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Career hiatus: leaving Mega, joining the Internet Party

A great wind is blowing, and that gives you either imagination or a headache.”

- Catherine the Great of Russia


Opportunity and circumstance have conspired in my leaving as CEO of Mega and I intend to begin working with Kim Dotcom and the rest of the Internet Party team shortly [Kumar will be replaced by Stephen Hall - CK].

The Internet, and more broadly technology, is causing big shifts in our economic, social, cultural, and environmental opportunities and challenges. Governance and politics are not immune from this big shift. The pace and impact of change can be slowed but not change itself. As a country, New Zealand can embrace and leverage technology-enabled change or try and fight it for as long as possible, such as the UK and USA tried with Red Flag laws in unsuccessfully holding back ”horseless carriages”.

Like it or not, the relationship between the State and its people will change hugely and is already changing. Complexity arises from the impact and speed of change varying across the different roles people play simultaneously in relation to the State. These roles include being subjects of the State; service recipients; doing business with the government; holding the government to account; and voting.

The opportunity for New Zealand is to be a world leader in using the Internet to lead that change, to build a sense of excitement about our future.

At the same time, in the face of rapid technology change, societal changes happen glacially. Not all technology-led change is positive, some of it is still not clear or the final outcome uncertain. For example, read this article in The Economist on the impact of technological innovation on jobs, real wages, and inequality. The last point is particularly important as it is often overlooked- technological innovation not only perpetuates but amplifies societal divides.

The Internet and technology are tools and ways of thinking. They are not ideologies. It is up to us, whether by design or plodding along, to build a future for New Zealand we want. I believe the Internet Party can catalyse discussions about both the design itself as well as the need for a design in the first place. It’s not only what the State does but how.

The Internet Party
The Internet Party needs to get across the 5% party vote hurdle in the 2014 General Elections. This is doable. However, history shows that it isn’t going to be easy. History also has lessons on how it can be done.

The onus is on the party to show that it has staying power, great policies, great candidates, voter mobilisation capability, and can make a difference. Undoubtedly, there is both a need and the opportunity to reach out to people who are either completely disengaged with voting or hate politics. These people will ‘grow the pie’ of votes if they are motivated enough to feel that their participation is critical and worthwhile.

It’s not a youth vote alone. It’s also not a tech vote or protest alone. I like to see it as a hope and excitement vote, a vote for leaping forward by design. Derek Handley put forward three great reasons very well- The Vision Vacuum, Digital Democracy, and The Young & Indifferent.

The Internet Party is not a single issue party in the sense that the Internet is not just a technical or access issue- it impacts everything and everyone. The things that New Zealanders typically care about when voting can all benefit significantly from the Internet and technology. This includes the economy, jobs, health, education, and inequalities.

I sincerely hope that the Internet Party will lead to greater cross-party understanding and support for technology-enabled change. That it will lead to more consensus and good laws rather than more divisions. Not an easy goal but one that a party not led by left or right ideology should aspire to.

My role in the Internet Party
It will be on the management side but details still need to be worked out.

Five years of working for a central agency in government have taught me the virtues and benefits of openness, evidence-based policy making, and a systems approach. Experience with start-ups has emphasised speed, agility, and data. Working for big corporates included the big picture, strategy, and leadership. Extending Catherine the Great’s quote, all of this makes for either a vivid imagination or a dystopian headache.

For me, the process of making the Internet Party’s policies, in an inclusive and engaging manner, is as important as the policies themselves. I’m also comfortable with taking a concept to market and scaling it rapidly while staying true to the original vision.

What I’m clear about is that I’m not going to put my hand up to be a candidate for the party. This is a career hiatus rather than a career shift.

My initial perspective is to look at the Internet Party as a start-up and therefore my role will be to do whatever needs doing. Thankfully, resigning from Mega takes immediate effect so I can get started fairly quickly. Or, as Toby Manhire put it, help untangle the wrecking ball.

It’s a clean break from Mega and after a terrific first year, the company is in great hands for its own big leap forward in its second year.

