As we gathered with a group of Kiwis to watch the madness in Paris unfold on TV in a bar on the rugged, rainy west coast of New Zealand, we wondered where this all goes. Is it time we resign ourselves to the insanity of the world, or is it time to reexamine our priorities?
A few weeks ago, we were asked to share our research on how people can make a difference with their lives at the Leadership Institute of the University of Auckland. Over 100 people signed up and it was a great event. We spent the next several weeks talking to New Zealanders about their views on this topic because we came not only to tell our story, but to learn from them. Mostly, we found they’re asking many of the same questions that we are. The beauty of this common interest is that “you grow in the direction of the questions you ask,” as an astute young woman named Sylvia Zuur said.
Yes, similar questions, but different contexts. The hood of a car is called a “bonnet” in New Zealand, and “rattle your dags” means you better hurry it up. But cultural differences flow more deeply than a turn of a phrase. Though in many ways akin to Americans, Kiwis have a different perspective on what’s important.
They are a very small population on a spit of the map at the end of the earth. They are well educated and well traveled, and they realize both their local and global interdependence—and they truly want to understand how they can work together because of that interdependence (as distinct from the concept of “collaboration,” one person pointed out).
A key question Kiwis ask themselves is how to maintain their natural habitat and the health of their society while also building a modern culture and the country’s “industry.” How can they allow for people to find jobs that are for common benefit and do no harm? We found a keen interest, particularly among younger people, in social enterprise—in building a business that defines positive social or environmental impact as the bottom line, but also makes a profit.
We found lesser interest in working for “charities,” which were commonly considered to be too numerous (over 2700) and not necessarily terrifically effective. Though New Zealand is the third most generous country in the world, according to Charities Aid Foundation, the government has historically picked up the tab for much of the social and environmental support. Even the most innovative social enterprise initiatives are currently funded by the government, with private donations and crowd-sourcing efforts at play around the edges.
Regardless of where the seed money comes from, the most striking similarity between Americans and the Kiwis is that young people are looking to plant their flag differently. Even the names of their organizations express this entrepreneurial spirit. The young people we met were founders of Festival for the Future, Centre for Social Impact, Live the Dream, Akina, Launchpad, Indigo and Iris, Notifr, Enspiral, and the Ministry of Awesome, to name a few. We highly encourage you to check these out!!
By and large, New Zealanders are a happy, peaceful people. A van drives by with “The glass is half full, and the other half was delicious” painted on the side. They are kind, conscientious and considerate. They live in a natural paradise that is relatively isolated from the global insanity we witnessed this week in Paris. They have a broad commitment to egalitarianism; have made enormous strides toward gender equity and bridging racial and cultural divides. There is less fluff and fewer avenues for mindless distraction. People’s favorite pastime is to walk—literally—as their natural environment is the root of their pride and joy.
But as the world shrinks, global threats are on the horizon, and their now small population of 4.6 million is rapidly increasing (by one birth every nine minutes and one immigrant every seven minutes), many Kiwis are asking themselves the critical question:
How can they lead a peaceful, meaningful and profitable life that benefits the common good and does no harm?
Good question, and a great direction in which to grow. What questions do you ask?