Guy Ryan is the founder and chief executive of Inspiring Stories, a charitable trust which has helped more than 5000 young Kiwis engage with the big issues of our time. The trust’s programmes include Festival for the Future, a weekend of inspiration for budding world-changers, and Live the Dream, a 10-week accelerator programme for young social entrepreneurs and their ventures.
I grew up in a tiny rural village on the West Coast of the South Island, a place called Granity: 150 houses, a tiny sliver between the rainforest and the ocean. It’s about as rural as it gets. I wasn’t hugely into high school, but I scraped through with three Cs and moved to Dunedin to study – mostly because I had three aunties there and it had good surf.
At university I got fascinated with photography and filmmaking. I used to get cameras out every weekend and make surfing and skating films with mates and put on big premiere parties.
After my degrees in design and marketing I did a two-year Masters in Science Communication, looking at the big issues of our time and how communication could help to disseminate them. In the second year you team up with another person, produce a 25-minute film and write a thesis. My thesis looked at climate change, psychology around behaviour change and the role that narrative can play. Nick Holmes and I made a film, Carving the Future, which told stories about four young New Zealanders taking action on climate change, and went on to win at the Colorado Film Festival as well as be one of three finalists in the world for the BBC’s Newcomer Award.
In the last year of the Masters we seemed to find everything to do except coursework. We created two community festivals – the Spring Food Festival in Dunedin which partnered with the local farmers’ market, and an adventure festival, A Day at the Beach, where we walked 350km from one end of the West Coast to the other over a month. We worked with local communities along the way to remove about six tonnes of rubbish and plant 5000 trees. We also started a film production company to hone our craft for paying clients – it took us on adventures as far away as Nepal.
On the back of all this I set up Inspiring Stories. I was asking myself: what if every young
New Zealander unleashed their potential to change the world? What would it take to make that happen? I was lucky enough to win a World of Difference scholarship from Vodafone in 2011, which gives you a year’s support: salary and expenses to lead a youth-focused project of your choice. But it’s only a year, so you’ve got to figure out how to make it work.
I think often young people are undervalued in society. We get told a lot about what we can’t do, rather than focusing on our imagination and possibility. The issues our generation faces are immense, and more complex than ever before. We need to be encouraging young people to dream, to step up and play a role in creating solutions. Inspiring Stories is all about giving them the skills and confidence to do that.
We’re now coming to the end of our fourth year. It’s been an epic adventure. We’re starting to see some pretty cool ripple effects as young people grow their ideas for a better New Zealand across areas as diverse as the arts, housing, health, wellbeing and food resilience. It’s the road less travelled for sure, but the people who are crazy enough to think that they can change the world are usually the ones that do.
Words by Rebekah White. Photography by Pat Shepherd.