includes film, photography and styling. They are a husband and wife duo, with Moana (Mo) being the photographer and stylist, and Zane (Co) being the videographer. This is an Auckland based business, that works with clients around New Zealand.

Mo and Zane smiling holding their baby Gray in front of pink, white, and red decorations.
Moana Edwardson (Ngati Raukawa, Ngati Maniapoto, Te Whakatohea) — mother, wife and co-creator of the creative hub. Pictured with partner Zane Edwardson and baby Gray.

It’s quite funny because we are a business that does digital content [for others]! But we really suck at doing it for ourselves. I don’t know why — we are great at storytelling for other people but talking about ourselves is daunting.

Working a full-time job, being a new mum to baby Gray and working on your own business is a lot to take on. Add in there, the COVID-19 pandemic and this could be a recipe for disaster. But not for this super mum, Moana Edwardson. She saw a post on Facebook, which led her to be working with one of HTK’s Pou Matahiko-business advisors (Digital) — Jerome Tairi.

“Yes I am and I think that’s why I shied away from it [applying for TU Matahiko] because I know how daunting those applications are. You can spend weeks on proposals. [...] he did a thing called a ‘lean canvas’ — that was an eye-opener for us in terms of what we are as a business and what we are really good at and what we lack and need to look at — so this made me think critically about our business … “You know what, actually, they are right, I should be thinking about this stuff!”

Having time to think about how to pivot and diversify their business has been a great exercise for Mo + Co. They have learnt to utilise their social media platforms more effectively and tap into networking opportunity to broaden their client base. It also included being able to have the appropriate hardware so Moana and her husband can work on their business at the same time. It is ironic that their business is immersed in the digital space that hardware would be an issue.

Moana says. “…he [Jerome] definitely went over and above the funding … we were given funding for new hardware and software — that was awesome for us because we were sharing one computer! Yea so imagine that — I had to wait for him to do his editing before I could do my editing, which was a bit manic.”

Having the support and ‘push’ of Jerome and the wider HTK team has helped to ensure their business is robust and resilient for the future and the future of their family.

Mo + Co pride themselves in identifying as a Māori business, grounding the business ethos in their whānau values and wearing this badge with pride. With their new business networks found through the Tukua event, business is looking good!

Mo + Co

5. Maria Taufelila — Opulence Interiors

Pacific Business Trust client

Two sisters run a home staging company that optimises the look of rooms with furnishings and design elements to maximize the value of properties for sale. The business is based in Herne Bay, Auckland where they work with a range of property owners and realtors.

Maria Taufelila is of Niue descent and co-business owner, facilitator for South Auckland STEM, AUT graduate and postgraduate, married with 4 boys. 

Professionally we want our business to thrive and be successful, at the same time we also want to incorporate giving back to our Māori and Pasifika communities. On a broader scale of things our main aspiration is to enjoy what we’re doing and obviously build our brand to where we want it to be.

Maria’s vision for a company she leads with her sister marries business success, philanthropic goals and personal fulfilment. As a Niuean mum of 4 who volunteers as a facilitator for the South Auckland STEM holiday programme, Maria takes on the role of Business Manager to help elevate the business. In her role, Maria has had to educate herself on how to execute and manage the company’s organisational processes in terms of marketing.

When asked about building digital opportunity and capability, Maria felt that with COVID-19, the time to learn is now: “Given the times we are experiencing now it is more warranted and needed for all Pasifika business owners”.

Maria’s expertise in IT and digital spaces was limited and she became proactive in seeking out information and educating herself. The programme helped to increase her knowledge of marketing but also to hear from other business owners about their experiences … “The value for my business is (hearing about) what others are doing to boost their income streams or marketing streams and just broadening my knowledge of this space.”

After a holistic business assessment with PBT, Maria was able to access other PBT services / packages such as accounting, cybersecurity and marketing. Opulence Interiors now has a range of channels and an online presence … “We’ve got our website up and running and the social media platforms.” While Maria sees areas of improvement in the programme, she fully appreciates the new knowledge she has gained through participating in the workshops which was the most valuable component for her.

Opulence Interiors

6. Phil Thorn — Life coach

Workbridge client

Phil is establishing a business providing life coaching, enabling people to see their potential and thrive. He will be specialising in coaching and helping people change their mindsets, finding their purpose and meaning in life. Phil is a survivor of meningitis. He has been left profoundly deaf, blind and wheelchair-bound. Phil is based in Wellington and is aiming to use the online world to service clients around New Zealand and possibly internationally.

