Our stories

Getting on Board – Celebrating the Contributions of our Youth Trustees


The role of Youth Trustee here at the plays a vital role for youth in this governance position. Increasing diversity in leadership is always beneficial, and here in the Award, we value inclusivity and accessibility. The development of youth leadership is critical to building civic capacity and long-term community sustainability, by establishing capable, effective leaders for the next generation. The Award has an organisational commitment and overall goal to bring a youth voice to our community while empowering and developing confident, independent, and motivated youth leaders.

Ishan Kokulan, our Youth Trustee for the past three years is a talented and insightful leader. He has been instrumental in influencing, shaping, designing, and contributing to policy and the development of the Award present and future. Ishan is a Gold Award alumnus and a law clerk at a commercial law firm. Having completed his Gold Award, Ishan was eager to continue his personal development, and his service to the community. Being on the Award Board team fulfilled both desires.

“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.”

The role of a youth trustee is to provide a different, youthful perspective of the Award at governance level. The current board team is a passionate and committed group, most of whom have connections to the Award. Our Youth Trustee brings to this team a knowledge of modern technology and social media, as well as a clear understanding of why ideas might be more popular with our younger audience. The role combines meeting participation, where input is appreciated, and representation of the organisation.

From Ishan “giving my input I’ve found interesting personally and I think it’s something that more youth need to be involved in, in these governance level decisions. At the end of the day especially for organisations like ours which are youth focused we can give invaluable insight into changes and issues, and I hope my contribution was valuable”.

Representation of the Award is another component. Being the face of the Award at events, panels and international forums is an opportunity to be a part of the International Award Community, as well as inspiring young New Zealanders who are on, or want to be on their own Award journeys. As the Youth Trustee during our challenging Covid years, Ishan was a part of an International Award team that helped distribute funding to areas that needed support. Cooperating with Award representatives was an enlightening experience offering insight into countries affected massively by Covid and learning more about the work and projects being undertaken across the Award world.

Ishan’s Gold Award involved volunteering for UN Youth New Zealand, an amazing opportunity that connected him with many likeminded individuals. The beauty of working with UN prior to his role at Duke of Edinburgh are the mirrored values; large national organisations that focus on “really empowering youth by teaching them about civics education and then also letting them know that they’re able to make a difference and they have a voice”. Young people can impact government, and Ishan’s experiences are a reminder of “how eloquent and passionate and convincing [young people are].

“Going into the Youth Trustee role I didn’t know what to expect. However, as I leave my post, I can say with absolute confidence that the role has blown away any expectations that I could have had for it. While my current journey with the Award is coming to an end, I look back at my time on the Board fondly. I’ve enjoyed represented the New Zealand Award on international panels, attending and speaking at Award ceremonies, contributing to Board meetings, and helping shape the future of the Award in Aotearoa.”

The Award’s inaugural Youth Trustee Ishan retired in August, and we thank him for his service, perspective, and contribution. Ishan provided a nuanced, youthful voice for the board, and he represented the Award nationally and internationally as the face of the Award Aotearoa.

“The board we have currently are super receptive to hearing youth ideas and actively try and engage with me as someone who’s done the Award recently. Being a youth trustee is as simple as speaking your mind all the time and hoping change comes out of,” Ishan advises. Often young people don’t get exposed to governance, with systems limiting their participation. Also, “for a lot of people, it can be scary and unfamiliar [to be on the board], but at the end of the day if you’ve gone through the Award journey, if you’ve achieved your Gold, you’ve displayed every possible skill you would ever need to have this role.” The role also allows upskilling, contributing to the evolving Award programme, giving professional environment experience, and providing a platform to make a change.

“I have been incredibly fortunate to be the inaugural youth trustee on the Board over the past 3 years. It has been a phenomenal experience where I’ve learned so much about the Award and myself and I can’t wait to see where the Award goes in the future.”

Youth development is at the very heart of the Award, to have representatives of their voice as a part of our governance team is essential. The calibre of young people applying for the Youth Trustee role was astonishingly high, and we are excited to welcome Alexandra Groos, another bright, generous, and involved Youth Trustee, to the Board.

Alexandra is a dedicated and passionate medical student, active member of Youth Search and Rescue, LandSAR instructor, and Gold Alumnus. Her excellent communication skills, drive for success, professional experience and problem-solving skills will stand her in good stead as she comes aboard the Award Board team. Ishan, involved in the selection of his replacement, believes “Alex deserves the role very much”. Within five minutes of meeting Alex, the selection team could tell “how passionate she was about the Award and what it meant to her.”

The process of selecting the new Youth Trustee involved our current Youth Trustee Ishan heavily. After a group of applicants had been discovered, Ken, Board Chair, and Ishan created shortlists then selected a top two to interview. Both brought different criteria and consideration to what they were looking for. Ishan valued passion, and active involvement at a higher level within an organisation.

Applicants who had some real-world experience post completing their Award were high on his consideration set, as he prioritised the interest or indication the person had in that next level of decision making, and with advocacy. But they also had to have been relatively fresh, so that they had experience with ORB as a participant or Award Leader. For Ishan, who completed his Gold through school, seeking a different perspective of the Award journey was important. Alex offered that unique perspective, as she completed her Award journey post-secondary education through an Award Unit. Her vast experience in LandSAR has given her admirable leadership skills, management experience and strategy development and her unique journey perspective will spur exciting conversations within the boards team to expand the future of the Award. Just like Ishan, Alexandra aims to provide the Board with an honest and constructive opinion on how our governance will impact this organisation’s most important members.

As a Bronze, Silver, and Gold Duke of Edinburgh’s Hillary Award holder, she has a fierce passion for the Award and envisions this role as an opportunity for to give back to the people and the organisation that have moulded many young people, including herself.

With Ishan, and in the future with Alex, the Duke of Edinburgh’s Hillary Award board gains valuable new insights and perspectives from enthusiastic young people, resulting in more rounded and better decision making whilst our young contributors have the opportunity to develop their existing skills whilst contributing to a not-for-profit they care about.