Getting Involved
Amongst the many influences on my decision to work with the Internet Party team, two stand out.

First, the brilliant talk by Cory Doctorow at 28c3 (videotranscript) where he looks at why politicians make bad laws about technology. The answer is not, as often stated, that they need to be “educated”. Politicians make good laws about things that they are not experts about all the time. So why do we have bad technology laws? Answer: IT confounds the heuristics (rules of thumb) they use, the Internet even more so.

Another way to look at it is that, at the broadest level, technology is only one part of a triangle. The other two are politics and business. All three need to be considered and work in harmony for effective change. Technologists know this, they know that technical solutions to essentially political or business problems don’t work. Yet, few technologists are willing to venture out and work on the two other sides of the change triangle.

It’s no coincidence that two of the best corporate leaps forward in New Zealand in recent times have been thanks to technologists- Rob Fyfe in Air New Zealand and Sir Ralph Norris in ASB Bank. Also consider the simple yet immensely powerful call from the late Professor Sir Paul Callaghan for New Zealand to be a country where talent wants to live.

Second, the experience with the GCSB and Telco Spying Bill last year. More specifically, the role played by the two people who had the balance of votes. What if the balance was held by a party that really understood technology and cared about business as well as human rights? What if that party understood that finding a needle in a haystack doesn’t require bigger haystacks?

What’s Next
While Guidar will be an interesting sideshow, I’ve got a hazy idea about what I’d like to do after the career hiatus is over but no firm plans yet. I’ll be keeping an eye out and welcome anyone getting in touch if they have ideas or opportunities, especially around tech start-ups.

But, I believe working with the Internet Party has to be done and the time for that is now. This conspiracy of opportunity and circumstance will add a third ‘IP’ in my life (after Internet Protocol and Intellectual Property).

The Internet Party team could make history or be relegated to a footnote. While working to make the former come true, as the Chinese proverb (curse) puts it, I suspect I’m going to be living in interesting times.

Best wishes to you all for your 2014!

Authorised by Alastair Thompson, 16 Tisdall Street, Wellington

Former State Services Commission strategy & innovation manager and InternetNZ chief executive Vikram Kumar was CEO of Mega. He posts at Internet Ganesha.

READ ALSO: Kumar - the meat in Internet Party's policy sandwich? (Chris Keall)

Comments and questions

Vikram, do you believe it is appropriate for the Internet Party to be funded by a convicted pump and dump fraudster under global copyright theft charges, who is seeking to set this party up primary to hamper his extradition chances?

I quite like the idea of not being under a mass surveillence spy network.
Kim Dotcom wants to change the 5 eyes spy group of countries into a 4 eyes group, without NZ. Sounds like a good idea to me.

And you really think he can do this. Have you looked into his past history?

Mr Kumar, I wish you well in this surprising announcement. Good or bad the outcome I hope the stench of politics and the fruitloops, nutbars and rabid self serving hypocrites that sleaze their way around the backrooms of existing NZ parties doesn't impact your honest goodwill or skill as a visionary.

Dear Vikram,

As I stated in a previous post, there are a substantial amount of disillusioned young people who are highly educated, technology savvy and social media connected in a way that was never previously available. They can communicate to large amounts of like-minded others in an instant and therefore have the ability to mobilise and shift opinion in way that the “old guard” politicians cannot fathom. This is a generation who can see the cynical nature of politicians who ignore what the voters are telling them. This generation is frustrated that it does not have a collective voice that registers with politicians.

Although Kim Dotcom might appear to be the “face” of change, look a little deeper and you can see he is simply a catalyst that has shown a way for the young educated and technically savvy to believe they can have a voice and can make a change to the status quo. If this change can be managed in a relatively rapid form there is the ability to institute real change in government as opposed the old way where those younger MP’s with vision enter parliament and get squashed by the old guard (none of whom would never qualify for employment in the “productive sector” of the economy), who like the way things currently run as its personally beneficial.

