Rod Oram: Young, gifted and Kiwi

16:00, Dec 22 2012
Youth display the American flag with symbols of multinational brands in a protest at Rio+20 UN Conference on Sustainable Development in Rio de Janeiro June 21, 2012.

If you feel we, as a nation, are stuck in a rut economically, politically and socially, you'll find an uplifting antidote in young New Zealanders.

This was another great year for their contributions here and abroad. Highlights included the roles two played at the United Nations' sustainability summit in Rio de Janeiro and the launching of Vision 2050 NZ, a highly aspirational but practical blueprint for our future.

While we're used to many young New Zealanders being high achievers, you might be surprised how they rate internationally.

Sunday Star-Times columnist Rod Oram.

They are "comparatively relaxed, confident and optimistic about their future", says Dr Bronwyn Hayward, a political scientist at the University of Canterbury.

This came to light last year when the UN's environment programme published its World Survey of Young Adults' Attitudes to Sustainable Lifestyles. It was based on online and face-to-face interview responses from 8000 urban 18-35-year-olds in 20 countries. It was one of the world's largest qualitative surveys to date of young adults' lives, hopes, fears and lifestyle.

"Unlike many young adults around the world the New Zealanders did not express frustration at limits to their future opportunities," says Hayward, who gathered the NZ data and contributed to the global study.


But, in common with young adults overseas, one of their greatest fears is that they won't be able to make the changes they want to see.

This combination of ambition and frustration gives urgency and energy to their efforts. Maybe this generation of young adults will prove to be the irresistible force that finally shifts a whole raft of apparently immovable economic, political and social blocks.

Four examples here and in many other countries are the rise of socially responsible businesses, the political power of social media, heightened commitment to environmental issues and fast-changing attitudes on sexuality and marriage.

Speaking professionally and personally, when I get stuck on such issues I always find fresh ideas and new hope among tomorrow's leaders rather than today's. My work as a journalist gives me frequent engagement with them. Here are some of my encounters this year, with some - in the spirit of summer holiday viewing - offered as short videos:

Brittany Trilford, a year 13 student from Wellington, won a worldwide competition to be the lone voice of youth at the opening plenary session of the UN's Rio summit in June. She spoke powerfully and passionately about the changes politicians have to lead to ensure liveable futures for young generations. You can watch her speech at

Sudhvir Singh, a young public health doctor in Auckland, was also at Rio. Remarkably, he was the only health professional on a country's official delegation. As such he helped negotiate the contentious health issues that formed part of the summit declaration. His contribution was widely noted. When Margaret Chan, the director-general of the World Health Organisation, arrived for the plenary session she asked him to brief her.

Arena Williams, president of the Auckland University Student Association, told audiences in Auckland and Wellington how she and her friends longed for careers here but many of them felt no option but to seek opportunities overseas. She was speaking at The Voyage, a call for changes in economic policies to which others and I contributed. You can watch her presentation at

A string of young Cantabrians told of their contributions to the rebuilding of Christchurch at the TEDxEQChCh 2012 event September 1. They spoke not of the remaking of a stolid, dry, city described in the Government's plans but of the birth of a vastly creative, lively one that will redefine urban life, Kiwi style.

It's unfair to select only a few people from the day's programme but here they are: Ryan Reynolds on "filling the gaps" created by empty lots; Wil McLellan on creating a centre for software developers; Jade Temepara on growing food; Abbas Nazari on being an immigrant; Sam Johnson on volunteering; and from Auckland, Joshua Iosefo on being a Pasifika Kiwi

Our potential as a nation is very persuasively articulated in the Vision 2050 NZ report offered by a group of 27 young business, engineering, and other professionals. They began their work under the auspices of the NZ Business Council for Sustainable Development to give local expression to the world council's 2050 work. They are continuing it under the Sustainable Business Council, its new NZ affiliate.

They argue that 6 million people will be living well and sustainably here in 2050. They make their case by laying out the opportunities major sectors of the economy and society have - and the big shifts each would need to make to bring them to fruition. The report and details of work to come are available at

When it comes to working on these great challenges, you can't start young enough to learn new ways of communicating, learning and collaborating. That's the message from schools in Glen Innes, Auckland. Their students and families, teachers and communities are at the forefront of e-learning, thanks to the ground-breaking work of the Manaiakalani Education Trust (

The transformation began at Pt England School and its website ( vividly conveys the spirit and substance of it.

Young New Zealanders are organising themselves very effectively to give voice to their hopes and to push for change. Two examples are Generation Zero ( and 350 Aotearoa (, the local affiliate of the global 350 climate change movement.

Two weeks ago, the two groups hosted Power Shift, a three-day event in Auckland that attracted some 900 people to learn and act on climate change.

Its website ( gives you a flavour of the weekend. Video highlights include a flashmob in Queen Elizabeth Square to launch their 100% Possible campaign to end fossil fuels.

You might spot a few older people in the mob. After all, this isn't a fight between generations. It is, to borrow from the launch of The Economist magazine in 1843: "A severe contest between intelligence, which presses forward, and an unworthy, timid ignorance obstructing our progress."

Sunday Star Times