How Global Impact Starts With Education

If there’s one thing we’ve learned through our work connecting with incredible ethical brands, it’s that corporate social responsibility can take many different forms, and ultimately, the best path is the one that fits best with your personal passions.

This realisation – that business leaders have the potential to enact so much more change when they genuinely pursue their values – is what led Peri Drysdale, founder of B Corp certified ethical clothing brand Untouched World, to establish the Untouched World Foundation back in 2000. Now in its twenty-first year, Untouched World Foundation (UWF) is a social initiative that provides environmental preservation leadership programmes for young people across New Zealand. Through UWF’s high intensity, impact-driven programmes, students are empowered with the knowledge and hands-on experience that will ultimately enable them to become sustainable leaders in whichever career path or industry they choose to pursue.

“Rather than throwing money at a charity or a short term solution, we realised that long term benefits will come by educating young people, and allowing them to take their knowledge into the community, and to live by the principles they’ve learnt.”

Through educating young people about the threats our environment is facing, the stakeholders involved and the potential solutions, the foundation has allowed Untouched World to pursue its mission: “to play a leading role in a world where each individual’s full potential is realised while assisting the planet to sustain its ability to support current and future generations”. 

Inspired by this hands-on approach, we spoke with the team at Untouched World about the story behind Untouched World Foundation, and the impact they’ve seen the programme have on graduates and the wider community.

“The foundation came about after looking at how we could make the biggest impact beyond the reach of the business. Peri launched the Untouched World Foundation (UWF) back in 2000, so we now have some graduates who are twenty years deep into careers that were shaped by the week they had away with the Foundation. Matt Shepherd took part in the Otago Waterwise programme, and a couple of months later was nominated to represent the UWF at a Global Education for Sustainable Development Conference in Paris called ‘Youth Saves the Planet’. This proved to be a life-changing experience and Matt returned home with the confidence to speak publicly and share his messages with the wider community. He joined the Waterwise Programme again the following year as a tertiary leader and then went on to join the Advanced Leaders’ Programme, which has been created to further develop the leadership skills and help foster bold personal ambitions of Foundation alumni who really connect with the message and approach. Matt has since joined the foundation’s board and is responsible for helping shape the Advanced Leaders’ Programmes into what they are today. Everyone learns differently, and for some of the young people who participate, the immersive setting we provide is exactly what they need: it’s not a classroom, it’s the real world, and they can see in practice how they can make a difference. For students like Matt, the programme has had a profound impact on their career path, and what they’ve gone on to do. Another graduate is Ciara Foley, who has been integral in the Students Strike For Climate Change movement over the past few years, and won the 2020 Women’s Fund Grant from The Christchurch Foundation to support her work. As team members at Untouched World, we’re always encouraged to go along to the presentation days that the students run at the end of their week away. It’s always so inspiring to listen to these young people who are so empowered, inspired and motivated to make change”.

There are five different leadership programmes and each involves active participation in an environmental preservation project. While the programmes are entirely facilitated by the Untouched World Foundation and local community partners, the students are heavily involved in the approach, direction and outcome: a reflection of Untouched World Foundation’s mission to empower the sustainable leaders of tomorrow.

“As well as hands-on work connecting to the environment, working on waterways and plantations, the students connect with and talk to industry leaders from different sectors about how they can work together to create change. It’s amazing to see these students, who range from aged sixteen through to early twenties, speaking with farmers and business owners, and working together to map out pathways towards positive change. That intergenerational connection is really powerful.”

When we asked the Untouched World team why they believe education is so important, they explained that education equates to empowerment, and when people feel empowered, they’re more likely to empower others.

“There are so many people out there who would be doing the right thing by the environment if only they had the knowledge. Things as simple as recycling can be so misunderstood, and often when people don’t know what the right thing to do is, they’ll avoid doing anything for fear of getting something wrong. As soon as people have the knowledge, they’re so much more active about making things happen and helping other people to do the same. The hands-on experiences and theoretical insights that our students gain, paired with the opportunity to speak with industry leaders, empowers them with the knowledge and skills to go out into the world and make a positive impact,”.

To learn more about the work Untouched World Foundation are doing to empower young leaders across New Zealand, visit untouchedworld.com.au

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