Memia 2020.13: Doing business from a lifeboat🚣// regenerative [🦿robotic🦾] 🌻ag🌾// climate change🌡️change? // data-driven recovery //a 💸wealth💸 of outcomes

Reboot Davos downunder?

Hi / Kia ora

Welcome to Memia - a weekly wide-angle roundup of strategy, emerging tech and other interesting links put together by me, Ben Reid, currently enjoying my quarantined existence here in Aotearoa New Zealand. Please feel free to forward this email - and you can sign up here if you haven’t already.

The most clicked link in the last issue (~11% of openers) was the NextStrain animations of the spread of Covid-19.

Doing business from a lifeboat🚣

This week New Zealand hit the watershed of zero new daily Covid-19 cases. 👏👏👏 Echoing a prescient Otago University report pre-dating the coronavirus outbreak, New Zealand (and other coronavirus green zone countries like Australia, Taiwan, South Korea…) could become a "lifeboat to save humanity".

So how do you do business from a lifeboat?

  • Simon Kuper discusses Aotearoa's many and varied charms in the Financial Times - Is this New Zealand’s chance to become the place to do business? Before we get too full of ourselves, though, he identifies a root of the challenge:

    “…New Zealand exported its ambitious people. Years later, in London, a lowly Kiwi office mate of mine mentioned one morning that he’d just turned down a job as aide to New Zealand’s probable next prime minister. “Why?” I asked, bemused. “It would be like working for Leicester council,” he explained. By 2015, about one in eight university-educated New Zealanders was abroad, the highest share of any English-speaking country.”

    Attracting and retaining Kiwi talent back home may well be the post-coronavirus bonus that could help fix NZ’s low productivity - particularly if global #WFH practices go some way towards alleviating career-limiting geographical isolation.

  • How can we stave off a fresh wave of Covid job losses? Thorough and wide-ranging interview by RNZ’s Kathryn Ryan with economist Cameron Bagrie (channelling Eey-ore but bang on the money), Eric Crampton of thinktank NZ Initiative and IceHouse’s Andy Hamilton, most recently co-founder of small business support platform Manaaki.

  • Internationally, we’re starting to see the winners as well as the losers from the pandemic: Microsoft's stock rose after reporting a 15% sales jump driven by Teams uptake, saying coronavirus had 'minimal' impact on revenue. Which NZ firms should we expect to announce an upside of the lockdown?

  • Agribusiness consultant Keith Woodford expects that China is going to become even more important as a market for New Zealand’s exports as we work our way through Covid-19. He has some insights as to how we got here:

    “…it was predominantly the Chinese who came searching to New Zealand wanting our products, rather than us developing markets in China. When we did go there and tried to engage in market-supply work closer to the consumers, we often messed up. The evidence shows that in general we are very good at processing products and getting them on a ship, and most of the time we are reliable people with whom others like doing business. But we struggle greatly when we try and operate further down the supply chain in foreign business cultures.”

    Is the post-Covid environment going to be any different? I sense many exporting NZ firms whose go-to-market until now was long haul flights, hire cars, in-person meetings, conferences, trade shows, drinks and hearty handshakes - but who are now quarantined on our South Pacific lifeboat for potentially years to come. There is a sudden and urgent need for digital strategies to get to market online. (No one anticipated that. Do we have the capability?🦧).

  • Chris Simpson revisits his proposal from a few years ago to put together a new “Davos Downunder” conference - in (now deserted) Queenstown:

    “…Turn NZ into a place where the world can come to discuss economic opportunity / innovation / finance/ IT/ productivity in a very neutral economic way...I don't think Queenstown is stuffed - I think it's an amazing opportunity to turn it into an Asia-centric think tank!”

    …Small matter of quarantine (and carbon neutrality) to sort out first… but has to be worth looking at funding to establish a [virtual?] Institute and programme of research - leading up to a post-pandemic Bretton Woods event in…2021…2022…2023?

The data-driven economic recovery

I’ve written glowingly about the data modeling which has underpinned much of our govt’s pandemic response to date.

UK open data advocate Gavin Starks wants a data-driven economic recovery: how can decision-makers be supported with faster, better insights, particularly using the wealth of near-real-time financial sector data that is out there?

…around the world, people are struggling to model the economic and social impacts of the pandemic. There’s a lot going on with health data, but not much elsewhere.

