The Y25 (Illustrations: Sara Moana, collage Tina Tiller)
The Y25 (Illustrations: Sara Moana, collage Tina Tiller)

PartnersJune 30, 2021

Meet the 25 young trailblazing wāhine of this year’s Y25

The Y25 (Illustrations: Sara Moana, collage Tina Tiller)
The Y25 (Illustrations: Sara Moana, collage Tina Tiller)

From climate justice to food security, young women are leading the way in combating injustices in Aotearoa and around the world. The YWCA is once again honouring 25 young trailblazing wāhine who have made strides in their communities despite the chaos of a Covid year.

The stresses of Covid-19, inability to fully socialise for weeks on end and, often, adjusting to work from home meant that for many the past year wasn’t the most productive. 

It’s therefore even more impressive to read through this year’s Y25 list, featuring a group of wāhine, all aged 25 or younger, who turned the time we all had last year to their advantage – running campaigns, volunteering, uplifting their communities and doing crucial work to help those most disadvantaged by not just the pandemic, but society itself.

In the second year of the YWCA’s Y25, the pool of talented nominations was overflowing. Dellwyn Stuart, CEO of YWCA Auckland, says it’s a crucial time to be paying attention to young voices, and the 25 women selected this year are representative of a much wider youth-led movement towards sustainability, equity and justice.

“They don’t just care about the world they are maturing into, they raise their voices and dedicate their mahi to making things better,” says Stuart.

The judging panel – a group of 13 including politician Chlöe Swarbrick and past Y25 list-ers Courtney Davies and Irihapeti Edwards – were blown away by the talent of this year’s nominees.

Swarbrick said it was an “incredible group” while fellow panellist, Leadership NZ chief executive Anya Satyanand, said it was “deeply inspiring to engage with the hustle, belief, sparkle and vision contained in every single nomination”.

Meet the 2021 Y25

Alice Mander, 21, Te Whanganui-a-Tara

Alice Mander (Illustration: Sara Moana)

In 2020, Mander established the National Disabled Students’ Association while studying law and arts at Victoria University. Her lived experience with the disparities that exist for disabled people have given her a voice to stand up for the thousands of other disabled students in New Zealand. She’s written for The Spinoff, Attitude TV, Salient and All is for All, advocating for disability rights.

Her words of wisdom for young women: 

If not you, then who? If not now, then when? Sometimes, problems seem too big and impossible to solve. However, there are always people around you who will want to help and there is always someone who has to start the fire!

Chantelle Cobby, 23, Kirikiriroa

Chantelle Cobby (Illustration: Sara Moana)

Founder of The Microvolunteering Collective, Cobby is dedicated to helping people help others. With a lifetime of volunteering under her belt, she wanted to make it easier for other students and young people to volunteer, without taking up huge amounts of their time. The collective has so far enabled 600 people to contribute over 1,000 hours of their time, and it’s only growing.

Her words of wisdom for young women:  

Honour what you care about and what’s important to you, and know that everything you admire within others is within you!

Teresa Lee, 22, Tāmaki Makaurau

Teresa Lee (Illustration: Sara Moana)

The national president of UN Youth, Chinese-New Zealander Lee is a champion of diversity who helps to inspire young people to engage with global politics, running events to help rangatahi develop skills to create change in their communities. She’s also a competitive figure skater, a youth MP, and helped Auckland Theatre Company produce their first east Asian show, Single Asian Female.

Her words of wisdom for young women: 

“Success is liking yourself, liking what you do and liking how you do it.” – Maya Angelou

Madiha Ali, 21, Kirikiriroa

Madiha Ali (Illustration: Sara Moana)

Having fled Pakistan to Indonesia in 2013 with her family, Ali was denied access to formal education. At 15 she helped to set up an informal refugee-led learning centre for the community of Cisarua, which has now educated over 300 children. In 2018 she and her family were accepted into New Zealand, and since then she’s started a law degree and works as a youth worker for Shama, helping migrant families integrate into Aotearoa. She’s also on the National Migration Advisory board of the Red Cross.

Her words of wisdom for young women: 

I would tell all the young women that there’s nothing in this world you cannot do. Do not let the world tell you otherwise. Have faith and run towards that impossible dream.

Gala Baumfield, 19, Te Whanganui-a-Tara

Gala (Illustration: Sara Moana)

A keen sportsperson, Baumfield had gained the highest honours in Kyokushin Karate by 13, and is also a top-level skateboarder, selected for the Olympic development squad in 2020. She is committed to encouraging physical and mental health for Aotearoa’s youth and works at Oranga Tamariki to help youth access mental health services. 

Her words of wisdom for young women: 

Go for it! Your opinions and actions are valuable and inspiring for so many people around you! Attitude is everything and maintaining a positive attitude can help you and others in so many ways.