Phil sits in his wheelchair at his home office desk, smiling at Liz Watson, academic support person, sitting next to him.
Phil Thorn (right) — meningitis survivor, entrepreneur, student, father to 2 teenage kids. Pictured with Liz Watson, Phil’s academic support person.

Video of Phil Thorn’s case study — YouTube

Digital exclusion is not a nice place to be. And I have tough times when I have not been able to operate my equipment because of failures. And this means I am left with nothing.

Being digitally included for Phil means he can operate in all digital environments. This is significant as most websites, hardware or software are not designed with disabled people in mind. Phil needs and uses many pieces of ‘add-on’ equipment to operate everyday pieces equipment or hardware, like laptops or an iPhone. He also needs to remember many, many key shortcuts to navigate websites, software or apps. Liz Watson, who provides academic support to Phil is amazed at his ability to remember all of the different short cuts … “All these little things that as a sighted person are a quick click of the mouse, but for him there’s multiple you know, shortcuts that he needs to remember. And he’ll be like I think it ‘oh I think I was ALT F7 3’ or something like that.”

The Grow Digital programme is highly customised and offers their clients choice and options for their business. Britta, the Grow Digital programme administrator, says, “What Phil is needing and wanting to do with his business, varied hugely from someone who is deaf who is wanting to do something with their business. So, it is a hugely personalised service.”

Working with Grow Digital, Phil was able to learn more about other communication tools and receive training to use these tools. The Grow Digital team also knew the importance of connecting their clients to trusted specialists that understood their needs. Creating an eco-system that supports specifically disabled people, where they didn’t need to explain their environment and requirements, these specialists already understood.

Phil’s future in business is looking brighter; and digital inclusion is closer to be realised with the support of Liz and the Grow Digital team. “I want to be involved in business, running my own business. Being able to help, particularly disabled, people, that where my focus is. When I say disabled people, it’s not just disabled people with a physical disability but it may be a that they have a limiting mindset placed on them, by either themselves or by something else or somebody else.”

Appendix 2: Factors contributing to digital exclusion

There is a ‘digital gap’ being created for Māori, Pacific and disabled communities who operate SMEs — this is more commonly referred to as digital exclusion.

Recent research has established the following:

  • “Māori, Pacific peoples and disabled people and their communities are disproportionately affected by digital exclusion.” 
    Digital Inclusion Blueprint, 2019
  • Recent DIA user experience research with people in Māori, Pacific and disabled communities identified ongoing barriers around complex motivation, access, trust and skills dimensions.
    Digital inclusion research 

Research conducted in May 2021 by Better for Business established that:

  • “16% of New Zealand SMEs are digitally excluded and are struggling to connect with the 4 elements that describe digital inclusion.”
  • Within this 16%, Māori, Pacific peoples and disabled communities are over represented and are struggling to connect with the 4 elements that describe digital inclusion described above.

COVID-19 shone a spotlight on this gap. With the constraints of alert levels 4, 3 and 2, many businesses had to go online to survive. It became apparent that many did not have the digital skills to make this leap. Those without the appropriate digital skills were not able to access government information and support.

The SME Digital Skill Fund was established with the $5 million DIA was allocated from the government’s COVID-19 Response and Recovery Fund with the aim of addressing this digital gap by building digital skills and capability for SME’s run by Māori, Pacific peoples and disabled people.

As noted under the key findings section of this evaluation report, SMEs that participated in the initiative described a range of factors affecting their ability to interact effectively in the digital world. These broadly align with the 4 key barriers to digital inclusion. Motivation, trust and access related barriers were for many of these SMEs presenting more fundamental obstacles than digital literacy and skills barriers.

Across the board, SMEs reported that, what was hindering their digital interaction was the lack of fit-for-purpose, affordable hardware, affordable data, lack of connectivity in their communities, wariness of digitalisation and how personal data might be used that contributed to limiting mindsets, or simply capacity — having the resources and logistical support to take time away from busy work lives and family priorities to give attention to acquiring digital skills.

The digital barriers for participating SMEs can be grouped under 4 digital inclusion barriers:

  • Motivation
    • Limiting or fixed mindsets

    • Lack of visible digital/business leadership in their community.

  • Trust
    • Community perceptions about government

    • Historical provincial investment let-downs.

