YWCA’s Y25 program is amplifying the voices of New Zealand’s young, diverse changemakers

by Women’s Agenda
Tuesday 11 October 2022

YWCA women sitting around neon 'Y25' sign

Raising your voice to shift the status quo and improve outcomes for others is never an easy endeavour, especially for young women from diverse backgrounds.

And while it’s often noted that young people are the ‘leaders of tomorrow’, we don’t really recognise they are often already hard at work in their communities, leading and fighting for progress on some of the world’s most pressing challenges.

It’s the mission of the Y25 program at the YWCA Aotearoa New Zealand to recognise young changemakers from diverse backgrounds and amplify their voices to help them reach their full potential.

The program, which is in its third successful year, supports a diverse group of 25 young women and non-binary people between the age of 15 to 25 from across Aotearoa New Zealand. The idea is to support them as they transition from school students to independent adults.

YWCA CEO Dellwyn Stuart says the impetus to launch the Y25 program in 2019 came about when she and others at YWCA started thinking about the lack of young, diverse voices in the media landscape.

“We recognised New Zealand and particularly Auckland as an incredibly diverse place, but when I thought about the stories of young women I was hearing about and seeing in the media, I wasn’t seeing that diversity,” Stuart says.

“I thought we should be seeking out and shining a light on young women and gender diverse people who are doing fantastic, passionate work. To identify 25 young women every year up and down the country and really help move the spotlight to them, capture their stories and help them on their journey in the transition from school student to independent adult.”

Stuart explains that over the three years the program has been up and running, it’s exploded into a beautiful, rich community of humans.

One of those humans is Latayvia Tualasea Tautai, an alumni of the Y25 2021 cohort. Latayvia says the Y25 program helped to raise her voice as she pursued her work as a financial mentor.

“I was a financial mentor at a Pacific social service but prior to that I’d done a lot of volunteering in the community with women in prisons around providing stationery and necessities to them, and empowering young people,” Latayvia explains.

“Often, it’s thankless work and you don’t expect any recognition for it. I was raised in poverty by a single mum on welfare,  and I never saw stories of people like me.

“Becoming involved with Y25, I feel like it’s about lifting our voices. We say “leaders of tomorrow” but I think we are already the leaders of today.”

Since becoming involved in Y25 last year, Latayvia has spoken on national news programs twice, and has been able to create space for others coming through.

“I’ve spoken on the news twice, and that’s because of Y25 giving me that opportunity to share my story. I used to watch the news before school – we didn’t even have lunch and they’d talk about children in poverty, but I never saw anyone who looked like me offering their perspective,” she says.

“Y25 recognises that young people are already doing the work, it’s about passing them the mic, giving them the opportunities and networks they might not already have access to, especially young Indigenous women.”

Stuart says Y25 there is a huge amount that can be gained by connecting young women and young non-binary people as they pursue their changemaking work.

“We haven’t described Y25 as a leadership program because we recognise by identifying these young women, we are already seeing their leadership. That comes in so many different forms, from personal leadership, to the leadership of movements, to formal and informal roles.

“What we’ve learnt in the first three years, is there is a huge amount of experience and wisdom in the group of 25. Their ability to learn and connect with each other is just amazing.”

So often, advocacy work can be a lonely endeavour, and one of the gifts of Y25 is that a group of young people come together and in Stuart’s words, “find their sisterhood”.

‘I’m blown away every year by how much they know and how accomplished they are at such a young age. When I feel down about climate change or a social justice issue, it gives me so much hope that there is this beautiful optimism coming through in a generation.”

Lisa Keenan, Executive Director of Mecca M-Power, says it’s so exciting to be able to get behind such an innovative and empowering program.

“By holding up diverse role models of what it means to be successful as a woman, and offering wraparound care and support, YWCA helps young women journey from ‘being, to belonging and finally becoming’,” Keenan says. “We are thrilled to be walking alongside them.”

Y25 now has a fantastic alumni of young women and gender diverse people from its first three years. Stuart says they will continue to be the touchstone for the program as it moves forward.

“We want to continue to support them as they travel through their 20s, and we’ll learn a lot from that, and bring that learning to bear into future cohorts.”