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Making the connection

A new relationship blossoming between the Republic of Ireland and Tairawhiti could boost business, sporting and cultural links between Irish and Maori peoples across the world.

The Ambassador of Ireland to New Zealand, Peter Ryan, has been talking with T³W tech start-up executive director Barry Soutar with a view to strengthening connections between Maori and Ireland.

Mr Ryan said he was keen for Ireland and Maori to work together, building on a shared awareness of the opportunity technology offers for both nations.

Mr Soutar said Tairawhiti needed a tech innovation centre “to attract insights, data, revenue and talent to help drive new company creation, produce new jobs and build workforce capability and development”.

A plan for an animation hub has been developed and is progressing through funding applications.

Many local companies struggled to build new intellectual property to underpin new company creation, Mr Soutar said.

“They lack capital, access to an agile tech workforce, active experience of the national R and D ecosystem and market validation overseas.”

The real power came in connecting all the hubs into a single tech campus to leverage scale through shared services, Mr Soutar said.

“But to help lift the Maori economy you need to take everyone with you.

“In a town like Gisborne you have to go together. It’s too small a place otherwise.”

Mr Ryan also has aspirations for indigenous sports such as Gaelic football and ki-o-rahi to collaborate.

“Indigenous sport helps us maintain our history, culture, traditions and our language,” he said.

He is also looking to cultivate internships for farming between the two countries.

During Mr Ryan’s visit, Eagle Aviation School flew him and Kingsley Aikin (founder of The Networking Institute) to Mt Hikurangi and East Cape Lighthouse.

The purpose was to provide both with an overview of the region and its history.

Talks cover tech centre and diasporaMr Soutar, Mr Ryan and Mr Aikins were joined by Walton Walker (chair, Nga Taonga-a-Nga-Tama-Toa Trust) to understand a formative part of Tairawhiti’s history.

They spent time at the C Company Maori Battalion Memorial House. The purpose of the visit was to show Mr Ryan and Mr Aikins how “building relationships and innovative discussions” can help Maori and New Zealand as a whole, to excel.

Mr Soutar believes the C Company museum should be a mandatory part of an executive induction programme for all in-bound leaders heading to Tairawhiti.

“It helps bind visitors to the greater purpose this region has as its legacy. Whether you are Maori or European, you have to be proud of this very beautiful part of Aotearoa and how it’s about to punch well above its weight, through the tech economy.”

Mr Soutar said the Irish were “amazing people to work with”.

“We share similar indigenous values around language, culture and music. Their history of colonisation is a sad one and we can empathise.”

“Today was about showing Te Tairawhiti to Peter with a broad brush stroke,” he said on Thursday.

Mr Soutar said Ireland had a 30-year head start on New Zealand in terms of building a vibrant tech economy and particularly one that advantaged regional economies.

He said their empathy through an indigenous language and difficult colonial experience were a common experience with New Zealanders and that the cultural values of the Irish are held in common with New Zealand.

“Business is always about relationships. The closer the alignment of values, the better the mutual outcomes. The European Union is the largest market in the world, it makes sense to target our limited resources to the greatest return. An hour meeting in Ireland is likely to return a greater benefit than the same in other markets with less aligned values and cultures.”

In August last year Mr Ryan opened the first Embassy of Ireland here in Aotearoa, as part of an initiative to double Ireland’s footprint around the world. This was just before Mr Soutar went to Dublin to lead a Maori tech and investment group.

Mr Soutar told the Herald earlier this year that some “pretty significant” global deals had been struck between Gisborne tech companies and Irish counterparts, as a direct result of the trip and about eight months of lead-up work.

“So, T³W is the company that is building that proposition and it is driven by demand,” he said.

Mr Soutar regarded Mr Aikins as a valuable asset to have on board a journey toward successful innovation and capitalising and growing talent within a community, largely because of his experience in building and leveraging relationships with Irish who have moved away from Ireland.

Mr Aikins said there were 10 times more people with Irish heritage outside of Ireland than in the country, and credits this statistic for the ease of communicating and forming international connections for Ireland.

“Sixty million people around the world have Irish heritage and don’t live in Ireland.”

He said Irish connections around the world have given Mr Ryan and himself, “soft power”.

“We believe in making change through soft power which is using attraction rather than coercion to help us build connections.

“We are happy to share our connections. We are not competitive in that sense.”

“Our heritage runs deep around the world,” Mr Ryan said.

“Even your capital city here, Wellington, is named after a man from my hometown.”

Mr Aikins coaches organisations and individuals through his business, the Networking Institute and on Friday spoke about the value of diaspora.

Diaspora was originally known as the dispersion of Jews beyond Israel, but here, he used it to explain the dispersion of any people from their original home country.

“Thirty years ago Ireland was an agricultural country and is now a booming tech country.

“We chased the best companies in the world as well as our diaspora networks,” he said.

Mr Soutar said people who might not have been born in Tairawhiti were passionate about it and willing to help lift the region.

He said in turn their giving helped them receive back a sense of “place” and connection to the region.

“We need to include and leverage their power,” he said.

District councilor Shannon Dowsing was at the meeting on Friday and said Tairawhiti needs to grow its own innovators and its own talent rather than source from outside the region.

“Innovation is not a product, it’s a change in the way you do things,” he said.

Also there was executive producer and chief executive officer of Fuzzy Duckling media, Sam Witters He urged Tairawhiti to “adopt a tech economic strategy”.

“If we can set up really good international partnerships it can help pay for things like this (a tech innovation centre).”

Mr Soutar insisted that Tairawhiti “should ignore what people say about starting small”.

“A town like Gisborne can really leverage and build talent, and once we have a tech centre start up here, the innovation will pump success out of the Tairawhiti, for Tairawhiti.”

CONNECTING CULTURES: From left, Barry Soutar, Walton Walker, Peter Ryan (Irish Ambassador) and Kingsley Aikins at the Maori Battalion Memorial House. Mr Ryan was here to talk about how Maori and Tairawhiti as a region could benefit from relations with Ireland and investing in innovative ideas such as a Tairawhiti tech centre. Picture by Liam Clayton