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On The Nation: Lisa Owen interviews Derek Handley

On The Nation: Lisa Owen interviews Derek Handley

Entrepreneur Derek Handley has been back in the country identifying more young people to join his Aera fellowship.
The programme assigns what it calls 'socially transformative' projects to those heading overseas to study.
Handley encourages young people to chase their dreams over getting a sensible job, so I asked him for some advice on finding a balance.
Derek Handley: I think you obviously to have find a way to pay the bills. I think the best way to make a living or a life is to do that by doing the things that you really care about. So finding a way to carve your own path — not necessarily chasing dreams but making sure you're following what's inside and what's telling you what things you should be working on, what problems you should be solving and how you should be using your life and your skills. And I think a lot of people are either encouraged to do that and do really well at it or are discouraged entirely and told to get jobs that they may not
necessarily love. For me, I'm hugely a proponent of people following what's inside and the path that they know they should carve and then finding a way to make sure they can make a living out of it. And I'm convinced that almost everybody should be able to do that.

Lisa Owen: What makes you so convinced?

Because I think that's what life's about. Life is about your particular role at this particular time in history and what unique contribution you can make. And I'm convinced that every single person has such a unique contribution, but society is often telling people not to do the thing that they feel they should be doing.

Yeah, because I kind of see it as an interesting conundrum, because it's slightly anti-establishment in some ways, that view. A lot of these people who were involved in the fellowships are going off to Ivy League schools, which are super-establishment, aren't they?

Right, which is why I'm trying to kind of counterbalance that.

And they're kind of like an insurance policy. It's your Willy Wonka ticket if you go to an Ivy League school. So do you see any clash in those, kind of, two things?

I definitely do, but I think part of that's about challenging them about what they think they should be doing, because they think they maybe should be going and doing finance or something else. And maybe there is actually some other thing that they should be doing. But I think generationally, the shift for younger people is more and more accepted and encouraged that they should be following the path they think they should be following — the true path that they are most interested in, most passionate about as opposed to getting a job and building some sort of career that they may later on regret. And I think this is inherent and indicative of a lot of the things that are changing in society at the moment. We're not accepting and looking at the status quo and thinking that this is the way we
should continue. When you have different young politicians joining the fray, I think these are all people indicating, 'Actually I am going to follow the things that I think I should be doing.'

Yeah, okay. So with that current project, which is your venture capital investments, what percentage of the companies that you have chosen and put money into — what percentage of those do you actually think will succeed financially as well as socially?

So, with the venture fund, we only invest in companies that we think will succeed in a big way financially, so that's the first criteria — they have to have a prospect—

100% of them, though, you would expect to go the distance?
Well, with venture investment, you often think a few are going to fall because they're shooting after such big dreams. But the primary category is they must be solving some sort of social issue. The second criteria is that they have a really strong chance of being very successful financially. And in New Zealand, a good example is Eat My Lunch, which is doing both and making a real difference in society.

So this is where you buy a lunch for yourself and at the same time, they'll give a lunch to someone — a child — for free. Yeah.

Yeah. And I think it's also indicative of a generational shift of how we build businesses and what businesses should achieve and the kinds of jobs people want.

You have talked about generational change. We now are about to have one of our youngest prime ministers in our history. What difference do you think that is going to make in terms of the kind of politics we see over this next term? Or will it make a difference?

Well, we're all hopeful that it'll make a difference, right? I mean, every time something changes and new leaders are installed, we're all hopeful that there will be a positive difference. And I think a young person becoming our prime minister, like Jacinda, is amazing, right? And it's happening all around the world for different reasons. The guy in Hungary's 31. Macron in France is 39. Trudeau's pretty young. This is great. It is essentially an indication of a generational shift. And this is, I think, what's most exciting about New Zealand — we still have had in recent times people with their hands on the tiller that have been in Parliament before I was born. You know, 1978 — Winston Peters; Phil Goff — 1981 — I think I was 2 or 3; Peter Dunne — 1984. It's time to move on.

So what do you expect from the new guard that you are not getting from the old guard?

I think that we need to rethink the entire construct of what the solutions look like, because the way we've looked at them in the past are that they're either blue or they're green or they're red. And, actually, my belief is incoming generations believe that everything is a hybrid, you know? We need to pick from different quarters to create new types of policies for a new way. We can start with common ground, build on common sense, but we need to have policies that look like things that are unlike what has been previously put to—

So you're talking about consensus politics, basically.

No, I'm talking about looking about what works and what looks like it'll work, no matter where it came from, and finding a new strategy going forward. I think what's been the problem in traditional politics is you can't really applaud the other side's policy, even though it's good and even though it makes sense and even though it's better than yours, and what we need to see from a new way and a new generation is moving beyond that and being proud to pick from other parties’ ideas and policies and threading them together.
Yeah, so, why do you think a younger person will do that better?
Well, I’m hopeful that they will believe that that’s actually a better way forward, because previously, people boxing themselves into the corners has meant that we’ve ignored things, right? So, a lot of people would say National’s success economically has ignored the environment and society. And we wouldn’t want to go into the phase of the next 10 years focussing entirely on society and then collapsing the economy or the environment or any of the other kind of combinations of those three. So whoever’s looking at the next decade and beyond, I hope we’d be looking at how you weave these three things together so that you can sustainably build a country around people, planet and profit.
Hey, the super-interesting thing about that – the youngest prime minister is paired with Winston Peters. She’s not there alone.
Right. No, and that’s a little bit scary, because Winston Peters has said he would want to go back in time in many ways. I mean, I’ve seen lots of interviews where he just harks back to how things were in the ‘80s. And I don’t think that’s necessarily a way forward either. So hopefully the wisdom that he has and the energy that Jacinda has creates new solutions and new ways of thinking. If it doesn’t, I think we’ll see probably a more interesting continual surge of young people trying to create new paths. And at least whatever happens with government, I’m most interested in making sure that that happens over the next decade.
Okay. We’re almost out of time, but I want to hear what you think of this. If young people are so interested in change and all the rest of it, why didn’t they get off their bums and vote?
Well, that’s a mystery to everyone, right? I don’t know if it’s the young people as a bucket, whether they are interested enough in the content of what people are selling in terms of the politics. If you think about you have to buy whatever someone is selling. Maybe there’s a whole gap between what they think politics at a national level has in terms of an impact on their own lives. And going back to the comment I made earlier about, well, how does it make a difference to my life on a day-to-day basis, on a local basis, on a daily basis, and the more that gap between government and politics and a person’s average daily life is, I think the more people are apathetic to be engaged in politics. So if there are any ways that we can start to string together how does a new government or a new mayor from almost day one change my life on a daily basis, even in a small way so that I know he’s making a difference—
Or she.
Or she, I think that people will start to feel more engaged. But you are totally right – there is a big gap, and a lot of people put a lot of effort this election to try and get young people involved, and I don’t know if it turned out that well.
Okay. Hey, it’s great to talk to you. Always an interesting conversation. Thanks for joining me.
Thanks for having me.

Transcript provided by Able. www.able.co.nz

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