Sana Ditta, 24, Ōtautahi

Sana Ditta (Illustration: Sara Moana)

Founder of The Teddy Project, primary school teacher Ditta was inspired by the teddy bear hunt during the 2020 lockdown. She collected donations of teddy bears for new refugee families and raised over $3,000 additional to that. Her not-for-profit, Open Arms Foundation, works to ensure new refugee families are taken care of and are able to rebuild their lives and thrive in their new home. 

Her words of wisdom for young women: 

No is an important word. When you have the confidence to say it, it releases the burden of trying to please everyone. You are not letting anyone down by saying it.

Latayvia Tualasea Tautai, 22, Tāmaki Makaurau

Latayvia Tualasea Tautai (Illustration: Sara Moana)

A champion of equality, Tualasea Tautai’s passion is uplifting the voices of the marginalised. She’s currently studying towards a conjoint degree and when she’s not hitting the books, she’s working hard to better the lives of her wider community. As a financial mentor, she offers WINZ advocacy, delivers financial literacy courses and food parcel support. Having lived through family violence as a child, Tualasea Tautai’s advocacy work surrounds Pacific families in poverty and helping children going through the same sort of hardships she suffered.

Her words of wisdom for young women: 

Some days it’s marching in the streets and advocating for change. Some days it’s putting in the work to heal intergenerational wounds. Some days it’s fulfilling your family commitments. And some days it’s making your bed after a really hard week. Whatever ‘putting in the work’ looks like for you, it’s valid and we’re all fighting the patriarchy in different ways.

Umi Asaka, 24, Ōtepoti

Umi Asaka (Illustration: Sara Moana)

Asaka is a human rights and disabilities advocate, working to challenge social stigmas in non-disabled and Pākehā spaces. She has her fingers in many pies – a junior research fellow at the Donald Beasley Institute and co-facilitator at Stopping Violence Dunedin, she’s also conducted research for a United Nations project about disability and co-authored a book to increase diversity awareness. She currently volunteers at The Lucy Foundation, an inclusive value chain of coffee.

Her words of wisdom for young women: 

Have good support around you and keep going. There were times when I didn’t have trust in myself, but I knew other people trusted me. Have value and principles in life, and don’t compromise them.

Aimee Clark, 23, Ōtepoti

Aimee Clark (Illustration: Sara Moana)

Intersectional environmentalism is Clark’s passion. A young ocean leader with the Sustainable Ocean Alliance, she represented New Zealand at the 2019 Our Ocean Youth Leadership Summit and hopes in the next two years to launch The Yellow Submarine Project, an interactive classroom space for school students to gain an environmental education. 

Her words of wisdom for young women: 

Being a leader doesn’t mean you have to be the loudest in the room. Being a leader is about having the courage to stick to your core values even when you are being tested. You may feel alone but don’t be afraid to ask for help, because we can only make change if we lift each other up.

Ruby Macomber, 19, Tāmaki Makaurau

Ruby Macomber (Illustration: Sara Moana)

A passionate storyteller, Macomber spent years navigating her Rotuman/Polynesian and Pālagi identities. She’s a facilitator for creative writing programme Te Kāhui, which works with rangatahi Māori and Pasifika inmates at the Mt Eden Correctional Facility to empower their creativity. She thinks creative writing can be a vessel for promoting personal growth, and her own poetry has been published in many New Zealand publications.

Her words of wisdom for young women: 

Never let anyone speak for you.

Breila Mottram, 22, Te Whanganui-a-Tara

Breila Mottram (Illustration: Sara Moana)

One of the youngest employees at Te Hiringa Hauora, the Health Promotion Agency, Mottram works against the biases created by her age, gender, culture and being a young mother. She addresses health inequities for Māori in her role as a Māori Advisor in the Tiriti o Waitangi team, and advises on a range of portfolios including mental health, immunisation, smoking cessation and minimising gambling harm.

Her words of wisdom for young women: 

Remember that you are important. Your voice matters and if someone who should listen isn’t listening, make them listen.

Brooke Moore, 18, Taupō-nui-a-Tia

Brooke Moore (Illustration: Sara Moana)

The CEO and sole trader of two businesses, Sugar Bunny and Wrapt, Moore is passionate about sustainable food. Wrapt is an edible bio-packaging which she hopes will help to protect both our kai and our planet. While working through mental illnesses, Moore has managed to create a product that’s gained support from consumers worldwide.

Her words of wisdom for young women: 

Nobody sees the world the way you do, so go for that wild idea. It’s OK if others don’t understand or believe in your ability, because your ambitions, ideas, and self-awareness are unique to you – not everyone speaks your language and that’s OK.  If you feel a pull towards a path or a project or a cause, run with it.

