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Australia, Being Lucky Is No Longer Enough

21/12/2015 5:43 AM AEDT | Updated 15/07/2016 12:51 PM AEST
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A kangaroo hops across the road against the sunset in the outback.

Australia has traditionally been a highly successful and prosperous nation. On almost every important business index, we are accelerating. The stakes -- the financial, social, environmental and political consequences -- similarly are rising.

Being lucky is no longer enough.

We lag well behind many other nations on innovation. We have to nurture our entrepreneurs and innovate faster in order keep up with the pace of growth. To compete globally we must welcome, include and empower the many diverse voices of our citizens, migrants and the refugees who are seeking a haven here.

Over the next five to 10 years it is estimated that up to 40 percent of companies on the Standard and Poor's index will be disrupted by rapidly advancing technologies and the entrepreneurs adapting quickly to this new environment. According to international research, 47 percent of middle-class jobs will become redundant due to robotics and new technologies. And some jobs will continue to exist but will be performed in cheaper labour markets overseas.

Australia doubles the research outputs of the United States per capita but produces half the amount of patents. We generate plenty of ideas and research but we don't commercialise them enough. We urgently need to train our young people to be entrepreneurs: makers and creators of the jobs of the future. We need to build a culture of innovation to sufficiently develop our capabilities to turn ideas into enterprises.

Willingness to experiment and fail leads to innovations creating opportunities and prosperity for millions. FAIL, after all, stands for First Attempt In Learning.

Turning ideas into enterprise also benefits from diversity. With skilled migrants and refugees seeking a home here, we have real opportunities to foster a new wave of entrepreneurship and innovation.

We surround ourselves with people who make us feel safe, who come from similar backgrounds and educations, who think, feel and dress like we do -- and who agree with and endorse us. Yet our biggest gains as humans come from "creative abrasion", where we rub up against people who make us feel uncomfortable and challenge our notions of ourselves and the world we live in. This is where creativity and innovation truly spark.

Inclusive leadership must be paramount. Instead of fearing people from different backgrounds and cultures, there is an opportunity for all of us to choose to create a happy, healthy, inclusive and innovative Australia. This is about removing the 'us and them' mentality and acknowledging our common humanity. Ultimately we are more similar than different, yet our negative focus on the differences between us creates a lot of our problems.

Let's remove the walls between us and build bridges of understanding. As a community we need to empower all voices, no matter what their faith, background, disadvantage, disability or age. People need to feel like they have a place here, a true home, a sense of belonging, a sense of self and respect from others. Then they will truly be able to contribute to our future.

And does size matter? No.

Look at Israel, a nation founded by refugees that faces permanent geographical, political and social challenges. It thrives because it has a risk-tolerant culture producing massive innovation. Imaginations are allowed to run free, ideas are nurtured and entrepreneurs celebrated: Israel is home to over 5,000 tech start-ups and lists more companies on NASDAQ than all of Europe combined. Israel proves that small countries can be engines of entrepreneurship and innovation.

When refugees and migrants come to a new country they want to restart their lives. They work incredibly hard and bring a diverse and rich cultural background that contributes economically, politically and socially. They just need to be given a voice.

We do accept people from diverse backgrounds into Australia. Now we need to put out the welcome mat and provide everyone with the education, skills, engagement and opportunities to participate in this accelerating environment and contribute fully to their new homeland. Then they can truly call Australia home, and together we can co-create a productive, innovative and prosperous future.

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Tania de Jong is a soprano and serial entrepreneur who founded Creative Universe, Creativity Australia's With One Voice social inclusion program and the Creative Innovation Global conferences. www.creativeuniverse.com.au

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