Dan Hill

3 September 2010 – Arup launched its new visionary venture The New Agenda website  in Sydney and Melbourne last week with some provocative thinking on how to shape Australia’s future.

Moderated by Boss editor Narelle Hooper, debate coursed through population size, Australia’s future positioning and so called geographic and size disadvantage, issues of how to reshape localities in ways that go beyond “the look” of a place and ethical and leadership issues.

Speakers included Dan Hill, Australasian leader for Foresight and Innovation at Arup, Larissa Brown, founder and former executive director of the Centre for Sustainability Leadership, Ian Harper of Access Economics, John Gardiner, former managing director of ConnectEast and Prashanth Shanmugan, a geopolitical and business strategist, journalist and humanitarian.??Dan Hill spoke not just about the size of the country we want but the type.”Big and small can work either way; can be equally successful,” he said.

It was no excuse to say Australia was too small to be truly successful in many areas, especially manufacturing.

Take a look at the Nordic regions: same size, around 23 million people, and see what they have produced, Hill said, rattling off a list of household names such as Nokia, Eriksson, Ikea, Kone Elevators, Lego and Bang and Oluffsen.

“Extraordinary…. and they are all manufacturing or craft led in some way but also imbued with a cultural identity and feel that is very Nordic.” The region also had arguably the world’s best education sector and high standards of social values., he said.

larissa brown

“Innovation is absolutely at the core of what these countries are about and they have a national conversation about what they are about.”

Of course, a key reason that the region has succeeded is that it sits astride the great European powerhouse of the past 200-300 years, Hill said.

But look at where Australia sits – on the rim of the powerhouse for the next 200-300 years, the Asia Pacific region.”So to say Australia is a small market is nonsense; it has exactly the same population; the difference is the quality not the quantity.”

In the urban design arena audience member urban strategist.

Ingo Kumic, who moved to Melbourne from Sydney about a year ago to become the co-ordinator of Place Management for Knox City Council, noted that image was an element that constantly drove investment in the urban planning sphere.

“One of the things we’re trying to engage in here [at Knox] might be getting back to something more fundamental…and drive investment towards activity production rather than the illusion of spectacle.”

Hill agreed and pointed to his work on Sydney’s Barangaroo and Melbourne’s Docklands and how “the debate is all image led …how tall it will be, not who’s in it.”

Larissa Brown, the 2008 Australian Young Environmentalist of the Year who recently resigned as executive director of the Centre for Sustainability Leadership, which she foundered after becoming highly disillusioned with traditional academic paths, spoke about the urgent challenge to reform our path to a more sustainable future.

Prashanth Shanmugan

Brown recently completed a research trip around with the world to interview 200 world leaders to find what made them tick and what their contribution could be to a better future.

She touched on her conclusions from the study when she noted that each of these leaders had the same “high level of congruence between who they were on the inside with who they were in the outside world.”

There were 10 new types of leaders that we needed, Brown said, including social entrepreneurs, political movers and shakers, thought leaders, communicators, modellers and design and problem solvers.

Prashanth Shanmugan spoke about the need to understand not just cultural diversity but cognitive diversity as way towards a more ethical sustainable society. ??Ian Harper spoke about the tough reality that we need growth in the economy and we need to work out how to make it work. He pointed out how deeply embedded Australia was with resources industry: we started off as gold miners, he said.

tperinotto@thefifthestate.com.au

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