Innovating our way out of a recession

Professor Stephen Cummings and Dr Jesse Pirini were joined by economist and alumnus Brad Olsen to discuss the importance of innovation to New Zealand’s economic future.

Brad, who is known to many New Zealanders as the media's go-to economist, shared some of his insights throughout the panel discussion on what he thinks needs to happen to help New Zealand’s economy bounce back from the effects of COVID-19.

One of Brad’s main points was the need for a diversity of responses to the crisis. While there’s some great thinking going on in Wellington, Brad argued, the capital often seems like a kind of bubble, where people are living much the same life as before COVID—but in the regions there’s incredible diversity of effect.

Another key takeaway was the need to broaden our view of what innovation means. While the big news stories about what Fonterra and Trade Me are doing are great, innovation in this country is also about what the ‘little companies’ are doing—ordinary, everyday kiwi businesses: florists, bakers, hairdressers. “Imagine if every kiwi business hired just one more person in the next year, we’d be flying,” said Brad.

Dr Pirini talked about how building back better means being innovative about how we measure growth. Dr Pirini reflected on how working on the Te Matarua a Māui project, developing a strategy for the Maori economy in the wider Wellington region, had taught him that people want to measure success not just in financial terms. People were interested in innovation leading to social growth, cultural growth, environmental sustainability, and growing political representation.

Following that, Brad highlighted the need to move away from thinking that GDP growth is the best or only measure of economic success. Measuring ‘Gross Domestic Jobs’ would a more effective measure of success, he argued, and one that more New Zealanders could relate to and get behind.

Stephen Cummings added that given the need for greater diversity about what innovation was and for people to see multiple pathways to, or stories about, success, perhaps we should think about growing our ‘Gross Domestic Stories’ innovation index too.