I was delighted to be invited to host this session for IIBN as I had the delightful experience of working with the Irish Embassy in New Zealand for St. Brigids Day this year. I met a range of people from the Irish Business Network New Zealand (IBBNZ), facilitated the Embassy’s Cruinniu and was introduced to a plethora of experiences in Wellington, Auckland, Christchurch, and Hamilton.

“New Zealand has an easy familiarity”, says Peter Ryan, Irish Ambassador to New Zealand. “I’m going to stay longer the next time I come over here” is generally what he hears people say when they’re leaving the country. As a senior colleague of the Department of Foreign Affairs, part of Peter’s role is to reconnect with the diaspora and build out the business network through connecting with Friends of Ireland. Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern talks about a “team of 5 million”, while Peter urges us to think in terms of the Global Irish “team of 70 million”.

Peter Lennox started his career in New Zealand in 2002 after working in both the US and the UK. He shared some sharp insights with us including English is a second language in the country due to the accent (that brought a wry smile to many participants I’m sure!). He went on to comment that despite a similar population to Ireland, New Zealand doesn’t have the safety net of the European Union or the much larger market of the UK. It’s a fallacy that Australia is a hop, skip and a jump away as it’s over three hours of a flight.

During the event, we received the breaking news that Ireland had won the seat on the UN Security Council and it was a natural to ask the Ambassador who had served a posting in New York, for this thoughts. “We have unbroken service for 60 years in peacekeeping”, he proudly stated and elaborated to talk about the global impact of our diplomacy and political dialogue. He pointed out the parallels with a very globalised New Zealand as 20% of its population was born overseas. In fact, 1 in 6 Kiwis are of Irish heritage.

Another similarity between our two island nations is the importance of agriculture to our economy. Peter Lennox mused that “New Zealand is able to produce in a way that isn’t subsidised”. Many countries look to their ways of efficiency and production methods for inspiration and direction. Peter quoted Einstein with “shared knowledge is earned knowledge”. In a similar vein of learning by doing, he told us how, as part of his role at New Zealand Trade & Enterprise, he collaborated with key investors to help set up the largest Ag/Bio fund in the southern hemisphere of NZ$200 million.  He reached out those with affinity with the country, gleaned ideas of best practise, asked for and reciprocated with connections to networks and throughout all this, found out what gaps existed that the government might fund.

Personally, I’ve seen Peter Ryan offer tangible opportunities to people and business in Hong Kong while being Consul General there, be a driving force in the Asian County Board of the GAA and pioneer the idea of a Youth Council spanning both islands of New Zealand. This doesn’t at all cover the domains where he has cultivated networks for the communities that he serves, so I put it to him what we could all learn from his natural inclination to join the dots. He responded graciously that “the Irish have a platform of goodwill. We don’t have to wait to be given direction and it needs to go both ways”. He went on to give examples of how the universities in both countries could share learnings and how IIBNZ can form part of a global Irish commercial conversation.

It’s almost incumbent on any interviewer today to enquire as to how lockdown has changed the rules of engagement in international business development. Given that New Zealand has been the leading light on this subject, the question was even more pertinent. Peter Lennox observed that many families have spent more time together during the restrictions and have enjoyed doing so. They want more of this and there is an acknowledgement now that the communication network can handle that. Peter Ryan posited that the new Embassy building was due to open in August and is open to considering what exactly it will be used for. Will it be a cultural and community hub? Will people want to return to business networking events? What’s next? However, he emphasized that the country has flown under the radar of the Irish people for a long time and we’ve missed a trick. There has never been a better time given the stock of New Zealand in the world. As the Covid-19 experience has illustrated, it’s a country that can get things done without much of a fuss.

Peter Lennox gave us some insights into the technology sector – New Zealand is a very transparent country and it’s a value that it holds dear. He said that there are technologists coming in from all over the world and given the expanse of the country’s geography, bringing new and niche talent to the table is helpful.

Peter Ryan was effusive that there is “a well-trodden path for companies here”. He said the largest currency firm in Fexco and there are lots of well-known Irish names well established including TaxBack etc. The business environment is flat and finding the right connections can be done speedily. In response to a tourism query, he urged those who wanted to sell into that industry to look at the New Zealand story. There is a big push on now for the population to get out and enjoy their own country (and that clarion call is echoed in Ireland). On that note, there is good connectivity between Tourism Ireland and Tourism New Zealand. There will be a progressively greater emphasis on finding new things to do and developing the tourism product. We can all learn from that and more so, enjoy it!

Both speakers highlighted there is a lot of help available to companies who want to develop either export business into, or set up an operation in, New Zealand including:

Thank you very much to Ailbhe and the team for giving me the opportunity to host the session. I hope that everybody enjoyed and learned from the discussion as much as I did!