One of the reasons the gender pay gap continues to exist is that it lives in our silence and our uncomfortable relationship with our salaries. We don’t like to talk about money. While the statistics show there is a gender pay gap that hasn’t changed much in the last decade, individually many of us don’t know if we are paid fairly. And many organisations don’t know if they have a gender pay gap or not.
To be human is to be on a journey – in Samoan, faigamalaga. A journey to discover your own kaupapa, and to find ways to live it out. At DCM, we talk about picking up the paddle – ki te hoe. For me, that’s a journey to becoming and to being my best self. We call the people we work with taumai, meaning ‘to settle’. You could say that to be human is to be on a journey to a place where you are settled, where your wairua (in Samoan, agaga) is settled.
Imagine for a moment…you’re expecting your first child. It’s exciting and scary. You’ve been flatting for 10+ years and finally found the dream flat. The flatties are great, but with the baby on the way you can’t stay. Cutting down to one income will be tough too, won’t it?
I founded Inspiring Stories at the ripe age of 24, with the big bold vision to see all young New Zealanders unleash their potential to change the world. For the past six years this has been me, I’ve poured my heart and soul into it. It's been an incredible adventure, and I absolutely love it, but it certainly hasn’t been smooth sailing.
We’ve built some fantastic programmes and partnerships, worked with more than 6000 young New Zealanders and worked in every region nationwide. Our alumni have gone on to win international youth leadership awards, been shortlisted for the Young New Zealander of the Year Award and represented our nation on the world stage.
From the outside our work looks pretty shiny – mostly because my background is in design and marketing, not because we’ve had big budgets. In fact, in six years I think we’ve probably spent a grand total of $10k on design, marketing and web development.
It was amazing. I don’t regret it, but at the same time a couple of things didn’t line up. We were rock-bottom and red-lining for three months, had to shrink the team to just me and had to shift out of the office. Most people would have walked away. I couldn’t, I believed in the vision too much.
Six months later our Festival for the Future event attracted 400+ attendees, Live the Dream ran in two cities, and I was awarded Young New Zealander of the Year. That same week we found out we’d won a contestable chunk of government funding through the youth enterprise fund to scale up our two flagship programmes. And scale up we did. Our Festival doubled in size, we replicated Live the Dream to run in three cities over summer and built a new programme for young people in some of New Zealand’s most marginalized communities – Future Leaders.
While the government stepped up, other funders stepped back. At the end of 2016 it became evident that the youth enterprise fund wasn’t going to roll over – a $200,000 hole in the budget, and once again we faced huge uncertainty. This time, as per the opening paragraph, I’d just found out I was about to become a father. Boom!
Despite programme growth and clear impact for the young people we worked with, we had an extremely difficult end to 2016. We faced huge uncertainty and had to let most of our team go. With the exception of my amazing wife Michelle, I don’t think I really shared the full extent of this with anyone. We were on the edge of a knife; it was one of the hardest times of my life.
In search of solutions we quickly built three new business arms – the speaker bureau, the recruitment agency and the creative agency – all on less than $1000. The idea was that these could build on our strengths, generate much-needed revenue for the Inspiring Stories Trust and create better outcomes for young New Zealanders. We put the call out and went from looming insolvency to getting more than a dozen paying clients on board in a month. It kept us alive just long enough to get back on our feet.
Now we’re humming. Our commercial arms provide 100% of the profit to help support and expand our youth development programmes. If anything the experience has made us stronger. We’ve got the best millennial-led team in the country, and we’re now gearing up to support 2000 young New Zealanders to attend this year’s Festival for the Future.
Sometimes, from the darkest of times, remarkable things can happen. And here’s the best part of all – I’ve become a father. Our little boy, Finn, is now three months old.
Guy Ryan is CEO of Inspiring Stories, which is building a movement of young New Zealanders who can and will change the world. Support their movement with your 1% at www.onepercentcollective.org
Words by Guy Ryan and Illustration by Natasha Vermeulen.
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The most human I feel is when I hang out with my brother, Richie. We are only 16 months apart, so I can’t really remember a time without him. We yarn (in the way only siblings can) about our weird and wonderful upbringing, and crack up about the fact that while our friends were ‘parented’, what we really were was ‘taught’.
We were raised by disruptive educators who brought their work home. Our parents saw every aspect of our childhood as a ‘teachable moment’ where there was no right or wrong, and where every question we asked was answered with a question – a version of the Socratic teaching method that I later used in the classroom.
We were encouraged to make mistakes, to take risks, to challenge, to ask questions and most of all to learn together in a safe space we had ownership of, with people who loved us. While my upbringing was not perfect, I do feel very blessed that this formed my core understanding that teaching is an act of love, humanity and of deep connection.
