Guy Ryan has a vision for the youth of New Zealand, and it packs a pretty hefty punch. He is determined to unleash the full potential of “a generation of young New Zealanders who, can and will change the world”. Like the sound of Guy already? Me too.
Guy’s leadership in the sectors of social enterprise and youth development is well recognised, most recently with his award of Young New Zealander of the Year in 2015. He is the founder and CEO of Inspiring Stories Trust, and was a Vodafone World of Difference recipient in 2011. Heck, he even has an internationally award-winning film behind his name, ‘Carving the Future’.
We chat to Guy to find out more behind the man making waves in the pool of young New Zealanders passionate about making a difference in the world.
A catalyst for change
Guy first started engaging in social issues while at the University of Otago. He attended a lecture given by Bill McKibben, an American climate change activist. Bill’s message about the complexity of climate change and the urgent need to take action struck home with Guy. He recalls how amazed he was at how little had been done given leaders had known about the issue for thirty years already.
In addition, Guy didn’t agree that business for profit is a bad thing. “This didn’t sit well with me because business can offer meaning, livelihood and can be used for good.” Guy saw the potential for entrepreneurship to intersect with positive social impact, and decided to take matters into his own hands. The result; Inspiring Stories Trust, an organisation that offers support to young New Zealanders to grow their ideas to make a positive change in the world.
When I ask Guy what type of issues are the focus of Inspiring Stories, his answer perhaps best reflects the philosophy behind the whole initiative. “It’s hard to tell people what to care about, so the intentional approach of Inspiring Stories is to not do that at all.” Guy explains that Inspiring Stories does not prescribe what issues deserve the backing; rather it is up to young people to find an area they are passionate about, and Inspiring Stories will then help empower them to make the desired change.
So what is Guy’s advice for young Kiwis who want to make a difference but are not sure how to go about it? Guy warns there is no silver bullet but that “the key takeaway is just to start.” He acknowledges that complex issues can be confronting and discouraging. And that is where Inspiring Stories can make it feel less overwhelming. Guy runs two programs; Festival for the Future (a conference-come-showcase that puts young people at the forefront of changing the world) and Live the Dream (a nine week intensive offering young Kiwis support so that those budding ideas might become a self-sufficient operation).
Business for good
When I ask Guy what the most difficult part of operating in the not-for-profit sector, I can hear his wince over the phone. Guy explains that Inspiring Stories is not a conventional charity but rather operates in the “for purpose” sector; where entrepreneurship intersects with meaningful outcomes beyond financial gain. For Guy, one of the biggest challenges he faced when setting up Inspiring Stories was the lack of faith people had in his initiative. “I overcame this challenge by having a go, learning by doing, and relying on word of mouth to increase my profile and credibility.” Clearly, Guy is not one to do things by halves; he was awarded Young New Zealander of the Year in 2015, proving that belief in oneself really does work.
Facing the people
Guy’s sweep of public speaking engagements practically runs off the page. From TedX in Wellington to AUT University’s Business & Law School Graduation Ceremony, Guy is well-practiced at standing up in front of ten to 10,000 people. I ask him to share his top three tips. “First, be authentic; be the real you, and figure out how to bring out your best self for the audience. Second, embrace vulnerability and share this with the audience (for an on-point Ted Talk recommended by Guy, click here). Third, don’t use a script; speak from the heart.”
Start in school
When I ask Guy what skills he considers are most important for Kiwi kids to have by the end of high school, his answer echoes the thoughts shared by Diane Foreman (next up on our Inspiring People blog) “The education system is broken. Memorising from textbooks is outdated; that is why we have Google.” Guy would prefer to see kids developing, growing and implementing projects. As Guy explains, this is what every organisation in the world is made up of; a series of projects. Kids should be given the chance to bring their ideas to life so that they may practice active critical thinking, problem solving and evaluation from an early age.
Perhaps one of Guy’s secrets to his success is with whom he surrounds himself. Guy has the backing of the Inspiring Stories board of trustees. “They are all experts from difference sectors who will challenge me and what I am doing”. Guy also seeks out other people who inspire him. In doing so, Guy confesses he is a “compulsive networker”. If he hears about or reads of someone who he admires, he will drop them a line to get the ball rolling. He advises that an important part of successful networking is to do lots of listening and to be respectful of people who are generous with their time.
Going with the gut
As the CEO of Inspiring Stories, Guy has to make decisions on a daily basis. Since he founded Inspiring Stories in 2011, it has grown from strength to strength. Guy hints of some exciting developments coming in the next year, but stops short of divulging any details. Instead, we touch on what helps drive the big decisions that Guy makes.
“When playing in the entrepreneurship game you need to trust the gut.” Guy points out that running a business involves many variables, from the vehicle, the intended direction and the final destination. Guy therefore asks himself whether it feels like the right thing to do, and can it create real change for young New Zealanders.
Looking at how far Guy has come since those first years at university, I would say his gut feeling has been pretty bang-on.
Written by CHIA blogger, Anna Watson.