The $64 Billion Question: How to Turn Knowledge into Wealth?

“We work hard, we have a good quality education system, but we lack prosperity commensurate with our effort…Our way forward must be based on honest analysis, ditching self-serving myths, and embracing a long term vision with relentness commitment to make this a just, equitable and prosperous country, worthy of our children, and a place where talent wants to live.”.” Prof. Paul Callaghan*

2011 New Zealander of the Year Professor Sir Paul Callaghan is one of New Zealand’s best known living scientists. He is also a marvellous communicator, as the videos below demonstrate.

He was the Royal Society of New Zealand’s Distinguished Speaker in 2007 and he laid down a timely challenge  at the third annual Education Leaders Forum in 2009 with a stimulating and provocative presentation Education and culture change: New Zealand’s challenge for the 21st century.*His persuasive argument is laid out in his book From Wool to Weta*, which challenges us to look beyond the farm and the theme park in order to transform New Zealand’ s culture and economy.

 He argues that if New Zealand keeps relying on tourism and farming we will fall all the way to the bottom of OECD rankings pretty quickly. In a word, we are poorer because we choose to work in low-wage activities: “Tourism may provide valuable employment for underskilled New Zealanders, but it cannot provide a route to greater prosperity”.*

What’s the alternative? He argues that New Zealand’s future lies in emerging industries based on science, technology, and intellectual property exemplified by companies like WETA, Fisher and Paykel Healthcare , Gallagher, Tait Electronics and Rakon generating wealth through science and technology-based businesses and a whole host of small, smart companies we’ve never heard  doing stuff that’s incomprehensible to many of us, but the way forward for the country..

His education and science founded vision for New Zealand’s future emphasises that we should utilise science and technology to grow prosperity and a sustainable future. He argues that our landscape is magnificent and helps define who we are, but as a nation we have the potential to be a great deal more besides than a commodity farm and, in David Lange’s words, a theme park for tourists.

He advocates a shift in New Zealand from a reliance on natural resources to knowledge and innovation.  He believes there are unlimited opportunities, but one of  the challenges  is providing students with the skills required to both work in and  create innovative new businesses.

He avers that  “we fail our children through defeatist advice at school, encouraging kids to drop maths and physics because it might be ‘too hard.’ This not only ensures that those children will never be part of the emerging NZ technology sector; they will also never be an engineer, pilot, veterinarian, scientist, doctor or architect.

If we are to build the society we want our children to thrive in we must enhance our prosperity through sensible investment in education, science and technology, coupled with culture change. The first part is the easy bit. The second requires self-belief and a sense of purpose, especially when it comes to scientific research and innovation.

He quotes approvingly David S. Landes from his “The Wealth and Poverty of Nations: Why Are Some So Rich and Others So Poor? “*“Rich economies must defend themselves by remaining on the cutting edge of research, moving into new and growing branches, learning from others, finding the right niches, by cultivating and using ability and knowledge.”  David S. Landes

Paul Callaghan was born in Wanganui. He obtained his Doctor of Philosophy degree from Oxford University, working in low temperature nuclear physics. On his return to New Zealand he began researching the applications of magnetic resonance to the study of soft matter at Massey University, and in 2001 was appointed Alan MacDiarmid Professor of Physical Sciences at Victoria University of Wellington. He also heads the multi-university MacDiarmid Institute for Advanced Materials and Nanotechnology.

 He has published around 220 articles in scientific journals, as well as Principles of Nuclear Magnetic Resonance Microscopy (Oxford University Press, 1994). He is a founding director of Magritek, a small Wellington-based company that sells NMR (nuclear magnetic resonance) instruments.

Professor Callaghan’s many awards include the Blake Medal for Leadership and he is a Fellow of the Royal Society of London. He is a Principal Companion of the New Zealand Order of Merit (PCNZM). His latest accolade comes at a time when he has been battling a serious illness for many months* while keeping up his manifold contributions to the world of science and the wider community.

As a nation can we lift our sights and shift up a gear in the way we cultivate and share knowledge and tap the talents of our people?

#Feel free to add a comment below and share this post.

*Blinks
http://www.stuff.co.nz/the-press/opinion/perspective/4628388/Technology-offers-route-to-prosperity
http://edtalks.org/video/turning-knowledge-wealth   Professor Paul Callaghan speaking at Education Leaders Forum 2009 Vid
http://www.macdiarmid.ac.nz/news/video/callaghaninterviews.php  Vid
http://www.ecasttv.co.nz/program_detail.php?program_id=1608&channel_id=84&group_id=73 
From Wool to Weta, Paul Callaghan – Shop Online for Books in NZ http://www.ecasttv.co.nz/program_detail.php?program_id=1608&channel_id=84&group_id=73    Slideshare
http://www.j-bradford-delong.net/econ_articles/reviews/landes.html  Review of Landes The Wealth and Poverty of Nations…”
http://www.stuff.co.nz/national/4623135/NZer-of-the-Year-battles-aggressive-cancer 

#Lyall Lukey 9 Feb 2011
http://www.lukey.co.nz/  http://www.smartnet.co.nz https://bluggerme.wordpress.com  My other less serious blog

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One Response to The $64 Billion Question: How to Turn Knowledge into Wealth?

  1. […] post:  The $6.4 Billion Question: How to Turn Knowledge into Wealth … Share […]

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