Raison d’être (reason for being)

We have just been on a week-long trip that included traveling around the East Cape of the North Island in New Zealand. It reinforced recent discussions with associates about small communities that have made it and others that haven’t - interesting stories that are very relevant to business.

A community that hasn’t made it

In the North and East of New Zealand there are numerous communities that are a shadow of their former glory. The small community of Tokomaru Bay an hour and a half north of Gisborne on the East Coast is an example. Back in the early 1900s it was thriving. It had three banks, a street of shops and a port and export facilities. It boomed. Today the wharf is broken, the export facilities are in ruins and the banks and shops have closed. Advances in technology and improved infrastructure removed the community’s original competitive advantage. It lost its raison d’’être because it failed to adapt.

Another community that hasn’t made it

Kaikohe is a small town in the North of New Zealand. Once upon a time it was an important service centre for the farming and forestry sectors. Over the years both commodity sectors have been through substantial scaling up and efficiency improvements. Small dairy factories closed and have been replaced by large centralised processing facilities a hundred kilometres away. Logs from the forests are simply cut down and shipped off to Asia where all the value adding takes place. Crime and unemployment characterise the town. It has also lost its raison d’être.

One that is beginning to make it

A small town called Ruatoria on the East Coast of New Zealand. It was once also a service centre for agriculture and forestry but plant closures left the town with little to justify its existence. That was until an entrepreneur came along and set up an international business call centre in the town. It had access to plenty of people who were keen to be trained and have a home town job. The costs of doing business in the town were very competitive compared to in large centres where rents are sky high. One entrepreneur has provided Ruatoria with a new raison d’être – one that is 21st century relevant and connected.

Another that is making it

A small community in the Far North called Mangonui – the village where I live. This village plus the neighbouring communities of Coopers Beach, Cable Bay and Taipa are all vibrant and attracting new residents from many places including Germany, Thailand, India and other parts of New Zealand. It has a local business promotion group that has helped put the place on the map. Mangonui was bypassed by the main north highway several decades back but now has become a ‘must see’ place for visitors and business travelers as they travel north and south. It has a vibrant café and restaurant scene, a historic trail, beaches and reserves, a number of small manufacturing businesses as well as several service businesses that operate internationally. It has a multi-faceted raison d’être.

What does this have to do with business?

As a business, if you don’t adapt and change over time then you run the risk of losing your raison d’être. If you adapt and change then you have a true raison d’être and the best chance of thriving.  Just like small communities.