Linking the Chain – How Ngāti Whātua Ōrākei connected with their whānau with Enlighten Designs

 |   Microsoft New Zealand News Centre

Developed during Covid lockdowns, the Ngāti Whātua Ōrakei mobile app Hono connects their tribal members with their iwi, no matter where they are.

Ngāti Whātua Ōrākei, tāngata whenua (indigenous people) of central Tāmaki Makaurau Auckland, has 6,000 registered tribal members, spread around Auckland city, Aotearoa and across the world. Growing and maintaining the connection between their whānau (people) is incredibly important to Ngāti Whātua Ōrākei.

In a stroke of serendipitous timing, in early 2020 Ngāti Whātua put out the call for a technology partner to build a mobile app for connecting its whānau and sharing its wealth of knowledge in an easy to access way. Enlighten Designs, a Microsoft partner with expertise in app and website development, presented successfully and the two teams hit it off right away.

Doing the mahi

When lockdown hit in March 2020, a quick pivot was required, and the Enlighten team worked with Ngāti Whātua to quickly develop a portal for digital events during the lockdown period. That was a crucial first step in the relationship, and showed the two teams’ ability to work together to develop high quality solutions which create real value for whānau in the Ngāti Whātua Ōrākei community. Initially a minimum viable product, the portal has continued to be used through the ongoing disruption of the pandemic.

What followed was nearly 18 months of continuous development and innovation, resulting in the launch of Hono (link), a free app built in React Native on Azure, at the Ngāti Whātua Ōrākei Annual General Meeting in November 2021. Hono gives the people of Ngāti Whātua Ōrākei the ability to engage more deeply with their hapū, all in the one, easy to access application.

For the Enlighten team, this project was more than just another app.

“The whole team was passionate about the cause and the vision,” says Joanna Parker, Account Manager at Enlighten. “Everyone was engaged from the get go, and really cared about getting it right.”

As a large portion of the development process for the app took place during Covid-enforced lockdowns, meetings and conversations were conducted via Microsoft Teams, and involved a new perspective for the Ngāti Whātua Ōrākei team.

“It was a big change for us to think about ourselves as a software developer,” says Marama Royal, Chair of the Ngāti Whātua Ōrākei Trust. “The Enlighten team did a great job of bringing us with them on that journey, and working through the ongoing mahi that comes with a project like this.”

One app for everyone


Hono has quickly become a one-stop-shop for Ngāti Whātua Ōrākei members. Whānau and kaimahi (staff) sign in with a unique login, and are greeted with a home screen showing the current phase of the maramataka (lunar calendar), Te Reo Māori word of the day, and upcoming iwi virtual and physical events.

The Whānau tab of the app further segments into age groups incliuding Kaumātua 65+,Pakeke 19-64,Taiohi 13-18, Tamariki 5-12 and Pēpi 0-5. Each segment displays programmes, services and grants available to that particular age group. While those services have always been available to hapū members, now they’re just a few taps away for the people that need it.

The Ahurea (culture) tab features unique waiata (songs), karakia (prayers), and other cultural taonga (treasures) from the iwi. There’s also an events tab, highlighting physical and digital events led by NWŌ.

Hono has been extremely well received by the Ngāti Whātua Ōrākei whānau. “Our whānau are scattered around the world, and having an easy way for them to connect with their hapū has been incredibly positive,” says Marama Royal. “As our whānau lifestyles, behaviours and needs change the app is in continual development.”

Creating links into the future

Now that Enlighten and Ngāti Whātua Ōrākei have built a strong foundation for Hono, they’re looking ahead to broaden its abilities and functionality. Enlighten is working on a redesigned website for Ngāti Whātua Ōrākei, incorporating the lessons from Hono. There are plans for an even bigger project: building a platform for hapū members to get access to their whakapapa (lineage) in the app, using QR codes and Azure.

It’s early days, but the benefits of this whakapapa feature could be huge. “Whakapapa is what helps us understand and acknowledgewho we are and how we connect to others. Everyone and everything has a whakapapa,” says Marama Royal. “If we can create an easy process for our whānau to get access to and to better understand their whakapapa, this can only help deepen their connection with their tūpuna, with their whānau, and with their iwi.”

“Ngāti Whātua Ōrākei are a shining example of a Iwi Māori making the most of digital technologies to connect all of its people,” says Dan Te Whenua Walker (Ngāti Ruanui, Ngā Ruahinerangi, Ngāti Kahungunu ki Wairoa, Te Atiawa, Maniapoto, Tūhourangi), Channel Sales Manager and Global Co-Chair of Indigenous at Microsoft. “We’re proud to support those efforts at Microsoft however we can, and we’d love to see more apps like Hono for iwi and hapū across the motu.”

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