What Does It Mean To Be Kiwi?
At New Frontiers festival this year, we dedicated a day to exploring New Zealand culture.
New Frontiers is a gathering of bright minds from around New Zealand and abroad to explore and co-create solutions for a just and sustainable society. The diverse crowd included entrepreneurs, investors, artists, technologists, farmers, iwi representatives, high-ranking government officials and big picture visionaries.
Culture day was spent discussing where we have come from, where we find ourselves and where we as a nation are headed in the future. As part of these explorations, we asked festival participants what it means to be Kiwi? Some were Kiwis themselves, others honorary Kiwis visiting from overseas. As we chatted with people, several themes emerged.
Kiwis value integrity
We are a nation of people who pride ourselves on standing up for what we believe in. We were the first country in the world to give women the right to vote in national elections in 1893, we stood strong against Apartheid in South Africa, and we took a stance against nuclear weapons in the 1980’s, a decision that had severe foreign trade and economic repercussions in the following decades. For a number of years now, New Zealand has been among the top countries for low public perception of corruption, we are easy to get along with, and we’re ranked #1 by Forbes as the best country in the world to do business.
In all of these cases, we have acted with integrity not because it was the easy course of action, but because it was the right thing to do. Because we look after people. Because we are kaitiaki - guardians and stewards who look after the land, people and place. Many of us have a deep sense of connection to our land. This extends beyond the picturesque postcards and sweeping vistas from Lord of the Rings, to the pockets of humble Kiwi bush dotted across farmland and the one-third of New Zealand’s land mass that has some form of protection for conservation values.
A New Post-Colonial Era
A common thread underpinning several of the talks at New Zealand culture day was the suggestion that we have now entered a new post-colonial phase. We are arms open to the world, we are growing up and entering adulthood as a nation. Auckland is now richer in ethnic diversity than London, and we are more multi-cultural than ever. We are also global citizens ourselves - New Zealand has the 2nd largest diaspora in world after Ireland, with almost 25% of Kiwis living overseas.
What does this mean for us as a people? How can we create partnerships and embrace a post-colonial future, while still honouring and learning from our history in a way that is respectful and authentic?
Building Upon Our Identity
One of the participants at New Frontiers highlighted the common confusion between brand and identity - brand being what we market ourselves as, identity being who we are authentically. New Zealand has an opportunity to move beyond our brand of being just a beautiful country to visit, and tell the story of our true identity as a nation of humble, resourceful innovators who get stuck in. This open attitude places New Zealand well to collectively embrace a fast-changing world, and collaborate with new partners.
Navigating The Future
A useful road map analogy for the future was provided by Peter Chrisp, CEO of New Zealand Trade & Enterprise and advisory board member to the New Zealand Story Group. Peter explained the significance of our country’s most iconic emblem, the silver fern.
Once upon a time in New Zealand, when Māori were walking through the bush at night, they would snap over sliver fern fronds along their way. On their way home, the light of the moon would reflect on the silver undersides, showing the way home. In this sense, the silver fern was a compass, a way finder, a path that would lead the way.
As New Zealand enters our post-colonial phase, let’s be confident, embrace new partnerships, watch for the cultural markers we have left along the way, and follow the fern. It knows the way.