‘Increasing prosperity, inspiring the next generation, and making NZ a place where talent wants to live’
Ten years ago, world-renowned Kiwi physicist, science communicator and our organisation's namesake the late Sir Paul Callaghan delivered a powerful speech on his vision for Aotearoa. For anyone looking for inspiration, I highly recommend watching the video of this presentation – you won't regret it.
Sir Paul believed NZ could do better than muddling along, exhausting our natural resources with little value added. Instead, he suggested using our brain power to innovate in ways to create sustainable prosperity for NZ taking rich science, innovation and engineering talent out of the lab, and helping it cross the commercialisation ‘valley of death’ and onto the world stage.
Our success so far
Sir Paul knew we could find global success by focusing on the weird stuff – niche problems that others might not think to solve. It’s an approach evidenced by the likes of Pushpay, with its digital donation software for US churches, and Fisher & Paykel Healthcare’s dominance in respiratory innovation.
We’re also making progress in climate change and environmental innovations, as urged by Sir Paul. A great global example is LanzaTech, which creates cleaner fuel for jets and other applications.
Kiwi innovators are also creating cutting-edge solutions to transform our primary sector, while developing export opportunities. There’s Waikato-based Halter, with its GPS-enabled collars to herd cows, and Bay of Plenty-based Robotics Plus, which is using automation to support labour shortages in agriculture. It's a promising movement in the direction Sir Paul envisioned.
Our unrealised potential
However Israel, with almost no farming foundation, is outperforming NZ in exporting high-value agricultural innovations. Also, our investment in cleantech is shockingly lower than in other small, advanced economies, with Sweden for example – a similarly sized advanced economy to NZ – receiving 1000x the investment into ClimateTech innovation that NZ does. This is sad given the perfect alignment to our clean, green identity.
We’re still trying to understand what it means to be a nation founded on the Treaty of Waitangi, and the competitive advantage our rich Māori values can add to our national mission. And finally, much of our fantastic research potential sits in labs, removed from real-world application.
To grow our next economy and take advantage of the COVID-19 opportunity, our business, research and social sectors need an aligned mission-led approach. This starts with a united vision that provides a united direction. Our current siloed, scattergun approach means we’re missing considerable opportunities to boost our economic growth, and create high-value jobs and industries.
COVID-19 has presented the impetus to step into a new economy – it’s now or never. So along with some key leaders and visionaries, like the McGuinness Institute, we’ll be progressing a united vision and mission to inspire NZ.
It doesn’t matter what that vision is – whether it’s Sir Paul’s or otherwise. What matters is that we are, at least mostly, united behind it. Our vision and mission must bring together the business, research, public sector and social enterprise communities like never before, and get the cogs turning across sectors to create exciting careers for younger generations. It must also be inspired by our Māori values and seek a genuinely fruitful Treaty partnership.
We face a phenomenal opportunity due to the global disruption brought by COVID-19; pursuing it won't be easy – but it is essential.
Callaghan Innovation will explore ‘How can we make New Zealand a centre of innovation excellence?’ as part of a Techweek TV panel during Techweek 2021 (22-30 May).
Article by: Vic Crone, Chief Executive, Callaghan Innovation