Here in Aotearoa we are in the relatively fortunate position of being able to get on with our new normal, as Covid-19 rages around the globe. Former prime minister Helen Clark is leading an independent evaluation of the global response to the pandemic, and spoke at the Let’s Build Back Better Conference at Te Papa recently. The key question for this response is “how can we do better next time?” And there WILL be a next time, she has no doubt about that. We got off lightly with SARS and the Ebola virus. “A new mindset is required beyond ‘growth at any cost’…you always get innovation out of a crisis.”
This was very much the theme of the day, with a range of inspiring speakers exploring how we can create a new economy in a post-Covid world. The Conference kicked off with a bipartisan introduction by the future architects of our economy – James Shaw, Nanaia Mahuta, and (or) Scott Simpson. Chaired by British High Commissioner Laura Clarke, the discussion broadly covered green tech, inequality and diversity, and the role of business in shaping our economy.
There is no going back to how things were – we have a differently shaped society today than we had back in January. Covid has, however, given us an opportunity to rethink the way we live and work – and we need to take action now. Climate change is a real threat, and any economic recovery should have this as a top priority. How do we create an inclusive, resilient economy more aligned with the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG’s)?
Building the living environments of the future
There were some grim statistics on what we put up with in this country – damp, mouldy homes are seen as normal (or a right of passage) in many communities, urban sprawl is shaped by our love for cars, and we like to plonk housing developments on our most fertile, productive land. Discussion centred around opportunities we have to redesign our communities. The Urban Development Bill goes some way towards shaping that, and we can also look to initiatives that have been successful in other countries such as an Energy Performance Certificate giving energy efficiency ratings to buildings. We need to consider how we can incentivise behavioural change on all levels, from our choice of travel (Mevo, anyone?) to supporting our local farmers markets.
We want builders, let’s go build!
What are some of the post-Covid opportunities? There’s much optimism for where we go next. Through the lockdown, businesses have built digital capability rapidly in a relatively short time, and the lockdown is seen as a driving force behind digital transformation for many sectors. How can we leverage this for our communities? We have to deal with the digital divide increasingly evident in many rural communities; we also have to prioritise diversity in the workforce and reduce inequality across the board. While there will be less international travel for some time, technology can (mostly) help us navigate that reality. There’s increasingly a move to onshoring to secure supply chains, creating new jobs in the process.
Brand “New Zealand” has equity, and we are considered a safe and desirable place to live and work. I’ve previously written about the new tourism, and one of my personal highlights from the Conference was introducing Toni Glover (Kinloch Wilderness Retreat) to Dave Moskovitz and Hugh Walcott from our GEN Covid Business Response Group. (I love Zoom, but meeting in person was quite special!) Dave also put out the call to future entrepreneurs, and with investment available to support the innovation ecosystem now is a great time to take a business forward.
Much food for thought for building a better future, with exciting ideation around creating a new economy.
Let’s all take these discussions forward into positive action.