Inspiring Stories: Unleashing a Generation

Inspiring Stories: Unleashing a Generation

Guest post by Guy Ryan, CEO and Founder at Inspiring Stories.

I grew up in one of New Zealand’s most beautiful, but lowest socio-economic areas – the West Coast of the South Island. When I was 10 my parents separated and my Mum, a nurse, raised me and my two sisters. I learnt the value of hard work from a young age, played sport, and spent a lot of time surfing – the beach was literally down the backyard.

Where I grew up it was easier to drop out of school at 15 and get a job in the local coal mine than it was to stick out the study. I scraped through school with my three ‘C’s’, and was the first in my family to go to University where I studied design and marketing. Through design coursework, I used to get cameras out every weekend and make surfing films with mates. I’d put on big premieres – it was loads of fun, and one of the films won a ‘best New Zealand film’ award. 

Soon after, a visiting lecturer and the founder of 350.org – Bill McKibben, was touring New Zealand. This was the first time I learnt about climate change – the implications for our generation, and the fact that our ‘leaders’ had known about it for 30 years and not done a thing about it. As a young person I found this hugely confronting, and started to ask – what could I do? 

I paired up with a fellow student to put our passion for creativity and storytelling to the test. We made a 25-minute documentary called ‘Carving the Future’, which told the stories of four young New Zealanders taking action on climate change. The film went on to win the ‘best film’ award at the Colorado Film Festival, and was one of three finalists in the world for the BBC’s Best Newcomer Award. Check out the trailer below, or the full film here.

It blew me away to see how powerful the stories of these four passionate young New Zealanders could be as a catalyst for conversation, and action. At the time I’d just finished my Masters – looking at the psychology around attitude and behaviour change, and how narrative could play a role. This was the catalyst for setting up Inspiring Stories, based on this bold but simple idea – imagine if every young New Zealander were to unleash their potential to change the world. What would it take to make that happen?

Initially set up with a suite of film-focused initiatives, we quickly realised that as powerful as storytelling is – we needed action, and pathways to better support young people to develop and grow their capability, and their ideas to make a difference. 

Now five years in it’s been an incredible journey. We’ve now helped to develop the capability and confidence of more than 5,000 young New Zealanders, and have developed an impressive suite of programmes and partnerships. These include the flagship national event – Festival for the Future; the accelerator programme – Live the Dream, which develops young social entrepreneurs and their ventures across three cities every summer; and a new layer – Future Leaders, that backs young people in more rural and provincial communities to make a difference in their own backyard. It’s been amazing to see this work grow, but at the same time it feels like we’re just getting started.

Last year the Festival attracted 500+ attendees, with emerging leaders from more than 20 Pacific Nations in the room. Tickets to the event sold out 5-weeks in advance, and the buzz was incredible. Below is a glimpse of the Festival, which this year will grow towards 2,000+ attendees at Auckland’s prestigious Aotea Centre – September 23–25, 2016. 

One of the flow-on pathways from the Festival, is our accelerator programme – Live the Dream. Right now, we’re about to launch the call for this year’s applications. We’ve built the programme out from a small-scale pilot to now a 9-week intensive programme across three cities. Last week I got spend time with a couple of our alumni who helped to produce the call for applications promo vid below:

From the outset, it looks like we’re this incredibly well resourced operation – part of the danger of having a background in design and marketing. But the truth is – it hasn’t all been smooth sailing, and in 2014 we had our toughest quarter on record. I’d put a lot on the line to pilot our first-time Live the Dream programme – I don’t regret it for a second, but at the same time, a couple of things didn’t quite line up. We were out of money, forced to shrink the team to one (me) and had to move out of our office. It was one of the hardest times of my life, and I think most people would have walked away. I believed in our vision too much, and the generosity from a handful of friends and family kept it all alive at this time.

We went from absolute rock bottom to run our biggest ever Festival, then on to run Live the Dream in two cities. The week Live the Dream wrapped up we won $500k of contestable funding from the government’s ‘youth enterprise’ fund to help scale these two programmes, and the week after that I was awarded the 2015 ‘Young New Zealander of the Year’. It’s amazing to look back on our 2015 Annual Report, knowing that none of this would have happened without a little grit and resilience.

Support from the Namaste Foundation has played a critical role in helping us build on momentum to develop the new ‘Future Leaders’ programme. The programme is now being piloted in seven rural and provincial areas – most of them low socio-economic areas – including Buller, which is where I grew up. I’m excited about the potential for this work to make a profound difference for some of our most marginalised and vulnerable communities. 

We live in a world with urgent and complex problems that need solving – social, environmental, economic. More than ever we need to ensure that our young people understand these challenges, and have opportunities to develop their connections, capability and confidence to make a difference.

Now, in year six we’ve got a clear strategy for where we want to go, with an amazing team and Board of Trustees. Our alumni are dreaming big, and pushing boundaries – two of them have just returned from the Global Entrepreneurship Summit in Silicon Valley. 

There’s about 1,000,000 New Zealanders aged 13–30 – that’s one quarter of our country’s population. It’s a demographic that if empowered, can achieve remarkable things for our communities, nation, and beyond. Imagine!

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