Suzannah Jessep's April 2024 CEO Update

This week I'm in Singapore as part of the New Zealand Prime Minister’s delegation to Southeast Asia, which will also take in Thailand and the Philippines. Travelling with the Prime Minister is a delegation of approximately 50 people, including business leaders, media, and senior officials.
Singapores famous Lion Fountain with the Singapore skyline in the background

Suz: "Singapore is a living example of the power of imagination and determination..."

Standing on Orchard Road, I’m reminded of the phenomenal transformation Singapore has been through. How Lee Kuan Yew's vision to turn this island nation into the incredible trade and transit hub it is today has come to fruition.

Singapore is a living example of the power of imagination and determination, and how transformational having a vision that unites a country can be.

The need for New Zealand to have a cohesive, unified approach to how we interact with Asia is something the Foundation has put a lot of thought into. It was a key recommendation we made to government in 2022 at the conclusion of our Seriously Asia Revisited project of work. If New Zealand is to achieve similar transformational results as Singapore, it's what's required.    

The Prime Minister's visit to Singapore, Thailand and the Philippines demonstrates NZ Inc interest in these countries and in our wish to take up opportunities to do more together. 

We are each grappling with the challenges of post-Covid economies, rising costs of living, regional instability, as well as conflict further afield in Ukraine and Gaza. It is timely for friends to come together, but also for some creative thinking around diplomacy and how we advance shared interests.

Suz taking a selfie with a group of eight people

Suz and Adele with a group of the Foundation's YBLI (Young Business Leaders Initiative) participants at an event held for the trade delegation in Singapore

In March, I joined the Rt Hon Winston Peters in India and Indonesia and was impressed by the Minister’s stamina and determination to explore creative solutions for building bilateral relations.

The same energy can be felt here in Singapore this week. There is, I think, genuine recognition of the importance of New Zealand’s Asia relations and of how consequential these countries are – and the shared region we live in – to our future. But it is equally true that there are no easy solutions to deepening and expanding relations. It takes time, resources and, importantly, know-how. The Foundation has a key role to play.

Suzannah Jessep convening a panel discussion alongside three others

Suzannah moderating a panel discussion on India Pacific connectivity at the New Zealand High Commission in New Delhi

In June, the Foundation will be releasing the next iteration of our annual Perceptions of Asia and Asian Peoples survey. It shows that while New Zealanders recognise the importance of Asia to our future, too little is still known about the countries of Asia to guide our engagement.

In New Zealand, we’re seeing a shrinking pipeline of expertise coming through the New Zealand university system. Coupled with budget cuts, it is clear to me that the Foundation’s efforts to grow knowledge, capability, contact and confidence in Asia are more important today than they have ever been.

Our young leaders, and all those who are participating in our programmes, are increasingly important in developing and guiding New Zealand relations in Asia.

For young New Zealanders, it is often through food, music, arts, social media, gaming, school, and festivals that they initially connect with Asia. The Foundation has recently sponsored Wellington’s Cuba Street festival, Cubadupa, as well as WOMAD. Our support enabled amazing acts from Asia to perform on New Zealand stages and gave young Kiwis a taste of the diversity and talents coming out of Asia.

To help develop interest and knowledge of Asia in our next generation of leaders, in the next few months we will be taking our Leadership Network into Southeast Asia for firsthand experiential learning.

Next week, deputy CEO Adele Mason will be leading a delegation to Hanoi, Vietnam, with a further visit for young leaders scheduled for June to to Jakarta and Indonesia. Plans are also underway to start a young leaders’ dialogue in India…and hopefully Sri Lanka. There's a lot on, and a lot coming up. 

New Zealand experts have also been in the region, with the Foundation's latest track II delegation spending a week in Taiwan talking about tensions along the Taiwan Strait, US-China relations, influence and interference operations, elections, and bilateral relations. Reporting from these visits help inform NZ Inc thinking on New Zealand’s security, prosperity, and development.      

We continue to circulate the arts report we launched last month, New Waves, Meeting the growing hunger for Asian art in Aotearoa. On the 30 April, we’ll be holding a roundtable in Wellington with representatives from across the arts sector, followed by an Asia After Five event in our Wellington office - we'd love to see you there. 

This month, we look forward to welcoming two new senior staff members, to help us deliver our research and track II programme – Julia McDonald – and lead our communications team – Taniya Scott. A very warm welcome to both!

Mā te wā

Suz Jessep