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Facing the future – young leaders front up

Participants in the Future Leaders hui at the Manawatū campus, with political, civic and academic leaders.

Iraia Nuku wants to set up a youth centre in his home town of Kawerau, while Serena Findlay hopes young people in Otaki will add their views and voices to community developments. 

They were among 150 young people at a national hui on youth leadership at the Manawatū campus last weekend.

Facing an uncertain future – from finding meaningful work and a sense of identity, to coping in a world affected by climate change – can be daunting for many young people. Aspiring youth leaders shared their hopes and ideas for change and met others from throughout the country confronting a variety of similar concerns and issues for their generation. 

Iraia says his aim is to inspire rangatahi in his community to “be the best that they can be” and to “realise there are no boundaries to achieving this if they have the motivation”.

Boredom, and the negative behaviour this can lead to, is a big issue he thinks needs addressing. His dream is a properly funded and resourced youth centre in Kawerau, “where youth can relax and be safe, whether to learn a new skill or hang out with friends, and a have a space where they feel valued”. 

He says the weekend, hosted by the College of Humanities and Social Sciences in partnership with the charitable trust Inspiring Stories, which runs the Future Leaders initiative, was “one of the best things I’ve ever done”. He says he is keen to take his new knowledge and insights back to the young people in Kawerau.

Iraia Nuku shares his dreams for the youth of Kawerau where he comes from.

Youth voices need to be heard by those in power

Serena says she wants to bring about change in her community, as “it’s really important for young people to have their voices heard.”

Many young people feel oppressed, she says, and feel a lack of opportunity to express their needs and views because older people mostly hold positions of power. Encouraging a sense of belonging and value is a big issue for youth in her community as many just want to leave, she says. 

Serena Findlay, from Otaki, says young people's voices need to be heard.

Older generation share their stories 

Academic, civic and political leaders at the event shared their own youthful recollections of being discouraged from seeing themselves as achievers, and how they overcame negative messages.

Pro Vice-Chancellor Distinguished Professor Paul Spoonley told the audience that as a young guy he did not know what the future held. “When I left school, my teachers said, ‘Not suitable for university experience.’ How wrong they were.”

“My passion is igniting people and communities to build brighter worlds,” he said, urging youth to make their own future, shape their destiny and follow their passion. 

“We know, according to the latest OECD research, that people of your generation on average will have up to 17 different jobs in your working lives. You will need to redefine the world we live in. We need your thinking, your leadership and your ideas.”

Guy Ryan, the chief executive and founder of Inspiring Stories, spoke of a similar experience. “I started this programme as a tiny little idea three years ago. I was never recommended to go to university – but I did. And I fell in love with learning.

“We face big challenges today – climate change, mental health challenges, inequality. We have still so far to go. Imagine if every young New Zealander unleashed their own passion to change the world,” he said.

Guest speaker the Hon Peeni Henare (Ngāti Hine, Ngāpuhi), Minister for Youth, Community and Voluntary Sector for Whānau Ora and Associate Minister for Social Development, also spoke of his early life challenges as a teenaged father and how he navigated these. “In Year 12, I became a young father. But I went on to university. And today I am a government minister. So, you are not defined by the steps in your life.”

He quoted his grandfather, Sir James Henare, who advised him: “Don’t be old before your time. Enjoy being young. With your successes and your failures, be humble.”

Mr Henare urged young people to look after themselves. “We know there are many youth mental health issues. Don’t put pressure on yourself.”

Professor Meihana Durie, head of Massey’s School of Māori Knowledge who welcomed everyone with a mihi whakatau, asked the young audience to “think of all the leaders who have gone before you, and who met many challenges along the way. We all have a starting point, and some kind of spark that starts us on a journey. And that journey never ends.”

Vice-Chancellor Jan Thomas told the hui that Massey is all about leadership, which can be hard to define. “Look for leaders you admire and aspire to be like. What makes them so powerful and influential?

“Recently I heard former US President Barack Obama speak. He said leadership is about three things:

Listening; surrounding yourself with people smarter than you are who share your values and passion; and remembering that you are a vessel for others’ hopes and dreams.”

The hui was one of several regional and national events in the Future Leaders programme planned for this year. By the end, participants will have gained a clearer understanding of factors shaping the socio-economic issues affecting their community, built up a network of mentors to share ideas and advice with and be better prepared to assume leadership roles.

(from left) Ian McKelvie (MP for Rangitikei); Distingiushed Professor Paul Spoonley; Inspiring Stories CEO Guy Ryan; Vice-Chancellor Professor Jan Thomas, Hon Peeni Henare and Palmerston North mayor Grant Smith.

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