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When Hepi Ferris-Bretherton began his role with iwi health organisation Te Oranganui in 2019 he wanted to create change. Three years on, and for those that have had the opportunity to to work alongside him, the impact he has made is clear – rangatahi have a role to play in building movements for change. Young people don’t want to just be involved in sharing their perspectives and views, but also want to be part of the design and decision-making.

Through COVID-19 lockdown Healthy Families WRR set up a Digital Village for rangatahi to work together to design and shape responses to the challenges young people are facing today. Hepi facilitated that process, bringing rangatahi together from across the rohe (district/region) to share their thoughts, ideas and solutions. The result has been a rangatahi perspective on the protective factors for good mental health and wellbeing, sharing the types of things they do to manage themselves through difficult times. Local experts and entreprenuers joined the conversation as guest speakers sharing their journey with the rangatahi. “The prototype was so successful because we have a genuine interest in rangatahi as change makers and designers of change in the things that most effect their health and wellbeing.” Says Rebecca Davis, Change Agent and Kaihautū (Manager) for Healthy Families WRR.

Hepi has recently taken on a new role as a System Innovator within the Healthy Families Whanganui Rangitīkei Ruapehu (WRR) team. He started his journey as a kaimahi for the Rangatahi Innovation kaupapa – a protoype to help explore how to create better health and well-being outcomes for 16-24 year olds, focussed on four pou; te ao Māori (the Māori worldview), te taiao (the natural environment), skills and development, and iwi and community service.

As a rangatahi himself, Hepi thrived in an environment that encouraged rangatahi to be active participants in designing, experimenting and adapting as they created the kaupapa, aptly named Te Kakano – the seed, from the ground up.

“Our rangatahi have uptapped potential and creativity and there’s not enough spaces for them to bring that out. Giving them a space and opportunity to be themselves and then seeing what they’re passionate about and what opportunities come from that, its ground breaking. Supporting them to create a better future for themselves is transformational” says Hepi.

Davis saw the shift into the Systems Innovator role as a good fit for Hepi and the team. “In Healthy Families, like all innovations, we talk about agility. That means the ability to learn in real time through reflective practice, assess our progress, then adapt if we can see better, or new pathways. We saw Hepi had a natural affiliation to design thinking and innovation methods, and he was reallly comfortable with adapting when things weren’t working. He was super quick to pick up the check, reflect, adapt technique. This means we reduce the risk of wasting time and money when things are not working, or new unplanned consequences become opportunities for better outcomes. We are already begining to see the Rangatahi Innovation team evolve in their practice and techniques through the role Hepi plays in applying the design thinking methods” she says.

For Davis, Hepi is an amazing example of the type of talent required to create change in systems that have for far too long perpetuated inequities in our country.

“If you are strong in your cultural identity, and you have a range of soft and hard skills, the more you can overcome. Having Hepi work with the rangatahi and our kaimahi through a innovation lens has resulted in greater learning and insight around what does and doesn’t work for our young men. Our rangatahi get a lot out of this space. Hepi is energetic, smart and committed to youth development. He’s really hungry to learn and apply his thinking and skills. It’s a real assest to have someone so young, who’s Māori, and a pāpā working in these spaces. He adds an openness and an inquisitiveness in the action learning of this mahi”.

Hepi will continue to work with rangatahi, focusing on health prevention opportunities for young people to lead. He will also be exploring active transport, and increasing creative neighbourhood play. “Whanganui is the perfect place to raise children and we want to see more creative informal play at the neighbourhood level – where whānau know their tamariki are safe outdoors, using their imagination, being active - strengthening community connections. Creative play has physical benefits but also teaches young children how to interact with each other, how to look out for one another, and to tap into that part of the brain for solving problems and coming up with new ideas”, says Hepi. As a Pāpā he can see the benefits for his own children.

The current health system is set up to do to rangatahi, to make decisions for them and to decide what investment goes towards them, without them at the table. The work the Healthy Families WRR team have done through Te Reo o Te Rangatahi (Rangatahi voice) and Te Kakano over the past few years, has actively sought insights from young people, mapping and understanding the current picture of what is happening for them in the community, then advocating for rangatahi be involved in the co-design of solutions. Health and wellbeing statistics highlight the need for change, the status quo is not working, and the young people themselves are clear that change is required.

“Our goal is to support a pathway for young people to be at the decision making table and Hepi is an example of that” says Davis.


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