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Conversation flows about making Waikato the best it can be

An audience of regional leaders has been told success for the Waikato requires people to work together, be brave and agile.

More than 100 community, business, central and local government leaders gathered at Karāpiro on Friday (30 November) for Waikato Regional Council's inaugural stakeholder event, Waikato Unwrapped: A Conversation.

The event celebrated the great work of the council’s stakeholders, said council chair Alan Livingston. It also aimed to inspire thought-provoking discussion around making the mighty Waikato a better place in which to live, work and play.

“It’s been a big year. We’ve seen the establishment of Te Waka – the regional economic development agency – attracting investment from local business, local and central government. And we’ve seen some exciting decisions made about new regional facilities, regional transport, and even our own new buildings in Paeroa and Hamilton,” Cr Livingston said.

“There’s also been progress on a number of projects to improve the health of our waterways. This year, the equivalent of 160 Waikato stadiums were planted in native trees. On top of this we funded over 450 community groups. The massive environmental restoration effort going on all over the place is redefining us as communities, as a region.

“We also have some pretty aspirational goals for the Waikato, and at the heart of these sit our vision for the region to care locally, complete globally. It’s all about having a sustainable future where we are resilient to changes and can take advantage of global opportunities,” Cr Livingston said.

For the Waikato to flourish, said keynote speaker, the Hon. Nanaia Mahuta, “we can’t act in our silos” and must remember “what got us here, won’t get us there”.

She added: “Small communities thrive on relationships and having values, so if we want transformative change we have to continue to recognise that we are a region made of different types of communities.

“We cannot continue to be prosperous if we have deep levels of deprivation and that is the sad reality we’ve got. For me addressing this is also the measure of success. So too is the health of the environment, because we can’t mutually exclude the environment.”

An esteemed panel – comprising business leader Traci Houpapa, business journalist Rod Oram, and social and environmental entrepreneur Sam Judd – also shared their vision for a sustainable Waikato with the audience.

Rod Oram said being sustainable required “tremendous foresight about your opportunities and challenges; integrity about who you are and what you hold very dear because doing so will help inform the decisions you make; and cohesion of all the stakeholders involved.”

Ms Houpapa acknowledged that “sustainability is a challenge, in my opinion, for us in the Waikato.

“We need to reconsider the way we operate, reconsider our strategic vision and consider whether our behaviours as leaders are still relevant and aligned with our true north. For me, our true north here in the Waikato is all about how we can leave Aotearoa a better place.”

She added: “Radical reinvention is not going to happen overnight and not going to happen if we take baby steps.”

Sam Judd agreed, saying “it's about being brave…taking a bit of a punt and being agile. To change stuff we actually have to put ourselves outside our comfort zone.”

Rod Oram urged leaders in every community in the Waikato to “find something, however small, to do together, to start building your sense of purpose and capability”. 

Guest speaker John Allen, chief executive of the New Zealand Racing Board, concluded the event with a similar message. “The single biggest thing you can do is stand up and say this region is on fire, this country needs us, we are going to take the next step together.

“If you stand strong in your history, strong in your whānau, strong in your community, strong in your passion and determination, then this region will go forward and go forward fast. And the contribution you make to Aotearoa will be hugely significant.”

For Dallas Fisher NZOM, philanthropist and one of Waikato’s leading businessman, the event was “hugely invigorating” and he “felt the strength of kotahitanga (unity)”. Coming from the event, he felt there were two future roles for the Waikato – one was leading New Zealand and the world in sustainable food production and the other authentically telling New Zealand’s story.

The Hon. Nanaia Mahuta

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