Introducing the 2020 YWCA Y25 (Photos: Supplied)

These 25 young New Zealand women are changing the world

In the midst of tragedy, it’s important that we look to those striving to build better futures. The YWCA’s new initiative Y25 is highlighting 25 young New Zealand wāhine going above and beyond to improve their communities.

Over the last 12 months, a group of young female leaders have taken on some of the world’s biggest challenges, spoken at some of the world’s most important gatherings and influenced rallies of thousands with their cries for change. Internationally, climate activists like Greta Thunberg, Mari Copeny and Autumn Peltier have called out world leaders’ complacency in the fight against climate change. Closer to home, 19-year-old Sophie Handford organised New Zealand’s School Strike 4 Climate marches before being elected to her local council, one of the youngest New Zealanders ever to win a local government election.

But despite this, a recent YWCA study showed a quarter of young women in New Zealand don’t think their experiences are valued. So the YWCA launched Y25, a programme highlighting the achievements of 25 young wāhine from all over the country, and providing contacts, mentorship and support as they continue their journeys.

This year is the first for the initiative and CEO Dellwyn Stuart says it’s about time young women start feeling like their voices matter. She hopes the Y25 inspires thousands of more young women to value their place in society.

“I was quite devastated when I read that a quarter of our young women didn’t think their opinions mattered. In 2020, that’s a pretty damning result for society and how we value young women. At the Y we’re all working through how we can make young women more visible, not speak for them, but create a platform where they can talk about their passions.”

From over 100 nominations, the judging panel of politicians, designers, comedians, and activists made their selections, and the 25 women on this year’s list represent a broad range of backgrounds, sectors and geographical areas from across New Zealand. 

“We did have a really diverse group of nominations but we had to do some work to make that happen. The first year of a programme you have to really reach out and tell different networks what you’re doing so that they’re aware of it and they will see the values of nominating people from their community,” says Stuart. 

Now that the women have been selected, the YWCA has work to do, to create a programme of support for each woman. They’ll be introduced to each other and a host of people to help them grow their connections and mentor them towards whatever goal they have. 

“Working with us is about building your network, your support network and your connections so you – as one of these young women – can take your passion and your project where you want to… It’s new and we’re building it as we go and I’m sure we’re going to learn a lot through this first year and we’re going to learn a lot from these young women.”

Meet the 2020 Y25 group:

Te Manaia Jennings, 20

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Rotorua artist Jennings uses her paintings, which have been shown in eight exhibitions in her hometown, to open discussions about mental health. She wants to inspire young people to understand the power of their minds, after going through her own mental health struggles.

Sophie Handford, 19

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Handford has accomplished a lot in her 19 years, organising the School Strike for Climate marches throughout New Zealand in 2019, and becoming one of New Zealand’s youngest councillors with her election to the Kāpiti Coast Council. Her passion is in empowering young people to use their voice by advocating for homeless youth and building communication channels between young and old people.

Sophia Malthus, 21

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A strong sense of humour and a life of experiences with a disability have made Malthus a force against the stigma of people who use wheelchairs. Through her social media platform and work with All is for All, the platform that helps those with a disability find designer garments that work with their unique circumstance, she’s on a mission to show what life with a spinal cord injury looks like. 

Shalini Guleria, 25

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PhD student Guleria was inspired to create her science education programme Science Box in 2018 after hearing a young girl say science was “too hard, mostly for boys and you had to be clever to do it.” Now that programme has taught over 2,000 students the magic of science through problem solving, teamwork and communication. With an app and a roadshow in the works, Guleria is making true her vision to empower kids of all backgrounds to love science.

Ranisha Chand, 18

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Inspired by her own experiences with racism as a migrant to Aotearoa, Chand has built her passion for advocating against discrimination. A Shakti Youth ambassador, she wants to raise awareness of issues facing migrant communities, women and young people, speaking up for those without a voice.

Kelly Johnson, 22

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With a focus on supporting women, Johnson started Her Energy, a power company that gives a significant portion of its profits to women’s charities like The Aunties and Cambridge Community House. She’s taking on a traditionally male-dominated industry and supporting a network of women along the way.

Jacinta Gulasekharam, 24

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Gulasekharam is the co-founder of Dignity, a social enterprise providing sanitary products to over 110 schools, to stop the chain of period poverty that restricts so many young people’s access to education. She’s also created a collective, Positive Periods, with a goal to provide menstrual products to all students in New Zealand.

Isabella Ieremia, 21

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A passion for art is what drives Ieremia to create positive change in her community. She wants to make art more accessible for Pasifika people and has spent the past few years producing and creating Pasifika-focused art events like The Guerilla Collection and Upu. Through university, she learnt to appreciate herself and her Samoan heritage and wants to inspire other Pasifika girls to think the same.

Irihapeti Edwards, 21

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Raised in a family that survived on welfare payments and educated at decile one schools, Edwards became passionate about rewriting the shame she used to feel about her background. Now she’s using her background to empower her mahi, focusing on improving financial literacy in her community and advocating for indigenous rights along the way.

