As I See It: Claire Szabó

How would you describe the New Zealand identity?
Identity is rapidly changing as new waves of migration reshape our population. Right throughout the country, cities and towns are settling more people from increasingly diverse cultural backgrounds. From the Pacific, Asia and beyond, in high and lower skilled professions and throughout our schools and communities, the New Zealand identity is embracing greater diversity.
We are country with pretty moderate and tolerant views and curiosity and respect for each other’s cultures. We have the physical space for people to move here. Our Treaty offers uniquely New Zealand way of thinking about different people populating one country. Our refugee programme grows our significant international reputation for humanitarian contribution. But equally, migration offers important things that New Zealand needs: skills and labour for our economy; new ideas and perspectives to solve social problems; and connectedness to other parts of the world despite our physical isolation and size.

What will be the country’s next major challenge?

Utilising the skills that people bring. At board tables and in senior management teams, throughout professions and on our representative bodies we see diversity lagging. Migrants and refugees are too frequently unemployed or underemployed. Our city councils and school boards do not reflect the people they serve.
Increasingly distinctive regional flavours are emerging from the traditional New Zealand identity. In Southland, one in nine people was born offshore. In Manukau, this is one in two. Providing local and regional leadership that builds bridges between people in rapidly changing regions is major challenge. So, too, is providing national leadership that holds all the different parts of the country together. New Zealand needs to see Auckland as major opportunity and source of pride: an innovation hub, an economic centre, and an early indicator of what national cultural identity may be in the future. Aotearoa is going to be much more Asian and Polynesian, multilingual and internationally connected.
Are we doing enough to ensure that this extraordinary meeting of peoples is realising its potential for ideas leadership and generating more light than heat? Do our different regions understand each other’s needs?

What do we need to do to prepare for this?

From my position at English Language Partners New Zealand, I see large range of successful community services focused on settling migrants in – often with support of government. In the future, large and small firms, professional organisations, schools, hospitals, community organisations and iwi will all need to understand and play their role in accommodating, settling and drawing out the benefits of New Zealand’s changing face. We may be small country but we have huge advantage if we can use the talents, skills and connections of all of us.

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