The Committee for Canterbury is exploring the future of Canterbury at 1.5 million people. So, what could business and ‘work’ look like at that time?

I would like to explore the future of business by firstly considering our current NZ situation.

According to the NZ Treasury (see , we are in an ongoing period of strong economic performance, with this forecast to continue in the medium term. In short, the economic metrics continue to look positive in our so-called “rockstar economy”.

Some other interesting statistics also accompany these economic figures:
1. We have an unprecedented prison population of over 10,000 people behind bars ( with Māori making up over half of all inmates (compared with 14.6% of the population)
2. NZ spends in the order of $29 billion, $15 billion and $14 billion on social security, health and education respectively. Annual spending on superannuation is currently $12 billion or 16% of current government spending. There are serious concerns about the sustainability of this into the future
3. Inequality is worsening in NZ. The top 20% of households holds 70% of the wealth, and our top two billionaires have more wealth than the bottom 30% of adults in NZ.
4. NZ has the worst teen suicide rate in the world and this has been our position for a while.
5. NZ surface water quality is declining with major issues with nutrients (nitrogen and phosphorus) and microbial contaminants, particularly in areas of urban and pastoral land use. Water is an issue that has significant blind-spots: half of water consents issued by Regional Councils’ are for irrigation, and it is unknown what quantity of water is actually used.

These statistics are outlined for contrast, and to highlight that a great economy is potentially a point of perspective. A great economy doesn’t necessarily mean a prosperous society and environment.


What does this have to do with business? Isn’t business about jobs and money? Isn’t that ‘other stuff’ for the Government to tidy up?

I am proposing that it is time to rethink the role and responsibility of business in the future economy, with the key question being one of opportunity; that is, what could a future business be?

In his book Prosperity Without Growth, Tim Jackson challenges the premise that success is defined by annualised growth. In fact, as infinite growth is impossible without hitting some kind of limitation, we need to redefine what success looks like. As we look to the future of Canterbury, business clearly has a significant role to play in firstly defining success, and secondly delivering it.

Business consciousness has been shifting globally to consider stakeholders, not just shareholders. This has emerged as Corporate Social Responsibility, sustainability and emerging movements such as BCorp. There is also a rapidly growing sector of business called Social Enterprise that uses business to deliver social or environmental impact. In relation to the above, they generate jobs and trade to address a problem such as reintegration of prisoners to the workforce, access to professional services or improving water quality.

The drivers for the shift relate to expectations of employees, investors, customers and society as a whole. The future of work is currently the subject of a lot of thinking in relation to shifts in technology and automation, which is ironically unpicking what we value in a job. The RSA podcast on the Future of Work ( outlines three aspects that underpin good work:
(1) Meaning and purpose – alignment and connection with the ‘why’ of the business;
(2) Development and progression – a sense of getting better at something; and
(3) Contribution and service.

Number 1 and 3 point very clearly at where future business is heading, and the emerging opportunity. A business is going to need to be increasingly mindful of the society and natural environment it operates in, widening the focus beyond defining success as simply a return to shareholders.

Canterbury has an opportunity to lead the way in business practice that works to deliver a new prosperity. The challenge is for business to consider ways it can work to address our current long-standing issues, and to contribute positively to our future. Change doesn’t need to be radical, with mechanisms such as Social Procurement, professional volunteering and partnerships offering effective ways to make a difference in a meaningful way.

This is the bold thinking that we need for Canterbury at 1.5 million. How will you and your business respond to this challenge?

Business cannot prosper in societies that fail – Kofi Annan



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Dr Seán Barnes

Dr Seán Barnes

Seán works for the Ākina Foundation providing advisory services to support social enterprise and business across the areas of social procurement, sustainability, strategy, and capability building. He is passionate about realising the potential of business to deliver a positive impact on social and environmental outcomes. Seán is a Chartered Professional Engineer with experience in leadership and executive roles in the engineering industry, Local Government and Government.