‘An incubator for great things’: How YWCA Aotearoa platforms young women and gender diverse changemakers

by Women’s Agenda
Wednesday 21 June 2023

Award-winning leader and activist Latayvia Tualasea Tautai has learned that anyone can be a good leader as long as they care about what’s happening in their community and take action for change.

But she hasn’t always been so confident in this view. She recalls an experience in high school when a new teacher told an entire class of students that she couldn’t be head girl because “Latayvia is a nice girl but not a leader.” It knocked her confidence.

Fast forward to today and it’s glaringly obvious that Latayvia is a leader – she’s won the New Zealand Youth Award for Leadership and the Prime Minister’s Pacific Youth Award for Leadership.

Along her leadership journey, Latayvia has been part of the YWCA Aotearoa’s Y25 programme, which brings together and supports 25 women and non-binary trailblazers, aged 15-25, to create change in their Aotearoa New Zealand communities.

“I’m so grateful that I’ve been a part of collectives like this that recognise that there’s not only one way to be a leader,” says Latayvia.

“When you bring together 25 leaders from across the country – very diverse leaders – I think one of the biggest things is being a part of a sisterhood, and also going against that trope that only one person can make it, that only one woman can be in a space.”

Latayvia says the most valuable parts of the programme for her were the feelings of sisterhood, being able to share opportunities with one another, and the opportunity to change the narrative around what leadership looks like.

“I grew up watching the news a lot and grew up in poverty, relying on the welfare system but I never saw someone who looked like me or had a similar experience to me speak out about it,” says Latayvia. 

“People are made to feel embarrassed about their upbringing, but it's no one's fault that they’re living in poverty.”

“Our system fails people every day and people fall between the gaps, so just having an opportunity to be on the news twice [and] to be on many radio interviews and to write newspaper articles around the pay gap and around Pacific experiences of the New Zealand workforce and the dawn raids has been a really great opportunity,” she says.

Another member of the 2021 cohort in the Y25 programme, alongside Latayvia, was Nina Santos, who says that it was transformational in her leadership journey.

Nina Santos, a recent law graduate and semi-finalist for Young New Zealander of the Year, was another participant in the Y25 program’s 2021 cohort, along with Latayvia. She describes her experience in the program as transformative for her leadership journey.

“I’ve always kind of been active in the social justice space, and I’ve done quite a few youth programs, leadership programs, workshops, seminars, but Y25 remains one of my favourite programs that I’ve done, ever.”

“And without that, I wouldn’t be where I am today. It’s just been so transformational to my personal growth as well as my career trajectory.”

Nina describes the supportive programme as “an incubator for great things”, adding that it was through Y25 that she was given an opportunity to join Mind the Gap, a national reform campaign advocating for pay transparency legislation.

“I was given the opportunity to be Delivery Manager of that huge, amazing campaign, and through that I really found my calling and my niche and that’s legislative reform, campaigning and really targeted strategic advocacy,” says Nina. “And now I just feel like I have a much clearer path.”

And even though both Latayvia and Nina have graduated from the Y25 programme, they’ve both chosen to continue working with the YWCA in different capacities. Nina is an Advocacy and Communications Manager, and Latayvia is a Senior Associate helping to lead and shape the programme.

“Throughout the journey, I’ve realised that it’s not fair to say that what young women and what young gender diverse people need is a voice,” says Nina.

“All young women and gender diverse people do have a voice – what they need is a platform so they can advocate for bigger things.”