It’s only a generation away before these young and savvy become the politicians of tomorrow so change is inevitable. It’s simply a question of has Dotcom by default become a catalyst for initiating a faster change and paradigm shift in government thinking; something I would love to see happen.

In my humble opinion, the way forward to instituting change is to create a new political party that is comprised of experienced international business people (export-driven) and technically savvy younger people with the total focus on growth and wealth generation for New Zealand.

The aim of a new “tech savvy” party would be to pass the 5% threshold and gain an influence in Government acting as an independent party that can work with any party in government. The party’s focus would be solely on growth and wealth generation for New Zealand. Matters of health, education, social services and general administration could be left to the other coalition parties.

Identifying the future needs of the world, matching New Zealand’s strengths to meet what these opportunities and needs might be and then working with the industry sectors that can speedily be positioned to meet these identified future needs could be the party’s mandate. Acceleration mechanisms for these businesses might include faster rollout of broadband, less regulation, R&D tax breaks, government R&D grants in return for equity etc.

Based on 23 years’ experience in creating and exporting technology that has been created in New Zealand, I feel qualified to know the struggles and obstacles technology businesses face and how to successfully overcome them. There are many similar businesses that have had international success whose owners/managers have a wealth of international experience that could add value to New Zealand’s future if given access to a political vehicle that understands and champions their proven history of successful conception, action and commercialisation.

The bottom line is that if we don’t make a change and create a party that can bring in a substantial amount of fresh and untainted political talent, that can shift of the current emphasis from the non-productive sectors to the productive sectors of the economy, then the medium to longer term outcome for New Zealand is about as good as Greece.

Love him or loathe him, good on Kim Dotcom for igniting this debate.

"...young people who are highly educated, technology savvy and social media." In the case of Jay add 'bloody naive".

Mac, please elaborate on what about the above "bloody naive" as I am interested in your thoughts.

Vikram, you seem like an honest and decent man who has a vision and a passion to follow up on it. I wish you all the best.

Mr Kumar,
It's unlikely that you receive your required 5% as you state that -

"The Internet Party is not a single issue party in the sense that the Internet is not just a technical or access issue- it impacts everything and everyone."

But you ARE a single issue party, and this is the reason that you won't get 5%. I agree that the internet does impact everything and everyone (almost), but it's just the internet. It's not the be all and end all of life and you can't really run a country using it.

It's incredibly important that the government embrace, utilise, enable, and help spread use of the internet for everyone. But it doesn't run a hospital or a school or the economy, it's just a key element. Unless you expand your party policy beyond the internet you won't achieve 5%

Can you download pirated versions of Kim Dotcom's new album from Mega?

Nice article, and evidence that there is indeed the capacity for logical coherence in the Internet Party. If you get this right, you're going to annoy basically everyone, including your own voters. But, fortunately, so far, the IP is not getting it right.

I agree with #6 that your challenge will be to transcend the single issue margin. The name says it all. Change it for something more conceptual and principled, as soon as possible (maybe after an inaugural conference). The connected party, the transparency party, whatever.

The other mistake you're making is to over invest in the over-simpified idea of "great policies". Party politics is THE most targeted service offering in existence. You've got to be hated in order to be loved. Peter Dunne is the negative example.

Besides, people don't vote for policies as much as for people, which I suspect you already understand. Too bad you can't play your trump card there.

Good luck. You're gonna need it. And, if you succeed, so are the rest of us.

Well the Greens as a political movement where also originally considered a one issue party, i.e. the environment. Today that party has policy on virtually all areas of political debate.

If it can work for the Greens why shouldn't it work for the Internet Party?

Strange story.

In one year Mr Kumar has gone from respected industry figure to.... What exactly?

If the internet is THAT big a part of your life... then your life is too small.

Thanks everyone for your comments. I'm at a "sponge" stage, absorbing and reflecting on new information, ideas, and insights. It's very useful to know what you think.

That's a cop out answer. How about addressing the above questions honestly and directly instead of some wishy-washy 'I'm listening to you'?