Rising from the post-Covid chaos are calls for a new way of thinking and a cohesive national strategy, with an emphasis on protecting the environment and the most vulnerable New Zealanders. Business Herald highlights the best of Visionweek, a week-long web seminar of guest speakers.
A funny thing happened during lockdown. After the shock of enforced isolation subsided, we quite enjoyed it - those of us who still had an income, anyway. We had time to help the kids with their online learning and we baked. We noticed that the skies were clear, the roads were quiet and the birdsong loud. And we had time to think.
What if, some of us wondered, we could take the best of the Covid-19 lockdown world and combine it with the post-Covid emerging world? Perhaps work from home a bit more, manage traffic congestion, clean up the environment, help create a better New Zealand for the generations to come.
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Why not use this "giant interruption," as Rocket Lab's Peter Beck describes it, as a chance to figure out if we actually want to go back to the way we were.
That's the guts of why Paul Blair, whose day job is CEO of Infrastructure New Zealand, pulled together Visionweek, a week-long web seminar designed to start a "national conversation". It was free to view and Kiwis were encouraged to film their own visions of New Zealand's future and post them on #visionweeknz.
In a few frantic weeks, Blair and his team recorded hours of interviews and panel discussions with 30 New Zealanders - business people, entrepreneurs, academics, economists, inventors, CEOs and iwi - talking about their vision for the future.
While the think-tank speakers acknowledged that Covid-19 has slam-dunked us all and there will be an avalanche of economic hardship coming, they argued New Zealand should use the crisis to rethink the sort of future we want for our nation. And that to just pick up where we left off and scramble to get back to the way we were would be a mistake.
There were common threads during Visionweek: the importance of investment in infrastructure, working virtually to take advantage of a global economy, 5G, smart transport, the importance of sustainability, the environment and renewable energy.
Most agreed New Zealand badly needed a national strategy to make sure money was well spent. New Zealand had advantages, but the country's team of 5 million had to be rowing in the same direction, panelists said.
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Threaded in amongst the big thinking and visionary plans was a surprisingly common theme: that foremost in our planning should be the ability to look after our most vulnerable; that while we ride out this C-calamity, those who have been hit hardest should be cared for.
That thinking tempered some of the big-dream business ideas that might have been at the forefront of a Visionweek discussion six months ago.
Rob Campbell, chairman of SkyCity and Tourism Holdings was the most vehement. He pointed the finger at self-centred New Zealanders who have been clamouring to get back to the way things were pre-Covid, a viewpoint he described as "not helpful".
"The people who are saying the country needs to open up actually mean 'it would be better for me if the country opened up'."
Calls for change needed to be nationally and socially motivated, rather than personally motivated.
As an example, Campbell said, it would have suited him if the SkyCity casino could have opened sooner. And not stopping tourists coming into the country would have been helpful for Tourism Holdings.
"But it would have been madness, so we didn't do it. Nobody complained about it and we've got to take some of that attitude forward I think," he said.
"Do we want to go back anyway? We shouldn't just try and recreate what we had. To me, we should try and create a better society than we had."
It was a sentiment that cropped up continually during the week; that yes, it's going to be grim and we need to get the economy going, but not at the expense of vulnerable New Zealanders or at the expense of the country's future.
Economist Shamubeel Eaqub thinks the purpose of the economy is to make sure New Zealanders are better off.
"And better off means not just this material terms, but also in non-material terms, in terms of wellbeing, in terms of happiness, in terms of mental health."
He warned that the consequences of the global recession would go on for decades, affecting our children and grandchildren. New Zealand would need to be "super generous" when it came to looking after people.
The sudden lack of spending in urban areas could create "zombie cities" in the future but not all businesses should be artificially propped up, Eaqub said.
"Sometimes it is better for some businesses to fail and the market to work."
While there was plenty of hope and good ideas that came out of Visionweek, no-one pretended there would be a quick fix. With a projected timeline of between two and four years before tourists and migrants return in any significant numbers, we're largely on our own, engaging with the global economy at a distance.
But, it seems, because we're small, nimble and Covid-free, we're in a better position than many countries. Former chief science adviser Sir Peter Gluckman thinks New Zealand is in a position to thrive in a virtual world.
"I mean, if we just use the example of both Rocket Lab and Weta Workshops, they are two IT sectors which have managed to work globally from New Zealand very well."
