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Masters students face Dragons in City of Design think-tank

Massey University students of the Executive Master in Business Administration pitch their ideas for how Whanganui could leverage of its UNESCO Creative City of Design status. Photo/Moana Ellis


Masters business students from around the country have turned their thinking to how Whanganui could leverage off its status as the country’s only UNESCO Creative City of Design.

They faced panels of judges in a Dragons’ Den-style challenge with ideas on how the city could apply its new status to raise its profile and benefit local designers, business and industry, education providers and the community.

An annual festival of design, a sustainability rebrand for the city and setting up as a haven for start-up enterprise were among the ideas from 69 students of Massey University’s Executive Master in Business Administration (EMBA), who spent the weekend in Whanganui.

Whanganui was named New Zealand’s only UNESCO City of Design in November, recognising the city’s historic and contemporary contributions to art and creativity.

To prepare for the think tank, the Masters students met by video conference last month with economic development agency Whanganui & Partners chief executive Hannah Middleton, strategic lead – creative industries Dr Emma Bugden and Ngā Tāngata Tiaki o Whanganui chief executive Nancy Tuaine.

The session focused on how the iwi values system Tupua Te Kawa is being applied to the port upgrade Te Pūwaha, and the precedent the project design is setting as a collaborative model working under the legal status of the Whanganui river as Te Awa Tupua.

Students also visited manufacturers and other businesses to explore how the City of Design designation applies to the manufacturing and business sector.

Whanganui & Partners strategic lead – capability Rachel Hoskin, who co-ordinated the weekend, said there was agreement that any viable initiative developed by the Masters students could be implemented to capitalise on the UNESCO status.

She said the ideas and insights into the strengths and challenges of the designation were part of a problem-solving focus.

“In reality, the City of Design status is, of course, full of promise and potential but on this visit it was framed as a problem in order to generate strategic thinking – how to implement the designation to benefit local businesses, organisations and industry.

“Having the perspective of strategic minds looking into our region is hugely beneficial and input from these students gives us food for thought.”

Masters students visit helmet manufacturer Pacific Helmets in Whanganui, which exports safety helmets for firefighting, rescue, paramedic, ATV and recreation around the world. Photo/Moana Ellis
Masters students visit helmet manufacturer Pacific Helmets in Whanganui, which exports safety helmets for firefighting, rescue, paramedic, ATV and recreation around the world. Photo/Moana Ellis

At the end of the weekend, the students pitched their ideas to panels of judges in a Dragons’ Den format.

This was a chance to see creative thinking put to the test, including the scalability and viability of proposals, Hoskin said.

Judges included Middleton, Bugden, Whanganui Regional Museum director Bronwyn Labrum, and co-chair of the Manawatū Whanganui Regional Skills Leadership Group, Katerina Hina.

Finalists proposed developing a week-long international design festival in Whanganui for creators, innovators and designers. It pitched Aotearoa NZ Design Week as a globally recognised annual event to stimulate design thinking and business in all sectors.

Another recommended rebranding Whanganui as the world’s first city of sustainability, suggesting it could lead the world as an authority in sustainable design and practice in all sectors, including through opportunities such as eco-tourism.

Hoskin said beyond the contribution to City of Design thinking, bringing 69 EMBA students to Whanganui was significant in itself. They stayed with local accommodation providers, visited hospitality venues and experienced aspects of the city that visitors enjoy.

“Hosting these students raises our city’s profile and we know they will share what they learn and experience here with their communities, whānau and friends.”

This is the third time Massey EMBA students have focused on Whanganui as part of their Masters programme. Hoskin said the collaboration with Massey University strengthens the city’s reputation as a hub for innovation and education.

“This visit demonstrates the strength of the design heritage we have to share with New Zealand and beyond. It’s also another chance for us to use our City of Design status as a conduit to communicate Whanganui’s ideas and innovation, and to bring ideas and opportunities to us,” Hoskin said.

Another contingent of students arrived in Whanganui today (Monday) to explore local cultural institutions as part of their Museum and Heritage Studies courses.

The Victoria University of Wellington students will spend two days working with the Whanganui Regional Museum, Sarjeant Gallery, Whanganui District Council and at local heritage buildings and sites.

Whanganui & Partners senior communications advisor Rebecca Black said the city’s cultural heritage and City of Design designation have become drawcards for such study and research visits.

“The visit offers a chance for us to communicate to the public about the importance, significance and breadth of our cultural heritage, and supports the work we are doing as part of the Creative Cities Network,” Black said.

The Victoria University students will return in early October to deliver programmes and present their work, which includes research, collections, exhibitions, public programmes, strategy and branding, and heritage planning.

Local Democracy Reporting is Public Interest Journalism funded through NZ On Air

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