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Growing leadership through the Aspiring Leaders Forum

Updated: Jun 1, 2023

Four inspiring community leaders from around Kirikiriroa attended Te Wānaga Rangatri Tūmanako - Aspiring Leaders Forum on the 1st-4th July 2021 to be challenged and empowered to think proactively about leadership, and to explore the faith and values that inform their approach to leadership.

Kelsy Scott, Madiha Ali, Abby Van de Ven and Zeta Mohn shared with us their biggest takeaways and what they learnt about their own leadership below.


Kelsy Scott

Kelsy Scott uses they/them pronouns. They are a culmination of the nurture and influence from their family and community. Kelsy seeks and facilitates connection within the community through the sharing of lived experiences.

How would you describe your ALF experience? My ALF experience was interesting. I wasn't sure what to expect going into it but found comfort in my group and facilitators. What was your highlight? Besides the people I got to meet my highlight was the keynote speaker, Naomi Nicholas. How would you describe your leadership before ALF? Before ALF my leadership was modelled on what I had seen done in my community, repeating what I had seen.

Where is your leadership after ALF? After ALF my leadership looks similar yet now I have an understanding as to why I practice servant leadership the way I do. What is the one thing you're taking away from the Forum to implement into your everyday life to make the world a better place? "Whatever we do let aroha be our guide" - Pio Terei. Would you encourage other young people to go? What kind of young people do you think it's for? Yes. Any and every young person could benefit from ALF.


Madiha Ali

How would you describe your ALF experience? My ALF experience was nothing short of an adventure. There was such wealth of knowledge available for me to explore. I learned so much about leadership by listening to other great leaders' stories of vulnerability, strength and resilience. It was also a very big leap out of my comfort zone for me where I had to give some crazy things a go. It was also an opportunity for me to draw my boundaries and stick to my values it conflicted. Above all, it was a crazy four day experience where I get to meet some really cool people and get inspired by the work they are doing in their communities.

What was your highlight? My highlight was definitely the moment when our team 'team 3' was announced as the winner of the sports tournament. In addition to that, Pio Terei's talk just inspired me on so many levels but what stood most was "Don't follow me if you don't know me" which I intend to engrain in my leadership going forward.

How would you describe your leadership before ALF? I would say, my leadership was slightly guarded before ALF.

Where is your leadership after ALF? After ALF and after listening to some great leaders, I noticed that there was one thing that all the leaders throughout emphasized and that was the power of leading by heart. Rt. Hon James Bolger mentioned "values-based leadership is not for the faint-hearted". For me, my values-based leaderships looks like holding on to my values strongly and leading by heart. Leading by heart for me looks like, keeping aroha at the centre of my leadership.

What is the one thing you're taking away from the Forum to implement into your everyday life to make the world a better place? Fight to see the humanity in every human being I encounter and see them through the eyes of aroha.

Would you encourage other young people to go? What kind of young people do you think it's for? I'd definitely encourage other young people to go as it is a great place to meet other young leaders and different walks of life. I believe, it is for any young person whether they are on their leadership journey already or they are just starting.


Abby Van De Ven

Abby is a Policy & Project Analyst, law student, and community changemaker. Abby is passionate about community-led development and environmental sustainability. She uses her unique lived experiences to awhi, motivate and inspire those around her to step into the best versions of themselves.

How would you describe your ALF experience? It’s challenging trying to articulate into words how incredible being a part of Te Wānaga Rangatri Tūmanako– Aspiring Leaders Forum was! In 2019 I attended as a delegate and was honoured to be asked to attend this year as a group facilitator. I was also fortunate enough to have this trip sponsored by the Hamilton City Council. ALF is a truly incredible experience where I had the opportunity to examine the ‘why’ of leadership. I was also reminded that serving others is the best foundation for meaningful lives & healthy communities. Sharing space with such passionate, kind and curious young leaders left me feeling inspired and encouraged that Aotearoa has a very bright future.

What was your highlight? The vulnerable, open-hearted conversations that were had with such an inspiring group of like-valued people. Quite often we shy away from uncomfortable conversations, so to step into our vulnerability and start to unpack some of the issues that are prevalent in todays society was so empowering. The biggest gifts and lessons I took away were from those who I had polar opposite viewpoints with. There’s such power in stepping away from needing to be right and to just listen to others without needing to refute them, through this we can come to see that at the root of everything we all have similar values and aspirations.

How would you describe your leadership before ALF? Leadership was always a word I was averse to associating with myself. My reference points were the greats like – Gandhi, Mother Theresa and Nelson Mandela or high-flying CEO’s and business entrepreneurs. I ignorantly assumed that being leader was solely about leading the masses & advocating for massive societal change. But I soon came to realise that leadership isn’t a title but in fact a behaviour and whether we acknowledge it or not we are all leaders in our own spaces – whether that’s at home, in our communities or in our place of work. Irrespective of our positions, titles, and ranks, if we are serving others then we are demonstrating leadership.

