We’re just over a week into our national lockdown in what continues to be some of the most historic developments of our time. Covid-19 has the world in a state of shock, torment and disarray. Quite frankly, we have no answers. Each night as I go about my usual news channel surfing between BBC World, France 24 Live, ABC Australia, Sky News UK and Aljazeera, the stories are all the same. Doctors expressing their sense of hopelessness, political leaders desperately trying to look calm and people falling sick. Very sick. Many dying. These are indeed extraordinary times.
NZ has not been exempted by the spread and effects of coronavirus. Each day the PM and Director General of Health bring the nation up to speed on the numbers of people tested for the disease and messages on how to slow its transmission with the desire to flatten the curve. The framework of four alert levels was useful in giving people an understanding of where we were headed if the global coronavirus pandemic was to take a real stranglehold in NZ. Moving through the stages rapidly was a tough pill to swallow, but in light of what we’re seeing overseas, a necessary approach.
PM Jacinda Ardern has done an excellent job of taking the nation with her on accepting the profound effects of a coronavirus outbreak in NZ. Her messages have been clear and compassionate. Her public demeanour has been caring and confident. Her leadership has been exemplary. There’s the adage of ‘cometh the hour, cometh the leader’ (or something like that). Ardern has been just the leader needed for these times. Often flanked by the Minister of Finance and Director General of Health, both of these men have also shown the highest levels of competence and commitment. It has been reassuring to observe.
Ardern is a self described youth-adjacent individual. A millennial. She represents a leadership style that is keen to listen, does so with ease and gathers all the evidence. It’s a style that takes on all the advice around her and considers it carefully. She has the unique ability to present that knowledge and information with language that is clear, riding on a linguistic tone that espouses empathy and understanding. She has been quick to address concerns of how particular requirements affect people on the street and how they might be rectified. Moreover, she believes in what she is doing – as has already been described in a recent post by Grant Robertson – and driven by a genuine concern for New Zealanders. Her leadership style has arguably been in contrast to some of her international counterparts.
NZ will be a very different place when we all come out of lockdown. And whether that happens in another four weeks or six months, our nation will be very different. Actually, the world will be very different. It might be too early to be thinking about how different things will be when we’re able to step out of our bubbles but you can already see hints of political leaders trying to encourage some of that thinking. Just yesterday the government announced that it was looking for ‘shovel-ready’ projects that would get companies up and running, and people employed as we exit this most peculiar period. The time that we get to spend indoors or on our close-to-home jogs in the community, will give us the space to think about what that new, NZ will be like.
Interestingly, the panel of experts the government has asked to look over all the shovel-ready projects, is made up of four, white, men. In the midst of the greatest international crises of our time, the people who will oversee how we kickstart our construction industry and reboot our economy, just don’t reflect the society we are, or more importantly, will be. True youth-adjacent leadership demands us to rethink and reimagine our approaches.
The other side of this pandemic, for all our sakes, cannot and should not look like this side. The other side needs to be diverse and dynamic; anchored on equity and focused on climate change. These will become the foundational pillars of the new NZ we’ll be in the next little while. Admittedly and sadly, there is yet more pain to endure before we make it out of the ark. But while it’s raining, let’s reflect on who we are, and lift our sights to who and what we could be.