  • Access
    • Lack of, or poor quality of, connectivity infrastructure in the region
    • Lack of or inappropriate hardware and tools for the community
    • Affordability of wifi and devices.
  • Skills
    • Low level of digital skills and / or of exposure to digital interaction.

Appendix 3: Methodology

Fund application process and funding delivery methodology

A Request for Proposal (RFP) process was undertaken to identify intermediaries with established community connections to deliver digital skills packages to enable SMEs run by Māori, Pacific peoples and disabled people better to engage in the digital world. Twenty-one proposals were received from across New Zealand. A panel of 6 people was convened from DIA, the Ministry for Business, Innovation and Employment (MBIE) and the Ministry of Social Development (MSD) to evaluate these proposals and recommend preferred partners.

On completion of this process 6 intermediaries, each with established networks and strong relationships with their communities, were contracted to deliver up to 1,000 digital skills enablement packages. These intermediaries would support SMEs in their communities to gain the necessary skills to operate confidently and with ease in the digital space, and to help them pivot to more digitally focussed businesses.

Originally planned to commence in June 2020, there was movement in timing around delivery of the project between its establishment and completion, due to resource and budget constraints, as well as internal process delays affecting the finalisation of contracts.

Timeline of initiative delivery

The duration of the establishment phase of procurement and contract negotiation was from July to December 2020, and included:

  • planning from June to August
  • Request for Proposal (RFP) from August to October
  • contract negotiation from October to December.

Implementation began in mid-December with investment, and the programmes themselves being completed as planned, on 30 June 2021. This stage included:

  • engagement in January and February
  • recruitment and assessment from February to April
  • skills training delivery from May to June.

Evaluation process

An evaluation of the SMEs Digital Skills Fund project was undertaken, to capture insights and lessons learned from the Fund, to assess proof of concept and to inform future policy and funding decisions. Initial findings were presented to intermediaries, their partners and government stakeholders in late June 2021.

In particular, the evaluation sought to capture lessons learned in respect of:

  • the intermediaries’ delivery journeys
  • the needs and delivery strategies identified for their communities, and
  • the value gained by participating SMEs.

Key questions explored as part of the evaluation process are listed below.

  • What are the digital needs, gaps or problems, and aspirations of the participating Māori, Pacific and disabled SMEs?
  • How did the intermediaries approach delivery of digital capability and skills to SMEs and what contextual factors and principles informed their approaches?
  • What were the immediate benefits for participating SMEs and what does ‘success’ look like for them?
  • How did intermediaries address needs and what aspects of implementation made a difference for target communities?
  • What resulting insights can other delivery experts and agencies use to improve similar funding and programmes involving these communities?
  • What overall considerations can be identified for government to improve how future programmes and services and to increase equity for Māori, Pacific and disabled SMEs?

The evaluation design used a combination of 4 rapid insights cycles (February to May 2021) alongside contract reporting discussions, and a mixed methods approach to data collection. As well as analysing implementation data on participating SMEs collected by intermediaries, 20 semi-structured interviews were conducted with the 6 intermediaries, their sub-contracted business and digital delivery experts, and with participating SMEs.

Limitations of this evaluation

The evaluation was conducted primarily in-house through DIA’s Digital Inclusion project delivery team. A budget of $10,000 was available and was used to commission independent expert Pacific evaluation support through Moana Research in Auckland. The evaluation was undertaken congruent to delivery, and therefore supported formative insights. The evaluation was unable to consider post-Fund impacts beyond the end of June 2021.

Appendix 4: Summary of Fund allocation to target communities

Table 2: Summary of Fund allocation to target communities
Partner Funds allocated Number of SMEs ​reached Community​ Delivery region


TU Matahiko

$1,375,000 275¹ Māori

Te Waipounamu

South Auckland

Hawke’s Bay

Kaitaia Digital Hub





Far North district

Te Hiku

Pacific Business Trust​ $1,350,000 270 Pacific peoples Nationwide

Tātau Tātau o Te Wairoa 

Pakihi Ora

$450,000 90



Te Tairāwhiti


Waha Digital : Hekeheke I Papa






New Plymouth

Te Tai Hauāuru

Workbridge ​

Grow Digital​

$500,000 100² Disabled people Nationwide

¹ Originally contracted to deliver digital skills packages to 200 SMEs, allocation increased by 75 SMEs in April 2021.

² Originally contracted to deliver digital skills packages to 175 SMEs, allocation decreased by 75 SMEs in April 2021.

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