Rangipo Ngaire Takuira-Mita, 18, Tāmaki Makaurau

Rangipo Ngaire Takuira-Mita (Illustration: Sara Moana)

A passionate advocate for the preservation of Papatūānuku through a te ao Māori lens, Takuira-Mita works with rangatahi to create environmental change. Part of Te Pu-A-Nga Maara, a collective of rangatahi from South Auckland, she guides the group towards using matauranga Māori, science and digital tech to create indigenous, youth-led solutions for a sustainable future. She’s helped to bring partners on to support the group’s work, developed their social media and facilitated workshops all over Aotearoa.

Her words of wisdom for young women: 

Start now! Set goals, expose yourself to many opportunities, and most importantly, be confident in your skin. You’ve got to remember that life is too short to let anyone get under your skin. And btw, don’t take your elders for granted – they are the knowledge keepers.

Vaiola Tauti, 22, Tāmaki Makaurau

Vaiola Tauti (Illustration: Sara Moana)

A proud New Zealand-born Sāmoan raised in Otara, Tauti is the first Pasifika regional president of UN Youth NZ. She’s passionate about civics education and human rights and during her time with UN Youth NZ she’s helped introduce high school students to civics, ensuring Māori and Pasifika rangatahi voices are amplified. She’s currently working to make the organisation itself more inclusive structurally.

Her words of wisdom for young women: 

Take all of you and your village everywhere you go. Always trust your instincts and be unapologetically you no matter how much people try to push.

Soltice Morrison, 25, Te Whanganui-a-Tara

Soltice Morrison (Illustration: Sara Moana)

As a geoenvironmental consultant, Morrison advises organisations on how to remediate contaminated land and water. She’s passionate about Aotearoa’s beautiful natural environment, and as a qualified divemaster and Blake ambassador at GNS Science she’s contributed to many projects highlighting the importance of preserving Papatūānuku. Morrison hopes to help resolve complex environmental problems by supporting iwi groups and corporate organisations to work together to blend mātauranga Māori with western science.

Her words of wisdom for young women: 

Don’t allow your past to control your future. I have failed many times in my life but each experience has shaped me into the person I am today. If you really want something, you’ll find a way. Get out there, be funky and take on the world with all you have!

E Wen Wong, 18, Ōtautahi

E Wen Wong (Illustration: Sara Moana)

Using poetry, Wong hopes to inspire others to become kaitiaki of the environments around them. She’s studying law, environmental science and geography, and she wants to carve a pathway to continue her activism through geographical insights and problem solving. At age 13 she founded the ocean advocacy group P.S. Our Beaches and has since coordinated tree-plantings, beach clean ups and environment conferences.

Her words of wisdom for young women: 

Having a supportive network around you is super powerful and necessary. No one gets anywhere without stacks of people helping out behind the scenes and encouraging us to pursue positive change. Stay true to who you are and what you’re passionate about; the rest will follow.

Brianna Fruean, 22, Tāmaki Makaurau

Brianna Fruean (Illustration: Sara Moana)

A strong Tama’ita’i Sāmoan, Fruean has been on the front lines of the fight for Pacific climate justice for years. At age 11 Fruean became involved in climate activist groups, and in 2018 she toured Europe in that role, attending conferences alongside global climate change figures like Greta Thunberg. She became the youngest-ever winner of the Commonwealth Youth Award aged 16.

Her words of wisdom for young women: 

Nobody can be you. The world needs you, your mind, your energy, your ideas, and your heart. You’re needed and nobody else can do what you want to do in this life other than you.

Raksha Tiwari, 23, Tāmaki Makaurau

Raksha Tiwari Latayvia (Illustration: Sara Moana)

Human rights and gender activist Tiwari witnessed how educational and gender inequalities can affect young women while growing up in India. She uses her personal experiences to inform her activism, and through the University of Auckland has established a mentoring programme and associated magazine, which has helped over 350 young women from underrepresented demographics.

Her words of wisdom for young women: 

Never give up. Sometimes it can feel like there isn’t room for you, your voice, your ideas and your whole self at the table, but always look for a way to make space for yourself, and then pull up a chair for other wāhine that may also lack representation. What you have to say and do is of immense value.

Selu-Kian Faletoese, 20, Tāmaki Makaurau

Selu-Kian Faletoese (Illustration: Sara Moana)

A passion for youth and community work is what drives Faletoese in her work as a research assistant for Point and Associates, collating information for a report on impacts of Covid-19 on takatāpui, queer, gender diverse and intersex youth. She’s also a member of the Rainbow Fale Youth Advisory Group with a focus on empowering and creating spaces for Māori and Pasifika LGBTQ+ and MVPFAFF youth.

