Connect with our Alumni Community
Government House Award Ceremony 1990
Over 160,000 New Zealanders have gained their Award since 1963. Developing our Aotearoa Alumni is part of the focus for our 60th Anniversary year, more details will be uploaded during 2023, our celebration year.
Until then, we would love to hear your story. Click the button below to contribute and scroll down to read some of the Alumni stories we have already collected.
Roots and branches – bearing fruit for Award Alumni
Completing his Gold Award in 2003, Dan Howell embodies the transformation that the Duke of Edinburgh’s Hillary Award can have. For Dan, the Award helped him “grow roots”, gave him opportunities to branch out, and bore bountiful fruit. He credits the Award for helping create his creative, innovative, and resilient mindset.
Dan demonstrates qualities of leadership, compassion, and perseverance. He started GravityLab; a tech company that helps businesses improve process automation. This has proven a very sought-after service, but GravityLab is much more than just a successful business; it’s also a social enterprise. A B-Corp company, they work alongside charities to create positive change. The Award is “a catalyst”. The Voluntary Service Section has become a touchstone in Dan’s life, guiding him: “I want to serve. How do I want to serve? What do I care about? What can I do? And when I’ve figured that out, then I go do it. Everybody should do that.” Through Award Holders’ volunteering for local charitable and community causes (through Awards gained in 2021/22) $2.8 million social value was generated for society. If everyone contributed like this what a world it would be.
Voluntary Service is often identified by participants as a highlight and a pivotal part of their Award experience and is a key part of the success of the Award. Our lives are connected by a thousand invisible threads, and along these sympathetic fibres, our actions run as causes and return to us as results. The Award empowers, upskills, and inspires rangatahi. It brings people together and strengthen connections across passions, generations, and cultures. It creates bonds and shared identities that go beyond superficial differences that might otherwise seem important. Award activities, such as volunteering, provide a meaningful way of grappling with social problems; for example, reducing social isolation or improving mental health – for both the volunteer and the person benefiting from the volunteering. 3,569 young people completed an Award in 2021/22; through their participation in the Award a total of $24.5million social value for society was generated. 43% of this social value is linked to the wellbeing benefits from increased volunteering during the Award.
Our 2021-2022 Social Impact Research showed that 79% of Award holders, continue or intend to continue with Voluntary Service. Dan says, “[the Award] shows you what is valuable, like that we all need to contribute to set a map to create a better world”.
Like many of our community, Dan realised how fulfilling it is to know that “you're going to get to the end of your life and go ‘I gave it a good shot’, I feel proud of my life”.
It was not only the Voluntary Service Section that set Dan up for future success. His Adventurous Journeys and Gold Residential were formative experiences. While intense, and challenging, the experiences helped him to understand his capabilities. When he didn’t know the skills required, he was able to persevere and learn. The Award armed Dan with fortitude and the mindset of going “I can do it and that's exciting”. Through the Award rangatahi have many opportunities to attempt new things and embrace challenges. Those lessons serve them in life, and careers long past their Award programme.
Dan recommends the Award is well worth it. It helps young people with self-development, positive mindset, service and community spirit, and growth. He says it “creates the change and the growing of roots inside of them” and believes that, for many, the timing of the Award comes at a critical age for rangatahi figuring out who they are and where they belong. “If we all live out what's important to us, this world would be a really cool place”.
The Awards founder, HRH, Prince Phillip, the Duke of Edinburgh envisioned the scheme as a "do-it-yourself growing up kit". The Duke was a lifelong advocate for young people. Here at the Award, we witness the crucial role it has had in supporting young people to survive and thrive despite the world today’s challenges. With his business success and his impact on the community, his drive, and his compassion, we can see that Dan is thriving.
For three years, Ishan Kokulan has been the youth voice guiding decisions, policy and change at the Duke of Edinburgh’s Hillary Award.
Described as ‘intelligent and insightful’, bringing expertise in technology and ways to grow youth engagement, Ishan is now handing over the reins to new youth trustee, Alexandra Groos. Ishan says his experience as the inaugural youth trustee has been a huge personal achievement and has helped him realise the real value in having youth input and representation.
"Being on the Board has been a fantastic experience as I’ve been able to make a tangible impact on the future of the Award while also being able to grow as a Governor and an individual,” says Ishan.
In his three years serving as youth trustee, the 23 year-old has clocked up a raft of achievements and been instrumental in influencing, shaping, designing, and contributing to policy and the development of the Award. He also helped address challenges that arose throughout the pandemic, most notably as part of an international team that helped distribute funding to areas that required support.
Ishan’s Gold Award, which he completed through school and is the third and final level of the Duke of Edinburgh’s Hillary Award, also involved volunteering for UN Youth New Zealand. This reinforced to him “how eloquent, passionate, and convincing” young people are.
As youth trustee, Ishan was involved in the selection process of his predecessor, selecting a top two from a shortlist of applicants. He says applicants who had some real-world experience post completing their Award was high on his consideration set as was as interest in governance decision- making and advocacy.
Medical student Alexandra, 22, holds a raft of leadership and volunteer positions including as an active member of Youth Search and Rescue, LandSAR instructor, and Gold Alumnus.
“I am excited to be part of the governance team that shapes the Award and allows it to have such a meaningful effect on so many of New Zealand’s young people,” says Alexandra.
“Overall, I am honoured to be offered such an incredible role.”