Some of New Zealand’s most inspirational leaders hail from small, provincial towns, and now a youth-lead initiative called Future Leaders is helping light a spark within rangatahi across the Eastern Bay of Plenty and beyond.
Since the programme launched in 2016, over 150 young people from Whakatāne, Kawerau and Ōpōtiki have helped make a positive impact in their communities and learn vital leadership skills along the way.
“Our young participants report they are better connected to a community of support; more confident, more optimistic about the future, more resilient; and have built future-relevant skills including communication skills, entrepreneurship, leadership, problem solving and teamwork,” explains Future Leaders Manager Bridget Cassie.
The scheme is run by Inspiring Stories – a charity whose vision is to see young New Zealanders unleash their potential to change the world. In addition to the Eastern Bay, the Future Leaders programme also operates in Whangarei, Kaikohe and Greymouth.
Part-time coaches are based in each town to help deliver regular workshops, informal catch-ups and build connections between participants. Each group works on three projects during the year – focusing on community connection, team identity and community impact – and each rangatahi is mentored to achieve their professional and personal goals.
“There’s a real range of people that take part in the programme and that’s actually what's really special – that we get a range of perspectives, and a range of young people from all walks of life,” Bridget says.
“They all want to make a positive difference in the community. Their growth is shown in different ways, but it’s of equal value. Some people want to go to university while others want to look after themselves and make good choices. We don’t say ‘this goal is better than that goal’. Every goal that people have is of value and the transformation that people make is amazing.”
Past participants have gone on to stand for local body elections, start their own social enterprises and pursue study towards PhDs. Some have even won Local Hero medals at the New Zealander of the Year Awards.
“Future Leaders is a free, accessible and inclusive programme that provides life-enhancing opportunities for a diverse range of rangatahi aged 16 to 25 who are often majority Māori and young women. It helps them explore the big issues that affect their future, build their entrepreneurship and leadership skills, and make a difference in their own backyard.”
Previous projects completed by Future Leaders groups include a Stop, Drop, Enrol event in Whakatāne to get young people (especially Māori and Pasifika rangatahi), enrolling and excited to vote in both the Local and General elections.
Kawerau has run an Inspire Event – showcasing young talent and inviting guest speakers to talk about themes around mental health, climate change, and Māoritanga. And this July (2nd-11th), Ōpōtiki will run a Matariki Festival in partnership with the Ōpōtiki District Council. It will include a Taonga Tākaro Wānanga (8th-11th) thanks to funding support from Sport New Zealand Tū Manawa Fund and the Ōpōtiki Kiwifruit Growers’ Fund.
Work is also underway in Whakatāne to put together ‘Winter Warmer and Go Packs’ this year for people in need. The local group applied for funding from the Ministry of Social Development to pay for blankets, warm socks and other winter ready gear including resources to support whānau if a natural disaster occurs. “After the tsunami warning in March, the Whakatāne Future Leaders saw a need to support whānau preparedness.”
The group will use their community connections to organise distribution. “There’s a lot of collaboration with other community organisations, and people are doing things together and creating more connections, in a regional way, as well as locally. We see that a lot in the Bay of Plenty.”
Future Leaders rely on various funding sources including a handful of government agencies, local councils and philanthropic trusts such as BayTrust. This year BayTrust has granted the programme $20,000 which organisers say is life changing.
“The money will be used to support rangatahi taking part in the programme to receive high quality workshops and facilitation from our coaches, as well as support with transport, accommodation and catering to a number of our national hui held in Wellington across the year.”
Youth development is not often seen as a priority for councils and larger organisations but Future Leaders see an enormous opportunity to spread the geographical reach and impact of their programme if long-term funding can be secured in future.
“This opportunity would only be possible with coaches moving to full-time. It would be great to see more rangatahi connecting with their community, building connections across Aotearoa and the region, and building their capabilities,” Bridget says.