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Source: Massey University

The speakers and panellists of the Conversations that Count event. From left to right: Simon Arcus, Professor Jan Thomas, Cameron Bagrie, Chloe Swarbrick, Professor Brian Lucid, Wayne Mulligan and Stacey Morrison.

Structural inequality, the role of education to improve New Zealand’s future and how business can help New Zealand recover from Covid-19 were just some of the big ideas discussed at Conversations that Count in Wellington on Wednesday.

The event held by Massey University, The Spinoff and the Wellington Chamber of Commerce was inspired by a successful Massey and Spinoff Conversations that Count – Ngā Kōrero Whai Take podcast last year. More than 150 people gathered for breakfast at Te Papa to listen to keynote speeches from Massey University Vice-Chancellor Professor Jan Thomas, Green Party MP Chloe Swarbrick and economist Cameron Bagrie.

The speeches were followed by a panel discussion facilitated by broadcaster and Māori language advocate Stacey Morrison, Te Arawa and Ngai Tahu, of Te Pūtahi-a-Toi, Massey University’s School of Māori knowledge, and panellists Chloe Swarbrick, Cameron Bagrie, Head of Massey’s Wellington School of Design Ngā Pae Māhutonga Professor Brian Lucid, and entrepreneur Wayne Mulligan, Taranaki, Te Atiawa, Ngati Ruanui, Ngati Maniapoto, Te Atiawa-Taranaki Whanui ki te Upoko o te Ika.

The theme was Emerging from the Bubble: How Aotearoa can take its place in a changed world, a wide-ranging theme that encompassed how New Zealand communities, universities, businesses and industries can continue to navigate the new normal and start to look forward to what’s next. 

Professor Thomas said the number one challenge facing the New Zealand education system is how to achieve equity and excellence in student outcomes. She noted that meeting the needs of an increasingly diverse student community is not easy, and there is no quick fix.

“However, it is vital that we equip all students within our university to meet the challenges of a complex world and to impart upon them the skills to be part of the conversations that will contribute to develop Aotearoa.

“Success comes when we provide learners with the right support and tools to fully realise their own successful educational outcomes. So, one of the important questions to ask is, does the current education model deliver to the needs of all students?”

She reflected that this was part of the realisation that inspired her Te Reo Māori and Tirohanga Taketake journey, where she is studying a Bachelor in Māori studies at Massey. “Because rather than apologise for being Australian and excuse myself, I wanted to gain an understanding and drive positive change within the system. I began to place myself in the shoes of others to consider what the world looks like. And from a Māori perspective, it looks pretty different. That’s why I believe fostering understanding is essential to constructing the way forward together.”

Professor Jan Thomas delivering her keynote speech

The environment was a thread woven into many parts of the kōrero.

Ms Swarbrick said that society has created a false dichotomy of having to choose between the environment and the economy, while not taking into account jobs and the economy happen on the planet. 

“The economy as a piece of terminology is actually inherently value neutral. We have loaded a huge amount of cultural norms, values and connotations onto it. We’ve assumed that the economy means perpetuation of the way that things are, as opposed to realising that we have the opportunity to design how that operates.”

Professor Brian Lucid suggested moving towards a “weightless economy” is one way Aotearoa can continue to grow and evolve, and reduce our impact on the environment. 

“There’s been lots of conversations around transformation for Aotearoa and its [the weightless economy] connection to us as a creative engine and we’re seen around the world as a creative engine. As we’re able to continue to invest in that, it means that we’re putting out products in to the market that don’t need to be shipped. They’re digital and weightless and they’re centred on creativity.

“The idea is focusing on training, getting people into schools and getting students excited around a wide variety of different opportunities and careers that will transform the New Zealand economy in the future.”


The second season of the Conversations that Count – Ngā Kōrero Whai Take podcast will return in May.


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