We have the culture to prevail over Covid

Rod Oram explains why he has faith that, when it comes to Covid, "we've got this"

We’re right to jump back into tight restrictions to fight a flare up in Covid-19 cases. Melbourne didn’t, so its second wave is deadlier than its first.

Hopefully, our second time around will be shorter and less damaging than our first because we keep learning what to do and how, and we’re acting fast.

Many businesses in particular are innovating rapidly to cope with current conditions, while keeping a strong focus on building a better and more resilient future for themselves. Plenty of examples came through in the series of 16 interviews I did the chief executives of major organisations during Level 4 lockdown.

The six broad themes were: acting with foresight; making rapid, iterative decisions; maintaining a future-focus; digitising businesses; inclusive cultures; and empowering leadership.

T&G Global, the horticulture grower and exporter, is just one example of a company playing well to those themes, as Gareth Edgecombe, its chief executive, described in his interview. The benefits showed up in its recent half-year results, which featured brisk growth in sales and profits and further progress on its strategies.

The last three months have also seen a lot of excellent collective work on building better futures. Two notable examples are from the Aotearoa Circle’s Fenwick Forum and the Nelson Tasman region’s Economic Response and Regeneration Action Plan.

The Circle, which brings together senior business and government leaders on the task of putting natural capital at the heart of all we do, ran the Forum in a series of online meetings in June to identify actions New Zealand could take to create a more productive, sustainable and inclusive economy.

The final report focused on how to transform our food, transport and energy systems, and potential partners who could collaborate to do so. Importantly, the ideas of young leaders involved in the programme were well integrated into the report.

Senior leaders among the 219 people involved in the Forum expressed strong support for accelerating our investment in our Covid recovery, for balancing sustainable, value principles and ‘shovel ready’ job creation, and for greater ambition in addressing our environmental challenges.

The Nelson Tasman plan, called Project Kōkiri (“to thrust forward”), is focussed on the region’s response to and recovery from the pandemic through to the end of 2022 but doing so in ways which also lay the groundwork for the region’s “regeneration” from 2023 onwards. The over-arching goal is to deliver on the aspirations of the region’s Te Tauihu Intergenerational Strategy.

The project brings together representatives from Nelson and Tasman councils, the Nelson Tasman Chamber of Commerce, the Nelson Regional Development Agency, eight local iwi and local operations of government agencies.

So far the project partners have delivered short-term pandemic support to local businesses, identified additional capital works the two councils will undertake over this year and next, and submitted 17 project proposals to the Crown Infrastructure Fund costing $721 million of which they are seeking $155m from government.

They know they have their work cut out for them to get the Government’s attention. Despite the quality of their projects, Nelson Tasman has so far won fewer dollars per capita from the Provincial Growth Fund and the Government’s Covid-recovery shovel-ready infrastructure scheme than many other regions.

Project Kōkiri is a rare and admirable example of a region responding rapidly, collectively and creatively to immediate needs in ways that will also help the region’s long term transformation, as its plan describes.

Its “We’ve Got This” social media campaign is particularly inspired. It began as a way for locals to tell each other about the things they love about their region, as this Facebook video describes.

The next phase starts this coming week, with local companies applying “We’ve got this from Nelson” stickers to their products stocking supermarket shelves across the country. Participating businesses include Pik’s peanut butter, Chia Sisters’ health drinks, Proper Crisps and King Salmon.

The creative work for the campaign is from Dylan Galletly and Monique Richards, who returned to New Zealand and settled in Nelson two years ago after a decade in Amsterdam. Their Wolf Horse studio, which they started over there, continues to work for overseas clients, most recently for Maserati, alongside their work here.

Another new initiative is Nelson Expats Away, a social media network run by the Nelson chamber of commerce. So far, it numbers some 350 people from the region who now live around the country and the world. Its Sydney members, for example, are helping to spread the word of the arrival there of Appleby Farms’ ice cream made from A2 milk in Nelson.

Two other examples of local organisations intensely focused on the region’s transformation are Business for Climate Action Nelson, and Zero Carbon Nelson Tasman which are helping local companies and communities respectively measure and reduce their carbon emissions as key steps on their journeys to economic, environmental and social regeneration.

While all the organisations mentioned in this column are diverse, they have three things in common. They’ve set themselves big ambitions for coping well with the pandemic; for building back far better; and for doing so in inspired, quintessentially Kiwi ways.

They are showing us we do best when we are true to ourselves. We’re giving our own expression to the best responses around the world to the Covid crisis.

A good guide to those international responses for businesses is the “Covid resilience report” just released by HSBC, the global bank. Based on its research and responses from 2,600 companies in 14 countries, it concludes:

“This crisis is…catalysing long-term change. Business leaders increasingly focus on culture. This enables firms to become more agile and responsive to change – learning a lesson from this crisis where agile companies have proven resilient. There is a broad focus on employees – both to build resilience and shape the transformation they are seeking.” For example, 85 percent of them say environmental sustainability is a priority.

In our own way, we’re showing that we Kiwis have the culture to prevail over Covid-19.

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