New Zealand has become a global leader helping create resilient programmes

New Zealand co-operatives can help to abolish global inequality by sharing their governance models says Code Innovation founder Nathaniel Calhoun.

Calhoun, the global impact faculty head at Singularity University, has been teaching disadvantaged people how to use technology to reduce business risks.

Calhoun said New Zealand cooperatives - particularly those in Wellington - had a lot to offer under-developed countries.

A co-operative is a user owned and controlled business which sees benefits distributed equally among its members.


"New Zealand has become a global leader on facilitating co-operatives structures and setting up distributed 21st century demographic practices that are all tax facilitated. The Enspiral collective in Wellington and some of the writings and partnerships Alanna Krause are making are bringing cooperatives very far, very quickly in a way that ought to put them front of mind for international aid and development organisations," Calhoun said.

"The world is paying more and more attention to the success story of New Zealand and so people look at it to try to figure out what's behind growth and what its intentions are as a nation."

Calhoun splits his time between working with Silicon Valley-based Singularity University and through his involvement with Code Innovation, advising organisations and NGOs on how to incorporate innovation into business and community groups.

At Singularity Calhoun helps young companies figure out how to approach and apply technologies such as artificial intelligence, emerging sensing technologies, digital manufacturing, digital biology, block chain, augmented and virtual reality to their business practices.

Last year Code Innovation travelled to the Kongwa District in Tanzania to support the company's self-help group project. The company facilitated members to create social and economic resiliency, aligned with cooperative principles.

Traditional approaches to lift struggling populations out of poverty were not working, Calhoun said.

Code Innovation founder Nathaniel Calhoun.
Code Innovation founder Nathaniel Calhoun.

"There's an awful lot of enthusiasm about using entrepreneurialism to lift people out of poverty or teaching people businesses skills and hoping that they drive economic growth, but a number of thinkers have pointed out that the risk adherent to entrepreneurship are not really tentable when people are living at, around or below the poverty line - the cost of failing at business could put an entire family at massive risk, cause parents to pull their children out of school or lose what few possessions they may have."

The failure rate of a new business - in any country - is close to the 50 per cent mark.


"One of the things I've become increasingly interested in is new applications of co-operative structures and systems because when you help people to form, manage and operate co-operatives you're de-risking entrepreneurism and you're helping each member of the co-operative to learn from one another," he said.

"[The concept] has been mainstream in the context of international development for a while but it hasn't yet benefited in any meaningful way from the new technologies that have come out."

According to IMF growth in the sub-Saharan Africa region has slowed to it lowest level in 20 years, with the average growth forecast at just 1.5 per cent, this year, due to lower commodity prices and an unfriendly global economic environment.

Any business trying to help people in poverty-stricken areas need to make sure they have systems in place to gather and assess local information.

During a field visit to the Kongwa District, Dodoma Region, in Tanzania. Photo / Jessica Charles
During a field visit to the Kongwa District, Dodoma Region, in Tanzania. Photo / Jessica Charles

"If you come in to an area and all you have to use is the standard school system or run a workshop, those often aren't very good approaches. Instead if you find where groups of people are already coming together and learning outside of a formal system on a weekly or monthly basis where there is a bit of a structure to the learning and operations of groups of people - those are great avenues for bringing information in.

"If you have an intercultural cooperative that already meets once a week to do its dealings, a savings group or a youth association that already wants to advance its own members, when you strike up a relationship with that group then you've got a reasonable pipeline for maintaining a flow of information and support. If you try to go in and pick and choose promising people or businesses you're going to have a lot lower success rate."

Growth in sub-Saharan Africa has slowed to it lowest level in 20 years. Photo / Jessica Charles
Growth in sub-Saharan Africa has slowed to it lowest level in 20 years. Photo / Jessica Charles

Global income inequality trends are out of control, according to the World Economic Forum.

More often that not, income inequality is blamed on countries not distributing profits of development evenly. However, Calhoun said business leaders could change that.

"Every business leader has a different lever to pull. Often you look at someone and you think 'oh, they're the CEO of, say, a paper mill and you think what they should do is have new emission controls on their paper mill'. But what you don't realise is they sit on the board of the council with some politician who advises them on that policy. It's super hard to look at a business and guess what it should do. But, it would be great if a lot more people in positions to influence policy would reward good stewardship," he said.

"Business can play such a role. I see lots of opportunities going forward.

Code innovation is helping groups create social and economic resiliency, aligned with cooperative principles. Photo / Jessica Charles
Code innovation is helping groups create social and economic resiliency, aligned with cooperative principles. Photo / Jessica Charles

"When I have been fortunate enough to speak to room-fulls of business leaders I like to point out how much there is to gain from looking to these markets. I try to find the lenses that makes people want to bridge into the very disadvantaged economies and populations and try to provide some strategic guidance so when they are starting to be built they are likely to last."

He said he believed New Zealand should be investing more into Africa.

"The country is following a relatively safe and rational strategy right now, investing multi-laterally in the organisations already on the ground there, such as giving donations to Unicef - there's nothing wrong with that.

"I think its admirable and super appropriate that the foreign assistance New Zealand dishes out is largely to the Pacific Islands in their neighbourhood. With that said, as New Zealand is becoming more prosperous and enjoying a wonderful era in its own history, if it sees fit to share some of what it knows and has, I think it's a great move," he said.

"The growing expertise around cooperative, demographic systems and the technologies to support those systems and approaches, is incredibly powerful."

Singularity Summit

• SingularityU New Zealand Summit is a 3-day conference, hosted by Singularity University in tandem with NZ organisations and companies.

• To be held in Christchurch on November 13-15.

• The goal is to uncover cutting edge, "exponential technologies" in New Zealand and how they can be used to create positive change and economic growth in the region.

• The conference will hear from experts in artificial intelligence, biotechnology, energy, self-driving cars, crime, technology and public policy, medicine, strategic relations, bioengineering and the future of work and education.

• It will look at how to create "exponential" organisations or adapt existing corporations and organisations to work best in this new, evolving environment.

• Singularity University (SU) is a benefit corporation, headquartered in Silicon Valley, with alumni in more than 110 countries.