With a BA from Victoria University of Wellington and an MSc in Responsibility in Business Practice from the University of Bath’s School of Management, James Shaw spent five years in AIESEC, taking up roles such as Local Committee President of AIESEC Victoria, President of AIESEC New Zealand and acted as a Project Manager in AIESEC International. Armed with extensive experience in business sustainability and consulting, James eventually turned to Politics and joined the New Zealand Green Party in 2007. He is currently Member of Parliament in the New Zealand Parliament, having won a seat in the 2014 General Election, and is Co-leader of the New Zealand Green Party.
How did AIESEC influence who you have ultimately become?
During my time in AIESEC, I visited 30 countries. From a New Zealander who’s fairly aware of the world, I gained a keen understanding of the world and understood that there is a whole new world out there.
Coming from a consulting background, when and how did you decide to get into politics?
I had been toying with the idea for a while. When I saw that even large organizations have the same challenges and are stuck in a system where sometimes good things happen but face a lot of challenges, I realized that the best way to achieve systemic change has to be political.
Now that you have been in Parliament for two years and have achieved a leadership role in the Green Party, would you have any advice to give to aspiring young professionals, or your younger self?
Know that the world of politics is more than just politicians. There are many great individuals who do not want to become politicians, ones who feel that the best way to bring impact is to became either an advisor or to be in a supporting role. You have to know your strength and weaknesses and capitalize on what you do best.
You have lived and traveled abroad extensively. How would you describe the difference of culture and the New Zealander political scene to outsiders?
My biggest culture shock was actually with Australia. I was there for a conference and I felt something seemed “off”. On the surface everything looked very familiar, but it took me a while to realize that there were some major differences… In comparison, China was actually an easier integration process as I expected things to be different. Australia and New Zealand are so similar that you expect everything to be the same, so it comes as more of a shock to find that it isn’t.
Also, New Zealand has always had this reputation of very green and 100% pure, but when I went to see what is happening in Europe, when I came back I realized we were very behind. New Zealand is a sliver of land the size of UK with 4.5 million people in comparison to the UK’s 70 million. Because of our density, challenges with Mother Nature also appear more spread out. When I came back, and with all the industrial and population growth, we are now facing similar issues as within the EU, where we have to find sustainable and better solutions in order to tackle environmental challenges.
New Zealand is facing its own has diversity challenges. Can you briefly tell us what is the current state of affairs in New Zealand in terms of multi-culturalism and related issues?
Here, about 70-75% of eligible voters come out to vote, which is a pretty high turnout rate. However, we still have what we call the “missing million” who remains silent. Our political system is such that it pits politicians and incumbents against each other in an aggressive battle for power. The system has been set up this way centuries ago, and this needs to change. Similarly, we need to find a way to encourage these silent voters to come out.
Would you have a message for the Alumni around the world? This may be a piece of advice, or a call for action.
I am always interested in connecting with alumni around the world and hear about what they are doing, and how we can collaborate for innovation and improvement. However, I have one question – Are you still able to work and deliver positive impact like you said you would back in your AIESEC days? Or, are you just doing your 9 to 5, and as you go to bed you’d still wish that you would have done things differently? If that’s the case, I invite you to consider changing your path and as I’d say it, set the world on fire!