In the age of ‘big data’ we should be able to derive what is going on from our measured reality, not (just) models. There are very high barriers to data sharing, but we have got the tools, skills and processes to deal with the challenges…Unfortunately, they are not widely distributed: we need training and support packages that will aid ministers, civil servants, business leaders, analysts and developers through this minefield.

He proposes a 101 for data triage’:

Fundamentally, using more data better could help the world’s economic recovery:

“…and, if we crack any of this, how can we use it all to create a wealth of outcomes, rather than just outcomes of wealth?

Urban and environmental planning experts also point out that modelling can be become a debate-support tool, not just a decision-support tool. Prof. Iain White of Waikato University, who co-authored the post, notes:

“A key message is that - just as occurred with 'flatten the curve' - models have the potential to be used more to spur valuable public debate about possible urban futures, rather than just support technical institutional decisions. Sure, they can project, monitor, and map, etc, but they are hugely effective public communication devices too.”

(Iain also facilitated this fantastic render of Aotearoa’s population density which - as an aside - clearly shows the Auckland-centric weighting which will surely determine the outcome of the 19 September general election):

Climate change 🌡️ change?

According to Carbon Brief, the coronavirus pandemic is set to cause the largest ever annual fall in CO2 emissions…

…but even larger cuts would be needed *every year* from now to achieve a global temperature rise of only 1.5°C by 2030.

Given this - and given that airlines and oil giants are on the brink, UN chief António Guterres asks a huge question: should taxpayer money be used to save polluting industries?

NZ’s parliament passed the Zero Carbon Bill into law at the end of 2019, explicitly targeting net zero carbon emissions by 2050 - just 30 years away. Will the pandemic actually force the necessary changes earlier than anticipated or are we going back to BAU?

Regenerative [🦿robotic🦾] 🌻ag🌾

Our Regenerative Future is a campaign from Pure Advantage to illuminate ways for Aotearoa to shift to regenerative - as opposed to extractive - agriculture.

Alina Siegfried’s overview article is excellent: The good, the bad, and the opportunity of regenerative farming in NZ:

“Regenerative Agriculture (regen ag) is … a set of farming principles and practices that enrich soils, improve watersheds, enhance ecosystem services such as soil carbon and nitrogen sequestration, improve biodiversity, and promote farmer and livestock welfare.”

And the problem is urgent:

“The agricultural sector in NZ contributes 48% of our greenhouse gas emissions. The Ministry for the Environment’s 2019 Environment Aotearoa report states that waterways in farming areas are polluted by excess nutrients, pathogens, and sediment. Computer models referenced in that same report estimate that 82% of the river length in pastoral farming areas was not suitable for activities such as swimming during the period 2013–17.”

But empirical evidence on the claimed benefits of regen ag is hard to come by in NZ. Gathering the data (and finding the right way to interpret it) to clearly demonstrate the ecosystem-wide outcomes - PLUS sustainable, scalable business models - is an ongoing challenge for scientists and farmers.

This article from 2017 shows a direction to take I think: How regenerative agriculture and robotics can benefit each other:

“Regenerative agriculture needs a way of scaling up its best practices, so they can be deployed across millions of hectares, without resorting to compromises involving heavy equipment and soil compression, or herbicides, and without waiting for millions of people to decide that they want to go back to the land and work it by hand. Because many of those best practices involve attention to detail, that scalability can only be achieved through robotics.”

Another post-pandemic strategic investment direction?

[Weak] signals

Memia’s regular collation of signals from the future:


Happening in Aotearoa in the last week:

  • Congratulations to Steven Moe of Seeds Podcast and the team who hosted the (virtual!) New Zealand Impact Unconference - check out the videos online.

Hidden Gems

And as usual a few nuggets from around the interweb:

  • A while ago Massimo Pietrobon created a map of the ancient supercontinent Pang[a]ea which overlays the [approximate] borders of present day countries:

  • Arrival director Denis Villeneuve is next to take on Frank Herbert’s timeless SF novel Dune (published over 50 years ago!!!). He goes where many would fear to tread:

And finally, you won’t ever catch me playing a game of catch like this:

The usual big 🙏 to those readers who continue to send in links and feedback, it’s appreciated! If you enjoy Memia, please take the time to share with a friend in 🇳🇿 or around the 🌎🌍🌏.

More next week.

Regards / Ngā mihi