For years, New Zealand has been fighting geographical constraints and a small population to make its mark on the world, but Andrea Bubendorfer, Chief Scientist at Callaghan Innovation, believes our innovation can unlock new opportunities.
Companies like Rocket Lab and Xero are making big strides on a global scale, despite coming from a small country at the bottom of the world.
As a result of this, and the challenges this brings with it, Aotearoa has adopted the “number eight wire” mentality, meaning the ability to make use of what we have on hand. It’s this mentality that is potentially the reason the country often punches above its weight.
Rather than looking at these national characteristics as a negative, Andrea Bubendorfer of Callaghan Innovation says they need to be utilised to New Zealand’s advantage.
The geographical isolation of being so far away from everywhere can be seen as a positive as it can foster more “unique insights”.
“When you’re in a hard time, it forces you to be creative, to find solutions and business-as-usual doesn’t inspire people to do something different. Sometimes when you’re in a harder world, you have to look and think, well what if?,” she says.
“That’s really the fundamental basis of innovation and it’s a way that we solve problems and create better opportunities.”
Looking at the current state of New Zealand, where Kiwis have just come out of a worldwide pandemic and are now facing a cost-of-living crisis, the country is under pressure.
Bubendorfer says that if life is easy, there would be no constraints or struggles that force us to do something different.
And if history is to repeat itself, Bubendorfer says Kiwis come through the other side miraculously, in terms of recovery.
With the world facing a boom in technology development across a number of areas, Bubendorfer believes “we are getting near the bottom of our hard time”.
New Zealand has more opportunity to be innovative compared to other countries like the US and the UK, where it is much harder to move away from the status quo.
Being smaller also gives Aotearoa the opportunity to be more agile, allowing more space to change course fairly easily because as a country, New Zealand does not have the same level of investment as them.
“So we can say, well actually maybe tomorrow we do something different,” she says.
“Both of those factors work in our favour together, both our small size and our distance that has created this culture that we have.”
Aotearoa’s small size breeds innovation and presents opportunities to make more of an impact than in other countries, and unique insights propels us forward faster than others.
Known for having a hospitable and caring attitude, whilst also having the freedom to express ourselves, Kiwi’s are in a good position for coming up with innovative ideas.
“We are quite an individualistic society, but we also have a lot of caring about the direction things go in. We care about equality. We want things to lift up an environment for all people. We don’t accept that it’s just good enough to make our own area better, and that we know that,” she adds.
So, if New Zealand is the perfect place for any innovative individual, the question is how to unlock that for the best opportunities for the country?
Easy, risk taking, Bubendorfer says.
“There’s an element of risk, if you’re doing something that’s new and hasn’t been done before, then you have to look and see what you are out for? Are you willing to back yourself? Can you find other people that can back you?
“For the people who create things themselves, it’s often because they have that unique insight – so trust yourself.”
New Zealand is set to become the next hub of innovation, and with a super savvy and well-connected Gen Z, the impact the country can make on society is set to be stronger than ever before.
Bubendorfer says there is a lot of hope backing Gen Z to create a good future despite the multiple challenges they are facing such as climate change, the health systems and so on.
“As we work through this hard period now, I do think that things will get much better,” she adds.
“Almost all of what we have that has been brought to us has been ultimately through technology, which is essentially the realisation of innovation.”