Looking around New Zealand and the world today, it seems youth are rewriting their place in society. Many are choosing to step up and lead in their local community or further afield.
Future Leaders is run by Inspiring Stories, a not-for-profit organisation whose focus is developing youth leadership and entrepreneurship in New Zealand.
Every year, a new cohort of youth aged 16-25 imagine ways they might have a positive impact on their community. The programme is led by a central team in Wellington alongside a coach in each of the rural and regional centres in which Future Leaders runs.
Last year, teams across the country chose to affect change in very different ways. All integrated their initiatives with social connection. Some chose to tackle food shortages in their area by sourcing and distributing food to those in need.
Several of the groups learned to use online crowdfunding platforms to fund projects like sharing the real impact of climate change on their community or rejuvenating run-down buildings and brightening up town with art.
Still others chose to connect youth with services in their community or ran events to get youth voting for local body elections.
At only 18 years of age, Sophie Handford (a 2019 Kapiti Future Leader), followed in Greta Thunberg’s footsteps and led our nation’s youth in School Strike for Climate Change.
Following that, she and several other Future Leaders across New Zealand ran in Local Body Elections. Sophie won her electorate and is currently serving as a Councillor on the Kapiti Coast District Council.
Along with the rest of the country, this year’s programme struck a speed bump with the arrival of Covid-19 and the associated Civil Defence Restrictions.
Inspiring Stories was due to celebrate its 10th annual Festival for the Future.
Both one of the organisation’s main revenue streams and one of the main focal points of the Future Leaders programme, the team were disappointed to learn that it could not go ahead as planned in July.
Usually, participants would be sponsored to gather in Wellington to attend this inspiring event.
Undeterred, staff and Future Leaders alike chose to see Covid-19 as an opportunity to innovate. Festival for the Future 2020 will now be a virtual summit and participants from each region continue to regularly connect and collaborate.
Each region has taken on the task of providing community support for people in lockdown. Each in their own way, have put together care packages for community members.
Groups have worked with local iwi, councils and support groups to reach those who need assistance most.
Today’s youth being the digital natives they are, their campaign is also online. Rasta Man (Ridge Hohaia-Rameka) encourages New Zealanders to Stay Home and Save Lives in a clever TikTok, while both Whangarei Future Leaders and Future Leaders Greymouth are using Ara Taiohi grants to keep youth connected with daily video challenges for cash prizes until Youth Week (9-17 May).
Each of this year’s communities will be fund raising in various ways to help run their programme. Whakatāne Future Leaders have just finished some gruelling fitness challenges raising funds for their team hoodies and their glutes are still feeling it.
You can expect more great stuff from each of the crews: Kaikohe, Whangarei, Whakatāne, Ōpōtiki, Kawerau and Greymouth.
If you want to help make sure these programmes continue to run, consider donating what you can to one of their fundraisers.
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*Disclosure: The author, Stephen Brassett also currently serves as the coach for Greymouth Future Leaders.