Becki Moss, 24

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Using photography to capture the nuances of life for communities in New Zealand that are often overlooked, Moss wants to change the way these groups are perceived. Her experience with chronic pain also led Moss to start a community patient advocacy network for young women and gender non-conforming people in hospital.

Ashleigh Dick, 22

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As an environmental engineer, Dick is taking on a traditionally male-dominated sector with a unique, holistic lens. She believes helping the planet survive relies on looking through the lens of poverty and education, and runs interactive school sessions to get young kids thinking about their future sustainably.

Annika Adresen, 25

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Environmental educator Andresen is passionate about protecting our oceans. With a Masters degree in architecture, she is interested in how the built environment affects how people interact with the natural world, and through her work with Blake NZ she’s connected thousands of young New Zealanders with the marine environment.

Angelina Del Favero, 16

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Find Your Fire was co-founded by Del Favero when she was just 14 years old to educate young New Zealanders about important issues. The first issue of its magazine imPower was distributed to every secondary school in the country, teaching kids about family harm. Its second issue will raise awareness about human trafficking, with support from the NO Project.

Mikayla Stokes, 19

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Focusing on encouraging girls into science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM), Stokes has run workshops and spoken to audiences of over 1,000 about her own journey in robotics. She is a co-founder of TechGirlsNZ and through this has dedicated her time to dismantling the idea that women aren’t good at STEM subjects.

Aleisha Amohia, 22

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The creator of Victoria University’s Women in Tech society, Amohia is passionate about creating pathways for more inclusivity of women and gender-diverse people in STEM. She’s hosted outreach programmes to inspire high school girls into tech pathways and is now the vice president of the National Council of Women Wellington branch.

Tayla Nasmith, 19

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When Nasmith’s older sister became pregnant at 16, she realised there were many other young mothers in need of support. She started Mummy’s in Need as a source of pre-loved baby gear, and since then it has grown into a community of young mothers, offering support for mums from all backgrounds.

Courtney Davies, 24

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Making strides in a typically male-dominated farming sector, Davies is the youngest ever member of the Royal Agricultural Society. She is an advocate for sustainable farming practices and wants to bridge the urban-rural divide through her work with Blake NZ.

Emily Hacket Pain, 18

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After realising she had more school supplies than she needed, Hacket Pain started Papers Pens Pencils to address the shortage of supplies in some less privileged communities. She spoken with schools in Auckland and in the Pacific and has now redistributed over 92,000 items to 62 low decile schools across Auckland, Fiji and the Cook Islands.

Tulsi Lathia, 18

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After the March 15 terror attacks in Christchurch last year, Lathia wanted to help close the gap of cultural understanding in New Zealand. Her idea was a cookbook, Spoonful of Spice, which included personal stories and recipes from migrants and refugees with 100% of the profits given to the Christchurch Refugee Resettlement Centre. She wants to continue bridging this cultural divide and create spaces for everybody to be themselves.

Janelle Augsburg, 24

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Working to create safe spaces for Pasifika to connect, Augsburg has spent a lot of time working with organisations like MATES, UniBound and Edmund Rice Camps. She wants to create more positive Pasifika visibility by staying strong in her own identity and encouraging others to do so as well. Her podcast Untouched Spaces sparks conversations for the Pasifika community.

Maia Mariner, 15

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Three years ago, Mariner noticed many of her friends couldn’t participate in sports because they didn’t have enough money for proper sneakers. She began collecting unused pairs from people who had them lying around and gave them to her friends which then grew to be a project called Lazy Sneakers. Since then, she’s distributed over 1,500 pairs of shoes to people around Aotearoa and she hopes to turn Lazy Sneakers into a social enterprise.

Gabriella Brayne, 20

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As Auckland Women’s Centre Youth Coordinator Brayne works with students at over 14 high schools to understand and empower intersectional feminism. She also co-leads a system called the Consent Club, working at festivals and events to improve consent culture.

Charlotte Nield, 25

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Since leaving university in 2017 Nield has run an ice cream company leading the way for sustainability in business. Wild and Whipped uses plant-based ingredients and fruit destined to be discarded, and uses 100% compostable and reusable packaging in her ‘nice-cream’. Her next goal is to eliminate waste from her entire supply chain.

Te Aho Jordan, 21

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Working as a youth mentor in Ōpōtiki, Jordan deals with a lot of young people who are feeling lost and discouraged to continue with their education. She works hard to encourage people to change their lives and encourage them on their paths. She is also a photographer, running a non-profit service for aspiring models to build their portfolios.

Cinnamon Lindsay, 25

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A fierce advocate for takatāpui in New Zealand, Lindsay works to tackle the inequities and discrimination people experience due to their LGBTQ+ identity and race. She’s dedicated to decolonising rainbow organisations and spaces, as well as creating a future where rangatahi takatāpuhi can thrive.



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