Suzannah Jessep's May 2024 CEO Update

My last update came to you from Singapore, on the first day of Prime Minister Christopher Luxon’s week-long Southeast Asia trade visit that also took in Thailand and the Philippines. It was a whirlwind visit in the company of a large business delegation focussed on sustainability, green transition and tech innovation.
Asia New Zealand Foundation CEO Suz Jessep and Prime Minister Luxton (middle) with a group of business leaders the Foundation has supported through its ASEAN Young Business Leaders Initiative

The visit was an opportunity for Suz to catch up with previous participants of the Foundation's ASEAN Young Business Leaders Initiative

I’ve visited the region regularly for the Asia New Zealand Foundation and prior to that as a New Zealand diplomat.

For these visits, I was often behind the scenes playing an organisational role, so it was fascinating to travel as a delegate, and also to see New Zealand’s new Prime Minister, Christopher Luxon, in action.

There are a few key takeaways that I think Foundation readers will appreciate hearing about. Firstly, it is great to see the New Zealand Government’s interest and investment in Asia. There has been a huge step-up in the tempo of visits, and the messaging being delivered – about the value we place on these partnerships and how consequential we see them to New Zealand’s future – is genuine.

Both the Prime Minister and Foreign Minister know Southeast Asia incredibly well and this experience and know-how has really come through in their outreach.

Secondly, there was a palpable sense of relief within the delegation. Clearly there is pent up demand for New Zealand to step up its efforts across Asia, and it was great to see the New Zealand companies we were travelling with making announcements about partnerships they are forming in the region and the investments they are making.

Suz with then Singaporean Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong (left) and NZ MP Paulo Reyes Garcia in the Philippines

Suz with then Singaporean Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong (left) and NZ MP Paulo Garcia in the Philippines

Having the Prime Minister open doors, show interest, and reinforce the importance of these relationships was a boost to private sector effort.

Thirdly, in a region increasingly defined by geostrategic tension and US-China competition, it was interesting for me to hear how keen our friends in Southeast Asia were to connect with New Zealand – as another small-to-medium-sized state trying to navigate choppy waters. We can find strength in numbers, share experiences, and support each other, as well as offer each other goods and services that help us diversify our trade and reduce reliance on any one market or country.

New Zealand and Southeast Asia have longstanding people-to-people connections. Foundation research shows that while we don’t necessarily know each other as well as we should, given geographic proximity, we nonetheless view each other as trusted friends, and for many in New Zealand, as family.

We are also increasingly connected as innovators. Last week the Foundation hosted ten amazing tourism entrepreneurs from Southeast Asia as part of our ASEAN Young Business Leaders Initiative (YBLI).

These visits introduce young, up-and-coming Southeast Asian entrepreneurs to New Zealand and connect them to local businesses – in this case, in the tourism and hospitality sector.

The group toured tourism hotspots across the North Island, met with local tourism businesses, attended New Zealand’s TRENZ tourism conference, and spoke at a fantastic ‘Asia After Five’ event at our Wellington office.

Suz standing with a group of visiting tourism entrepreneurs in front of the Foundation's sign in the Wellington office

Suz: "I loved learning about their [the visiting tourism entrepreneurs] individual journeys to establishing successful tourism business in their home countries."

I loved learning about their individual journeys to establishing successful tourism businesses in their home countries, how they had managed to scale their operations, and how open they were to collaborating with others.

This is the vision of the YBLI programme: to build a network of entrepreneurs in New Zealand and Asia who share ideas and support each other in their business endeavours. To date, we have worked with hundreds of entrepreneurs and seen many partnerships and ideas flourish. While the Foundation runs the programme, I’d like to acknowledge the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade who fund it and – through New Zealand’s Embassies and High Commissions – help us stay actively connected.

This month we also brought together New Zealand’s leading arts decision-makers for a roundtable and Asia After Five event to discuss and highlight the Arts research report we launched in March, New Waves: Meeting the growing hunger for Asian art in Aotearoa.

The research shows that it is through the arts that many New Zealanders are first introduced to Asian cultures, and we know that having had their interest piqued, many will go on to explore further and develop cultural awareness, and for some, a lifetime of interest. As the report’s title indicates, demand for Asian art in all its forms and expressions is growing.

A group of Leadership Network members standing in front of a red bus. listening to someone off camera speak

There has been a huge amount of activity both onshore and offshore over the last month or so, but one highlight that I’d like to mention is a visit we led to Viet Nam with 14 members of the Foundation’s Leadership Network, which focussed on Viet Nam’s growing innovation and technology sector.

The Leadership Network is comprised of young New Zealanders who are all leaders in their own fields, with an interest in strengthening ties between New Zealand and Asia.

Visits such as these help to develop their confidence and understanding of the region, create new networks, and explore areas to collaborate. And, perhaps most importantly, on their return they share their experiences, so that other New Zealanders learn about Asia through their journey.

It was also good to have Foundation Trustee and celebrated tech leader Mitchell Pham join the group and share his story about coming to New Zealand as a refugee and his role in New Zealand-Viet Nam tech connections.

A group of about 15 Leadership Network members looking at a wall of text, photos and graphics information

Leadership Network members visiting FPT Software's campus in Láng Hòa Lạc High Tech Park, Hanoi

There are plenty of new opportunities coming up, including media training, offshore track II engagements, and conferences where we’re bringing in some top speakers from Asia: notably India-expert, Dr Reuben Abraham, for the annual Institute of Directors Conference, and Dr Henry Wang for the China Business Summit.

Applications are also open for the 2024 intake of Leadership Network members, so if you know of any top young people who are keen to grow their connections, knowledge and confidence in and with Asia, forward them the link.

Nāku noa, nā Suz

[Banner image: Leadership Network members in Hanoi]