March 1, 2018 Print

The Smith Fellowship, one of the hallmark programs of Atlas Network’s Leadership Academy, brings up-and-coming leaders from around the world to Washington, D.C., where they receive varied training in marketing, fundraising, management, and other relevant skills needed for getting nascent think tanks off the ground.

A recent alumnus of Atlas Network’s Smith Fellowship, Jordan Williams, is executive director of New Zealand Taxpayers’ Union (NZTU). Atlas Network’s associate director of training, Tarun Vats, recently caught up with Jordan to discuss the challenges in New Zealand, how NZTU hopes to make a difference, and how the Smith Fellowship has created new opportunities to help Jordan in his work.

How has the recent election in New Zealand affected your work?

With the election of a new centre-left government, including the socialist “Green Party,” there is a strong push toward protectionism and excluding foreign investment and land purchases. For a country so reliant on trade (our largest industry is still agricultural exports) this is very concerning. In addition, it appears the lessons of the 1970s and 1980s in relation to the defeat of socialism and New Zealand’s own version of ‘fortress economics’ – in existence until the dramatic economic reforms of the 1980s – is being forgotten. My generation does not remember it, and with a new 37 year-old Prime Minister, who incidentally used to lead the International Young Socialist movement, there is a real risk of a deft of New Zealand’s political centre moving to the left.

What current work is the New Zealand Taxpayers’ Union doing?

Our mission of Lower taxes, Less Waste, More Transparency, sees the effects of government policies being held up to closer examination. For example, the new Government is set to offer universal “free” (i.e. taxpayer-funded) tertiary education, which we have been successfully arguing against, is an enormous wealth transfer from the lower and middle class taxpayers to the future wealthy.

What challenges do you face in the upcoming year?

Our big challenge for 2018 is stepping up to oppose the big government initiatives of the new Prime Minister. That means we need to, effectively, double our research capacity. The Smith Fellowship has really helped me, as a leader, understand what changes we need to make to turn our organisation from a start-up into an organisation with the resources and capacity in place to successful in the long term.

What organizational challenges has the Smith Fellowship helped you to overcome?

Fundraising is of course a huge challenge. Until now, that’s relied all on me. We’re now though developing the systems to share that workload and are bringing the board into more of a development – rather than just oversight – role.