While circumstances restricted my trip to just Canberra, with a period of precautionary quarantine added for good measure, I can report that for all the ease and value of Zoom, nothing replaces face-to-face meetings. It was good to see old faces, renew friendships and swap experiences.
As I wrote in greater detail in my most recent Stuff article, in recent years I have undertaken these visits to Australia to build connections with our Australian colleagues and think-tanks working in the Asia space. We often find that the conversations Australian’s have about Asia cross the Tasman within a matter of months, so, keeping abreast of the latest thinking coming out of Australia can be a way of keeping ahead of the curve in New Zealand. Forewarned is forearmed after all.
The past fortnight has seen trans-Tasman travel become even more complicated, and it has highlighted to me that it may be some time before we can reliably travel, even to our closest neighbours, free from the threat of Covid.
As part of our Olympics activation, the Foundation teamed up with the New Zealand Embassy in Japan to create a series of short videos of children saying some key Japanese phrases, which will be screened at the Cloud (Photo: New Zealand Embassy, Tokyo)
Speaking of international engagements disrupted by Covid, all eyes will be on Tokyo at the end of this month with the opening of the 29th Summer Olympic Games. With Tokyo experiencing an upswing in Covid cases - entering its fourth Covid state of emergency - the 23 July opening ceremony, and all the subsequent events, will unfortunately be held without spectators.
Despite the circumstances under which the Games will be held, the Olympics will put Japan front and centre around the world, and that provides an important opportunity for the Asia New Zealand Foundation to grow New Zealanders’ knowledge of the country.
To do this, the Foundation is a partner of the New Zealand Olympic Committee’s Fanzone, located in the Cloud on Auckland’s Queen’s Wharf for the duration of the games. Our activation will bring a little Japanese culture and language to the Fanzone.
Our education team has also developed teaching resources that use the Olympics and Paralympics to inspire interest and grow knowledge of Japan among young New Zealanders. This resource will be accompanied by a competition for students to design a mascot for the Paralympic Games, with the winning design to be displayed in the Athletes’ Village in Tokyo.
Our Perceptions of Asia survey continues to show the warmth New Zealanders feel for Japan, so the Olympic Games is a prime opportunity to leverage this goodwill to inspire even greater interest and grow New Zealanders’ knowledge of this key partner of ours.
This month has also been significant for our education programme as it saw the launch of our new Champions programme. The Champions programme is an initiative to develop a network of Asia-savvy educators who can champion and amplify the work of the Foundation within their schools, communities of learning, and wider education networks.
The induction was an opportunity for the educators to meet each other and workshop ideas for developing the programme
The programme is part of a more targeted approach we are taking in the education space, in part, as response to a changing education landscape here in New Zealand and reflects the challenge of trying to reach the vast number of schools and teachers in the New Zealand education system. So, we have decided on quality over quantity.
To launch the programme, the education team brought together the first cohort of 25 educators for a hui to get to know each other and discuss how they wanted to develop the programme.
By focussing our resources on these high achieving Champions we hope they will take their knowledge and enthusiasm for Asia to the schools and students they work with. We are proud to be able to support them in meaningful and practical ways.
We hope they will look back at the hui as a key date in the development of a successful and long-term programme that has been instrumental in embedding Asia competencies into schools throughout New Zealand.