Superdiversity and Demographic Disruption

September 23rd, 2015

It is said that sometimes questions are more important than answers.

In this thought-provoking University of Auckland Public Lecture, Mai Chen, one of the country’s top constitutional and administrative law experts, asks some key questions as she speaks on the law, policy and implications of superdiversity for New Zealand and its capital city, Auckland.

The megatrend to watch, says Chen, is not age or urbanization, but demography. With 44% of its population born overseas and over 200 ethnicities represented, Auckland easily doubles on standard definitions for superdiversity. Migrants and their New Zealand born children now comprise 56% of Auckland’s talent pool. According to Chen, the implications for business and society are profound –and the current status quo unsustainable. Too many newcomers are underemployed, unrepresented in business and government, or experience racism in their daily lives. Making Auckland ‘fit for the future’ –so that it can reap the rewards of super diversity– will require greater investments in social capital to mitigate the disruptive effects of demographic change.

How can governments, businesses, organizations and native New Zealanders manage and adapt to this transition to a new super diverse society? What sort of implications does the changing landscape have on economic performance and social capital?

Demographic disruption is an unacknowledged driver that keeps the country’s economy outperforming many others. But this requires a behavioural shift from business, government and citizens because, as Chen says, “there can be no financial gains if you don’t work on social capital.”

What is social capital? Basically, trust. While there is no single definition of social capital, it is commonly understood to refer to the shared values and relationships in a society that enable individuals and groups to trust each other and work well together. The good news is that New Zealand law and jurisprudence provide a solid foundation for living together as equal partners. The challenge is building trust and equity across an uneven linguistic, cultural and economic landscape.

As the demography of the country changes, some New Zealanders worry that the country’s traditional culture and values will be eroded. All the more reason, says Chen, to invest in social capital and civic engagement to strengthen diversity within New Zealand’s vibrant democracy. For example, New Zealand ranks high on international measures of transparency and corruption, yet the top source countries for its immigrants perform much less well. All the more important then, says Chen, that migrants understand their rights and responsibilities as New Zealanders. Such investments in social capital can mitigate the disruptive effects of super diversity – and ensure New Zealand sustains its corruption-free culture of transparency — while helping make New Zealand “fit for the future.”

Mai Chen speaks on the “Superdiversity stocktake” she is undertaking in the context of New Zealand  but the issues she raises are applicable to any country with rapidly changing demographics; namely, the importance of:

  • Understanding global mobility and its implications for a superdiverse society, and that this trend will accelerate over the coming years;
  • Securing the ‘diversity dividend’ by making sure that your law and policy and business practices are fit for purpose in a superdiverse society;
  • Identifying key law and policy and business challenges posed by superdiversity; and
  • Undertaking a stocktake of your current law, policy and business settings to manage the transition to superdiversity successfully.

View the archived lecture, Mai Chen on “Demographic Disruption”:

University of Auckland Public Lecture: Mai Chen on “Demographic Disruption.” May 12, 2015.

From the YouTube Channel, published on June 3, 2015.

Mai-ChenMai Chen is an Adjunct Professor in the University of Auckland Faculty of Law. Mai is one of New Zealand’s best-known lawyers with particular expertise in constitutional and administrative law, judicial review, regulatory issues, and public policy and law reform. She is the Managing Partner of Chen Palmer Public and Employment Law Specialists, home of the Superdiversity Centre for Law, Policy and Business.

The Centre is launching the inaugural Superdiversity Stocktake at an event in central Auckland on 3 November 2015.

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