I came to my work as a teacher, and now to my mahi with Ngā Rangatahi Toa (NRT), as a direct result of my upbringing. I have a clear understanding that our collective thinking on education cannot and must not be reduced to discussing a system of assessments and qualifications, or be seen simply as a collection of skills, facts and understandings.
I know that when the human connection of ako (when the roles of teacher and learner are fluid and interchangeable) is placed at the core of education, it becomes alchemy, it becomes magic and it enables young people to transform their own lives. This is why I do the work I do, the way I do it. Our NRT mantra of ‘before you teach me, you have to reach me’ keeps us all on point and on track.
Education, the act of teaching, is the purest form of human development we have and we must not let this beautiful potential get lost in the conversation of how we make an education system ‘fit for purpose’. Schools are places where much inspirational work is done, but they’re also places where the damage done is equally as mind blowing.
When I look at our education system, I see institutions that do not honour the humans within them because the system is out of sync with humanity.
To change our world I believe we must change how we see education. Teacher and-learner is a primary human relationship, one that we all engage in and one that has a great impact on how we feel about ourselves, how we perceive others and how we see the world. My upbringing and the results of our mahi at NRT may make me slightly biased, but I get really excited by this – to me, education and ako are the holy grail of youth development.
Richie and I were raised by expert teachers, so the act of ‘teaching’ us was always preceded by the act of ‘reaching’ us; there was high trust, love and respect, and it was a two-way street. By connecting on a deep human level with those you teach, education becomes a catalyst for personal growth and social cohesion, going far beyond transactions in the currency of information, assessment and qualifications. Let’s keep it real and be human about it.
Sarah Longbottom is Executive Director of Ngā Rangatahi Toa which, through one-to-one and group mentoring projects in creativity and mindfulness, empowers kids excluded from mainstream school to re-engage with education and build a brighter future for themselves and their whānau. Support its wonderful work at www.onepercentcollective.org
Words by Sarah Longbottom and Illustration by Natasha Vermeulen.
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I work in a couple of different mediums, mainly comedy and theatre, and the reason can be broken down to this: comedy is good for easing an audience towards a social truth. Theatre is good for holding a social truth up to an audience.
I remember being told once, at an awards dinner, that I had a gift for ‘speaking truth to power’.
I think that's bullshit.
Speaking truth to power is not a gift and no one should romanticise it. The protester holding a sign and yelling at a politician is speaking truth to power. It's not a gift. In a democracy it's almost a civic duty. That we value it so highly perhaps points to an unspoken truth about the repression of our society.
Of the various tattoos I've had put on me, there's one not many people know about. On my right ribs I have written, in small text, ‘The Truth will only have meaning when questioned by those who seek it’.
I'm big on the truth…and I've written that to wind up people who know me. I'm not advocating constant lying, but truth and lies are part of the human condition. In comedy, often you can only deconstruct the truth – and people’s perceptions – with lies.
I'll let you in on the joke. I see the truth as a tool, but not fundamental. It can be overrated. It doesn't always bring understanding. In fact, sometimes it only brings trauma and nothing more. Deconstructing truth with more truth can lead to a cycle of pain that some are not equipped to handle. To those who say that at the bottom of that cycle is a pathway to ‘moving on’ I would argue the hard truth is that, sometimes, there's not. Sometimes a person's psyche is at risk. Sometimes there's a need for lies.
Trust me, I have a degree in this. That is a lie.
Incidentally – this mentality of mine is probably what allows me to look at politics and political players in a way that produces satire, but it's also why I've always stepped back from jumping fully into the political arena. For all my cynicism, there is a romantic underneath and I think democratic power can only properly work with truthful leaders, to allow for accountability. That is a truth.
We like truth because we relate it to trust, and if we can trust someone fully then we don't have to waste mental energy on considering them as a three-dimensional person. We know, because they always tell the truth, that we can trust whatever they say. But think about how much truth you really want from someone. From a politician? Sure – because it allows for oversight. But from your mate? Your lover? Your cat?
It's good to have friends who can ‘tell it like it is’, but also you want friends who can lie to make you feel good. Yeah, you know it's a lie, but we live in a society of hard realities, and a lie, like a good coffee, is sometimes what gets you out the door.
You've actually got to go inception when seeking the truth. It's not enough to seek it just to know. You have to be honest what you want from it, and why you need it. Because often, when it comes to people, and the histories of people, truth is layered in pain. A truth doesn't start out hidden. If, when you find it after seeking, you're genuinely surprised by that pain, then chances are you went looking blindly.
James Nokise is an award-winning comedian who has generously supported our partner charity SpinningTop and many other organisations over the years. Learn more about NZ's most famous Samoan-Welsh comedian and when he's next performing at www.nokise.co.nz
Words by James Nokise and Illustration by Natasha Vermeulen.