I recently attended and chaired a panel at Auckland’s Future Now, an event hosted by Auckland Unlimited. The central focus of this year’s event was to explore how the region’s private and public sectors can continue to collaborate in response to the challenges facing Tāmaki Makaurau Auckland.
The event covered topics, perspectives and opinions from every corner of Auckland – including the COVID-19 vaccine, diversity and inclusion, the development of South and West Auckland, the divide between business and academics, sustainable transport and tourism and our growing aerospace industry.
As to be expected, there was a strong COVID-19 focus or ‘theme’ that accompanied almost every panel and panellist that took the stage. The big question our city’s leaders were grappling with, was how we can work together to recover smarter rather than just recovering. Here are my top 5 insights from the day.
1. We have all of the tools to set our sights on bigger and better opportunities
A theme that was echoed by former Prime Minister Helen Clark, who believes that Auckland needs more empowerment from Central Government to chart its own course separate to the rest of New Zealand. We should be liberated to compare ourselves on a global scale to other super cities such as San Francisco and Tokyo.
Greg Cross, co-founder and CBO of Soul Machines, encouraged Auckland businesses and start-ups to not limit themselves to New Zealand and to start thinking “internationally”. The cornerstone of this will be to lean into emerging technology and to keep a hands-on approach to integrating New Zealand thinking on the world stage.
2. The diversity of Auckland will be critical to the economic future of New Zealand
Professor Peter Gluckman raised the relevant point that Auckland is currently seen as a “stack of problems”, rather than a region to be nurtured. To make the most of Auckland’s assets, we need to get some civic pride happening, be ambitious and have real dialogue about becoming globally relevant. As with any change development programme, strategic and targeted decisions need to be made. Gluckman suggested the evolution of precincts, whereby West Auckland could become our Hollywood, and South Auckland our dedicated foothold for social and creative innovation.
3. We can’t assume that New Zealand’s strong COVID-19 response will positively impact on our city’s future
It’s still not possible to determine what a post-Covid future looks like for Auckland and New Zealand. I heard a range of hypotheses – from New Zealand being one of the ‘top three’ locations on the planet for big companies to set up shop, to John Key’s bleaker view that our value gains could quickly slip away as the borders reopen due to vaccine resistance. The outtake – it’s too soon to tell. We can’t take for granted that we are in the privileged position of having managed COVID-19. While we are still ahead, we should use this as ammunition to create positive change in our own communities.
4. If we want to be an “innovation city” we need more supportive eco-systems
Our creative industry requires safeguarding in order to maintain and enhance New Zealand’s reputation for creativity, innovation and ingenuity. To do this, we need to create an eco-system where young talent can thrive, and we need to continue investing in our skills base. As Caro Rainsford from Google said, “Auckland needs to become a Petri dish at scale”.
5. One of our hardest hit sector, tourism, has an opportunity to become the poster child for recovery
I was fortunate to facilitate the Future of Tourism panel alongside tourism leaders Martin Snedden, Mike Horne and Grant Webster. Something that really stuck out to me was how our tourism industry has dug deep to embrace some of the difficulties COVID-19 has thrown its way. We now have an opportunity to project smart and tactical tourism offerings, that grow as our borders welcome more visitors to shore. Sustainability, care for our environment, increased destination management, enhancing data and tech, and embedding ourselves in Te Ao Māori will be key contributors to this.
A personal highlight for me was an interview with Valve co-founder and president Gabe Newell. He’s applied for residency here and is hugely complimentary about everything living and working in New Zealand affords. Valve’s employee handbook is one of the best bits of internal communications I’ve ever seen, and inspired Anthem’s own manifesto. I’m such a fan girl of Gabe’s and how he builds environments for creative people.
It was great to take some time out for reflection and inspiration at Auckland’s Future Now and I hope there’s something here that sparks some new thinking for you. I look forward to watching the workplan unfurl that Auckland Unlimited develops from the event.