After three weeks holiday travel, incorporating some of the leading historical and business centres of Europe, it has been quite an adjustment settling back into daily life in the sleepy province of Wairarapa. New Zealand offers many lifestyle benefits, but it is very evident that our cultural isolation threatens to obscure opportunities, unless we learn to take a wider view.
Whilst I will not miss the ever present throngs of humanity and the choking European smog, it was a blessed relief to have a short break from the incessant background noise of sports “news” and the tedious drone of the increasingly dull and introspective media at home in New Zealand. Regularly escaping our little islands and receiving a taste of the real world should be mandatory for anyone in business, education or media or those holding political office. Only by gaining a proper perspective do we truly get a sense of our own irrelevance. Then we can be more effective and realistic in how we engage with the world and with each other.
So much of our cultural focus in New Zealand continues to be fixated on the lower end of the value chain. This is the greatest constraint on raising our aspirations as a nation. By way of example I include, the mind numbing obsession with contact sports, our continuing over-dependence on filthy primary industries as a source of income and a growing preoccupation with political correctness driven by a vocal minority and fueled by a misplaced sense of post-colonial guilt. We must all look outwards together once again and take a bigger picture view.
But with the EU potentially faltering under the weight of unmanageable levels of migration, ballooning debt and resurgent nationalism, where does New Zealand look next for future opportunities? The answer may be South Asia and in particular India. The sub-continent is currently enjoying the highest economic growth of any region and boasts an emergent and large middle class. We may need to reassess how best to approach this market however. Data shows that NZ exports to India declined in the period 2011-17 and consisted primarily of unprocessed wood products.
The UAE also looks promising as oil prices rebound and their government pump primes with increased infrastructure spending. The Emirates are served by outstanding air links to New Zealand and its government understands that they must leverage technology to diversify away from reliance on oil revenue. That’s an opportunity. Perhaps the most interesting challenge then for our technology entrepreneurs is how to create high value, weightless (digital) exports that appeal to customers in these regions.
Photo credit: Renea Mackie – Creative Forest
Paul Spence is a commentator and serial entrepreneur, a co-founder of Wellington, New Zealand based technology ventures iwantmyname and Polanyio and a mentor with Startup Weekends and Lightning Lab. You can follow Paul on Twitter @GeniusNet or sign up for a free weekly digest of startup, tech and innovation related events curated by him through New Zealand Startup Digest.