In true Kiwi fashion, over a hot cup of tea, we sat down with two of New Zealand’s most fascinating people to discuss the state of the world around us, what the future looks like and what matters most. Melissa Clark-Reynolds (ONZM) is a digital strategist, technological entrepreneur and Future 50 donor of ours. Sarah Longbottom (MNZM) is the founder and former executive director of Ngā Rangatahi Toa. Smart, successful and more than a little bit rock ‘n’ roll, Melissa and Sarah share with us four key areas to help unf*ck the world.
Sarah: Creativity is what is missing in our world. It is the panacea for all the disconnect we see around us and the process by which all humans can look within themselves. People seem to associate creativeness exclusively with ‘the arts’ which is dangerous really, because creativity is everywhere.
Melissa: That’s so true. My dad said I was the least creative of his children and I said, ‘Dad, I create big organisations. I see the future and then I go make it.’ Being an entrepreneur is the most creative thing I could ever do in my life.
Sarah: In this fast-paced world that we live in, there often isn’t enough time or space to think creatively. We need to make sure that creativity isn’t stamped out of us at school and is in fact seen as the most important part of what makes us human. I think it’s a great time now in New Zealand, with Jacinda at the helm. I feel this ground swell of connection and hope. I think education in New Zealand really has to get behind that; we’re going to need a lot of creative thinking in the next generation. A large part of what we do at Ngā Rangatahi Toa is getting young people into that creative headspace and you know what? It really works.
Melissa: I work as a futurist and lately I’ve been making a list of sci-fi books that all people interested in the future should read. There is a lot of interest at the moment in dystopian futures because there are so many possibilities. Creativity really allows us to imagine the futures we want and don’t want, and to have a conversation about them. And anything we can imagine, we can make.
Melissa: I’ve got a lot of great stuff to say about social media; I’ve never been less lonely in my life. I think it’s because it’s so easy for me to live in a community of people who want to discuss the things I’m interested in. Today for example, I was having a conversation on Twitter about Air New Zealand serving plant-based meat (the controversial Impossible Burger), with people I’ve never met but who I consider friends. In the old days, I would have just walked down Lambton Quay talking to myself. Of course, there’s the other side too; cyberbullying is a terrible thing. However, I think humans have an innate need to connect and technology ultimately helps us with that. I know my life is the richer for it.
Sarah: I’m not on any social media. Not everyone utilises technology in the same way and I’ve always been told I wasn’t a ‘technical’ person. However, I did this ‘Technology for non tech’ course through Dev Academy last year and once it was done, I rang my brother and said, ‘we’re going to start a technology company. Technology is amazing.’ I felt like I’d been living in a house and I’d opened a door to a whole other wing I didn’t know was there. It’s really hard wrapping your brain around something amorphous like the internet, but it’s exciting too. Technology as a thought process or a way to see the world; that I love. Once again, it all comes back to creativity.
Sarah: The core thing is to be aware of interconnectedness. We are not only connected to nature but to each other. There is no ‘here’ and ‘there,’ there is only ‘us’ and ‘now.’ It’s so important to make our young people feel like they have something to contribute. Young people have all the answers, they are the now. Having that understanding for the next generation is so important. It’s about leading from the side and letting young people move to the front.
Melissa: I couldn’t agree more. I’m currently working on a project where we’re bringing out an architect who has worked with 19,000 kids in Mexico helping them to rebuild their cities in Minecraft. We’re going out to Tawa later in the year – every school in Tawa has signed up – and these kids are going to redesign Tawa in Minecraft as they would like it to be. And the Wellington City Council has agreed to put it into their master plan. This gives these kids a sense of agency. It may be a tiny thing but next time one of them walks down the street in Tawa and sees a bench in the perfect sunny spot, they will know they put it there. The great thing about agency is that it gives you hope. You may not always do the right thing but it does make you feel a lot more hopeful.
Melissa: I’ve been talking to thousands of farmers over the last year about love. I believe food is an expression of love; I love my family and one of the ways I show them this is by feeding them. And if food is going to be an expression of love for me then I want to know that the food I give them was produced with love, and this includes love for the environment. If we think of New Zealand as being a food-producing nation, then every bit of farming we do needs to be done with love.
This is a great example of how our expression of love is who we want to be in the world. It’s in every purchasing decision, it’s what we put in our bodies. I want to be expressing love through the clothes that I wear, through my New Zealand-made pants, through the shampoo I use every morning. That’s all part of love for me. Love is a doing not a feeling. And if it’s a doing, it’s in everything.
Sarah: Love is a word that has been appropriated and mass-commercialised, and its meaning has kind of been lost. For me, it’s really about interconnectedness. Love can’t be concentrated to ‘I love you and you and that’s it.’ Love is a way of doing and being in the world and it speaks much more deeply to our similarities than our differences. We’re all hungry for connection, whatever form it takes. This desire to connect is in every human being. That’s love. Even though the world is pretty fcked up, I think it’s still really beautiful.
What does unf*cking the world mean to you? We’d love to hear about inspiring projects or businesses you are involved in or inspired by. Email us on firstname.lastname@example.org to tell us more!
Interview by Telford Mills. Images by Pat Shepherd.