Her words of wisdom for young women: 

Never forget your worth! We all have our seasons where we become disconnected from people, environments or life in general and feel like we’re losing our sense of self. However, it will pass. Practise being firmly grounded in your worth so that you never forget again!

Talei Bryant, 24, Whakatāne

Talei Bryant (Illustration: Sara Moana)

An advocate for rangatahi, Bryant has many roles within youth development groups and movements, including one of her own, Find your Fish. It’s an entrepreneurial youth movement encouraging growth and empowering young people to live their dreams. She’s also a volunteer chair of the Whakatāne youth council, a coach for the Whakatāne Future Leaders programme and has spoken out about sexual abuse within whānau.

Her words of wisdom for young women: 

Try new things, go new places, work in different industries. Life is about learning and throughout all these new experiences you will find things you love to do and when you find your passion, go hard!

Nora Quigley, 16, Piwakawaka (Methven)

Nora Quigley (Illustration: Sara Moana)

Since Covid-19 hit, Quigley has put a lot of effort into her work as an environmental innovator and mental health advocate. She’s become the youngest lead citizen scientist collecting data for the Litter Intelligence campaign and set up a student volunteer army at her local school. She leads the Environment Canterbury Youth Army for Timaru and is developing a sustainable, biodegradable alternative to polystyrene. 

Her words of wisdom for young women: 

Own your ability. Back yourself, focus on yourself and don’t be afraid to outgrow a place, a person or a mindset. How you approach a situation, how you react, how you treat others and how you treat yourself – that is what defines you. Not your success, but your character.

Shuari Naidoo, 18, Tauranga Moana

Shuari Naidoo (Illustration: Sara Moana)

Founder of Moraka Menstrual Cups, Naidoo wanted to raise awareness about period poverty and provide a cost-effective, sustainable alternative to disposable products. She liaises with local organisations to donate cups to the community and won the 2019 YES Entrepreneur of the Year for the Bay of Plenty.

Her words of wisdom for young women: 

Explore every idea. You never know where it can lead you! Allow yourself room for trial and error. You are allowed to make mistakes and fail but make sure you continue to learn. Do not allow doubt or fear to stop you from starting your business or organisation. Any idea is valid through research, dedication, and time.

Harleen Rangi-Singh, 19, Tāmaki Makaurau

Harleen Rangi Singh (Illustration: Sara Moana)

After accompanying her grandmother on medical trips to Sāmoa as a child, Rangi-Singh’s love for medicine was born. Half Sāmoan and half Indian, she believes her two cultures have enabled her to engage with the community around her and she’s worked to improve the overall health of those communities. She volunteers for Edmund Rice camps and has designed workshops for students in South Auckland for the MyStory mentoring programme.

Her words of wisdom for young women: 

Don’t be afraid of redirection. You can plan your life out to a T, but there is always a greater plan ahead for us. And never be afraid to speak up. Your story and voice are so important, so never allow yourself to be silenced. Be passionate, be bold and be unapologetically YOU!

Nina Santos, 22, Tāmaki Makaurau

Nina Santos (Illustration: Sara Moana)

A first-generation immigrant from the Philippines, Santos is all about shattering glass ceilings. She has worked across multiple government agencies as one of Aotearoa’s younger public servants. Her experiences as a migrant fuels her passion for championing Filipino representation. She worked with the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet to deliver the Unite Against Covid-19 campaign, believing social media has real power to influence change.

Her words of wisdom for young women: 

I often find myself in spaces and tables where I’m the only young woman of colour, and/or migrant. Women of colour have a higher tendency of experiencing “imposter syndrome”, and this constant anxiety about not being good enough or not belonging can really hit hard. But back yourself! I’ve always lived by the quote “Feel the fear and do it anyway”.

Hannah Huggan, 17, Kirikiriroa

Hannah Huggan (Illustration: Sara Moana)

Huggan’s activism focuses on climate change, and her work is centred on the values of mātauranga Māori and community. She identifies as takatāpui and she runs the platform Rangatahi Voices, which aims to amplify the voices of youth and support their involvement in social, environmental and political matters to do with decolonisation and Te Tiriti o Waitangi.

Her words of wisdom for young women: 

There’s always a ‘noise’ that surrounds an issue that we can hold close to our heart – everyone’s opinions, feedback, and criticisms. But it’s not these people who are going to be celebrated or rejoiced, it’s going to be the people who show up and are brave. If you’re willing to fight for a cause then cut through the noise and step into your power.

The Y25 is supported by AUT, Kiwibank, Genesis Energy, The Warehouse Group, Bell Gully and Joyce Fisher Trust. Thank you to Sara Moana for the wonderful illustrations.

Keep going!