Where is your leadership after ALF? What has been significantly solidified for me is that leadership is a position of service. A leader is someone who motivates, encourages and inspires people. A leader is someone who appreciates that it is the people they lead that in the end determines the success of their endeavours. A great leader see’s the gifts and strengths in others and aspires to help individuals become enthusiastic about their potential. Whether we’ve overcome adversity and are inspiring others through our lived experiences or actively volunteering in our communities, we are all leaders in our own right. It’s once we acknowledge and step into this that the real magic happens!

What is the one thing you're taking away from the Forum to implement into your everyday life to make the world a better place? The importance living with an open-hearted & open-mind. I really put this into play at the forum, especially when I had uncomfortable conversations with others and felt like I was being attacked. So often when we get challenged by a different opinion we go into battle to defend our viewpoint and prove we are right to protect our ego and self, but in doing to we are also creating bigger divides. We don’t have to agree with everyone but when we try to see the world through the lens of others it helps to break down barriers and lessen the divide. Approaching our interactions off a platform of love and empathy can be such a simple way to grow our connections with others.

Would you encourage other young people to go? What kind of young people do you think it's for? Absolutely I would. Don’t make the mistake in thinking you’re not qualified enough or that you aren’t good enough or any of the silly false narratives we concoct that prevent us from taking up opportunities. This forum is for anyone who wants to explore and expand their sense of self and connect with other young people from all over the country and from all walks of life. Take the leap! This opportunity is a massive chance to challenge yourself and level up in unexpected ways. ALF isn’t a ‘10 steps to becoming a leader’ course, it’s an opportunity to discover what kind of leader you are and celebrate that.


Zeta Mohn

Zeta is a mana wahine with a flair for creating, writing and dreaming big. She is a proud Hamiltonian, born and bred in the city. Zeta wears many hats as a Community Connector, feminist, aunt and creator but her true passion lies within bringing people together. How would you describe your ALF experience? If I had only one word to describe my ALF experience, it would be transformative. I didn't know what to expect from a 4-day forum about leadership that included something so random like a barn dance, but ALF was life changing for me. There were truly unexplainable moments where my connection with my group and the people around me mixed with the forums push to be vulnerable, allowed me to see deeper into myself than ever before. I created invaluable relationships with my group, and was able to reflect on the topics the speakers shared with the deepest parts of myself. What was your highlight? My highlight from ALF would have to have been the Sports Competition. I enjoy sports, but I'm not someone who has ever played competitively in my adult life, so this wasn't because I love sports but simply because our team spent the day losing SO badly. Before the end of the day we had a chant competition where we had about 5-10 minutes to create a chant. I was feeling a little lost because I would normally lead something loud, but I was losing my voice, and luckily another team member, Brooke, jumped in. We watched 6 other teams present before us and then got up to perform. About a third of the way into our chant, the whole team's face went blank - everyone had forgotten the words to the chant. It felt like an eternity looking around at everyone before I decided to step in and call the chant and we finished up strong. In that moment we had bounced back from complete failure as a team and our relationships were solidified from them on. It taught me an important lesson about connection, resilience, failure and my own leadership style and it’s a moment I’ll never forget. How would you describe your leadership before ALF? Before ALF, I honestly wasn't really sure I was a leader. I knew I was a good facilitator, and sometimes a mentor to my friends and the youth in the community, but I never saw myself as having leadership skills. This doubt often led to me taking offence to criticism or honest opinion, and not allowing myself to be heard in different spaces because I didn't think I was high up (leader) enough to be heard. Where is your leadership after ALF? After completing ALF, I now recognize that I am a leader in my community. ALF helped me to realize that I have been asked into different spaces because I have value as a leader as well as teaching me how to express my thoughts and opinions in an authentic and curious way. I have discovered that I often lead from behind unless I am needed to lead from the front, and that does not make me any less of a leader. Post ALF I feel like a true leader. What is the one thing you're taking away from the Forum to implement into your everyday life to make the world a better place? To put it simply, love and curiosity. I was lucky enough to have incredible people in my group whose outlook on life managed to change mine. Love comes for Braden, who has the purest heart, and literally wished that he could give people the sense of love, hope and kindness that he feels when he is outside experiencing nature. Now, when I am faced with adversity, I think WWBD (What Would Braden Do) and try to act out of love and kindness. Curiosity is the other route. If I am feeling pushed and unable to be my true kind and loving self, it's time to follow Judi’s lesson of curiosity and ask more questions. Judi also never uses the phrases “bored” or “busy” which has made me get more curious about how I’m really feeling when I would normally use those words. Would you encourage other young people to go? What kind of young people do you think it's for? I would absolutely encourage other young people to attend ALF! ALF was an unexplainable experience and I think all young people should have the opportunity to access. I think that the later age range (our group was 22-26) or a more mature young person will get the most of this forum, but other than that ALF would be useful for anyone in different sectors or jobs, from all paths of lifes, as long as they are ready to open up and be vulnerable in a new space. My hope is that one day we can create smaller ALF spaces around New Zealand and give more young people, who might have barriers stopping them from attending, the chance for an experience like this.


These young people were proudly supported to attend Aspiring Leaders Forum by Waikato Regional Council, Hamilton City Council and a group of donors who supported Madiha's GoFundMe! To find out more about Aspiring Leaders Forum nominations, visit this link.

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