Xero founder Rod Drury agrees, saying New Zealand could be a leader in global working.
"And we're in a time zone that overlaps Australia and the US so having that time flexibility if you're building export business absolutely works," he said.
Just where investment should be targeted post-Covid was a common theme.
In the spotlight was the Government's $20 billion Covid-19 fund and how that should be spent. Investment in infrastructure was a hot topic, but not all the panelists agreed that launching into a string of major, shovel-ready projects was the answer.
Shamubeel Eaqub said it was important not to make the wrong investments "in the heat of the moment".
"What's really important is not just the amount of money we spend, but making sure that those investments are the right ones. We don't want to trap New Zealand into our history."
Rob Campbell argued large shovel-ready projects weren't the only answer, that the "trickle down" theory of economics often didn't work.
"That's always a theory that's a whole lot more appealing if you're at the top doing the trickling than it is if you're at the bottom being trickled on ... Funnily enough, the people at the top grab a fair bit on the way through so it's not necessarily all that effective."
Instead, Campbell would like to see the majority of that money going "into the bottom", to support people to have a better life. That would include improving the health system and water infrastructure, and cleaning up the environment, rivers and harbours which would also create jobs.
Like Eaqub, Campbell doesn't think the Government should spend too much on supporting vulnerable businesses that might have failed anyway. Just because a business was losing money did not necessarily mean it should be saved, he said.
"It doesn't solve any problems and probably creates new ones."
Many on the Visionweek panel talked about the country leveraging its strengths.
Rod Drury wants to take advantage of our long, skinny country, with a maximum domestic flight time of two hours, to create the world's first fully electric fleet of aircraft. Plus, smart networks that tie into public transport, autonomous small electric buses linked together with software.
"Imagine being able to build clean products, with really low-cost energy, but with a renewable energy," he said.
"If we are one of the first countries to do that, a whole lot of R and D comes in."
Rocket Lab's Peter Beck says New Zealanders should view Covid as a speed bump rather than a long-term setting, and get ready to "take on the world".
"Venture capital markets will return quickly. They have capital they need to put to work and let's just make sure that New Zealand is ready there with their arms open, ready to accept that capital in."
New Zealanders were good at solving complex tech problems and made good entrepreneurs, he said.
"We're less good at bringing those to the world market and commercialising them really, really effectively on a big scale.
Tourism New Zealand CEO Stephen England-Hall knows perhaps better than any on the Visionweek panel the catastrophe Covid has caused in communities that rely heavily on international visitors.
But even he, rather than clamouring for the borders to reopen, talks about equity for all New Zealanders and says now is an opportunity to rethink how we handle tourism in the future.
"Because at the end of the day it's not just about the visitor it's also about us. This is our home. This is where we live. And we want to make sure that when we open our country up for others to come and join and visit that we benefit too."
The way New Zealanders had handled the Covid crisis gave him hope.
"Although there will be job losses and there will be businesses fail, there will be some that don't, and there'll be new jobs created and there'll be new businesses that will emerge from it. So I think this is a reset for the sector rather than a complete disintegration."
The hospitality industry was very scalable and flexible, he said, which meant New Zealand's food and beverage industry could have a future on the world stage.
Rachel Taulelei, CEO of Kono NZ, thinks Covid has created an opportunity for New Zealand to do things differently.
While trying to create a profitable business that generates jobs and creates wealth for people, New Zealanders need to do it in a way that is considerate to the planet.
"It's our responsibility to leave our footprint, very, very lightly and to leave our taonga, our resources, in a better condition."
Tessa Meyer, Panuku's sustainability adviser, argues for a green recovery, not just an economic one.
"Tackling this pandemic and climate change at the same time is quite daunting and it's probably very tempting to go back to normal."
But New Zealand had an extraordinary opportunity to use the resources to tackle both challenges at the same time.
"In 10 years' time I would really like to look back on what we have done with this opportunity and know that we spent it on the right things."
Andrew Grant, senior partner with business management consultants McKinsey & Company, agrees. With more than 90 per cent of the country's critical infrastructure on the coast, it was vulnerable to climate change. What are we doing about, he asked?
"We know what's going to happen, but we acted with Covid because the reality became in front of our nose. The reality with climate change is in front of our nose. We just need to act."
• The full Visionweek interviews and panel discussions can be seen on www.visionweek.co.nz