What is your professional background?
I’m an economist. I’ve worked in government in NZ and the UK, and as a consultant in NZ and the US, on issues including productivity, ambition and immigration.
I have co-authored three books, Going Places, Better Lives, and Ambition, and I co-own The Open Book, a delightful secondhand bookstore in Ponsonby.
Can you explain to us your motivations behind the Ambition NZ project?
To find out what Kiwis really think about ambition. We see New Zealanders achieving at the highest levels, in all kinds of fields, all over the world. Think of how the “team of five million” came together to eliminate COVID-19. That was hugely ambitious. And yet, there is often commentary about Kiwis lacking ambition, and aspects of our national character or lifestyle holding the country back.
People say we are too keen on time off, too concerned about everyone fitting in, suspicious of people who try too hard, enthusiastic about humility, afraid of risk and failure, and relatively unmotivated everywhere but on the sports field. It turns out, Kiwis are enormously ambitious about many different things, but we tend to keep quiet about it because we don’t want people thinking we are full of ourselves.
What is your ultimate goal for Ambition NZ?
I would love to see more New Zealanders being more ambitious about more things, and sharing their ambitions more openly with others. Humility is fine, but when we tell other people about our ambitions, especially early on, we get access to support and feedback that can make the end result so much better.
One way we are encouraging this is by sharing video interviews with Kiwis from all walks of life on the AmbitionNZ YouTube Channel. We’re about to begin Zoom interviews, so if you’d like to be involved, get in touch!
Your recent publication focused on migration after Covid-19. What migration opportunities do you anticipate emerging out of Covid-19?
New Zealand’s policies are world-leading when it comes to highly skilled and entrepreneurial migrants. In the past, the issue has been getting those kinds of people to come here.
We are already seeing much greater interest in moving to New Zealand from people in places where Covid-19 is less well-controlled, and as long as we can manage quarantine, we have an opportunity to bring in some real superstars. Add those to the Kiwis who are returning home and great things could happen.
At the other extreme, we have had people convicted of slavery in New Zealand based on their behaviour towards immigrants. With the border closed, we have time to figure out how to make sure immigrants are safe and treated fairly in future.
What potential benefits does increased migration give to a society?
Migration can bring greater diversity, boost innovation, and improve trade. It can help fill labour and skill shortages – think of all the migrants that helped with the Christchurch rebuild. But if there are large inflows of people with skills similar to locals, migration can reduce productivity and discourage investment in capital. It’s all about getting the balance right.
What is a wellbeing approach to migration, and what are the benefits of taking such an approach?
Most countries focus on bringing in migrants who will be good for the economy. That’s important, but it’s not all that matters. When we take a wellbeing approach, we think about wider factors that help people to live a good life. For example, current policy makes it hard for migrants to bring their parents to New Zealand. This makes sense on economic grounds, since older people use more public services and pay less tax. But grandparents can provide love, help maintain connections to language and culture, and provide backup childcare. On wellbeing grounds, there’s a stronger case for allowing them to come here.
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