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For a bright future, it is people, it is people at home and abroad

Relating to diversity is now on the nation’s agenda. There appears to be consensus amongst New Zealand’s leadership (local and central government, university, and business) about the need to relate locally, particularly with Maori, and internationally, particularly with people and cultures of our Asia Pacific region.

The rationale for this consensus is economic scarcity. New Zealand has very high levels of internal and international debt. Maori tribes and Asian people have resources. Western countries such as Britain and the United States, with which New Zealand has had close relationships, are similarly in debt.

I agree about the need to relate to people and organisations from diverse cultures, but I have much discomfort about the dominant mindset, which seems to be to go for quick, profitable deals, without investing the time and resources needed to build in-depth, on-going multi-dimensional relationships.

If there is one thing New Zealand leadership should have learnt from our connection with Maori, it is that relationships are central …

“He aha te mea nui o te ao? He tangata, he tangata, he tangata. What is the most important thing in the world? It is people, it is people, it is people.”

“Maori Time” is not about being on time, it is about making time and allowing time for people to build and re-build relationships.

If there is one thing New Zealand leadership should have learnt from people trying to do business in Asian countries it is that it takes time. Every business person I have heard discussing this matter (particularly business in China), stress the need to take time to build up these relationships and trust.

New Zealand has a unique mix of Polynesian (Maori 14.6 percent, Pacific Island 6.9 percent), Asian (9.2 percent) and Western people (European 67.6), many of whom are well-connected both to each other in their localities, where they live and work, and to international diasporic networks.

Given that almost a third of New Zealanders, (the rapidly growing Maori, Pacific and Asian populations), who have historical and deep cultural connections in the Asia Pacific region, place importance on the need for relationship-building, why persist with the individualistic Anglo-Saxon business culture, where time is money and relating to diverse cultures is often expressed as a tiresome but necessary means to an end, the end being doing a quick deal, or making a killing?

If there is to be a bright future for New Zealand in the world, it will require new forms of relationship building between locally-established people, and newcomers from diverse parts of the world. Innovation will come from diverse groups who come together in their local settings. From such local connection building, new collaborative networks of many kinds can reach out into many parts of the world.

Many in New Zealand and elsewhere in the region can become apprehensive about China’s dominance in the region, particularly when it seems to be flexing its muscle. However, if New Zealand worked on developing constructive roles, based on making and brokering productive local to international connections of many kinds, (from citizen-to-citizen through to inter-governmental levels) that were useful both to China and to other countries, this could open up new, hopeful possibilities in the region and in the wider world.

There is much work to be done. New Zealand is small, isolated, deeply indebted and without much power. However, as Chris Elder, New Zealand’s ambassador in Moscow attests, there can be advantages to being small and non-threatening. He says small nations such as New Zealand can find themselves at the centre of major negotiations, cast in the role of honest broker – brokering connections.

We cannot ignore change. We cannot afford to continue with the tried and failed. We could however recognise and build on our unique brand, a blend of cultures (Polynesian, Western and Asian) which has at its core, much expertise in inter-cultural communication and relationship building.

Inter-cultural communication is becoming a core 21st century competency. In New Zealand it is a largely unrecognised and untapped resource. I believe that it is when New Zealand learns to recognise and build on this resource-base, it will begin to make truly innovative and highly productive contributions, both internally and to the wider world.

What do you think? I would be interested in your opinion on any of the matters raised.

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