Where’s the team of 5 million for our rangatahi?

By Juliet Jones, Chair of Vodafone Foundation Board

We listened; we united; we sacrificed and we were kind.  Against many metrics, you could also say we won.  Covid-19 captivated the team of 5 million, joining us against an intangible force, which we hope we will one day overcome.

And when we do, is it possible that “Unite against Covid-19” could become “Unite for our rangatahi”?

One in five young people in Aotearoa experience exclusion and disadvantage.  As I write this, close to 180,000[1] young people will be experiencing material deprivation, struggling to find employment, engage with education, and navigate the justice system and protective services.  These young people are over-burdened and under-resourced.  The data tells us this year after year.  Yet this state of affairs persists and those at the frontline who witness the inequitable effects of Covid-19 know too well that, left as they are, things are likely to worsen.

We are a proud country and we have good reason to be.  We are in the top five rankings for the world’s most democratic countries[2]; we have been rated first for handling the pandemic more effectively than any other country[3]; we are one of the least corrupt countries in the world, high in political and press freedom[4].  Yet of the 41 developed countries in the latest Unicef report card we rank a dismal 35th for child and youth wellbeing[5].  Where’s the pride in that?

At the Vodafone Foundation we have a vision of an Aotearoa New Zealand where all young people have access to the resources and opportunities they need to thrive.  Our goal is to halve the number of young people experiencing disadvantage and exclusion by 2027.  Like many others, we are committed to creating an equitable Aotearoa and a brighter future for our rangatahi.  Our mahi involves partnering with community and leveraging the best of digital technology, but we can’t change these entrenched statistics on our own.  To be successful the team of 5 million must work together – we must make current levels of inequity culturally unacceptable.



A year ago, some pandemic predictions had 80,000 New Zealanders losing their lives if things had continued without Government intervention.  That eventuality wasn’t accepted by us and neither should it have been.  But neither should we accept that a large group of our young people live in material deprivation, struggle to find employment, experience racism and suffer from bias in our justice system.  I know none of us want that.

As the Prime Minister said in her first lockdown speech on 23 March 2020, “Together we must stop that happening, and we can…. We’re in this together and must unite against Covid-19.”   This is not about replicating daily press conferences or contact tracing apps, but about the collective might and the power of a nation when it comes together for a common humanitarian cause.

At the Vodafone Foundation, we will continue our mahi and I look forward to sharing more of that with you soon.  In the meantime, does this team of 5 million have it in us?


[1] Vodafone Foundation Thriving Rangatahi Population Explorer 2020 data
[2] The Economist’s annual Democracy Index, 2 February 2021
[3] Lowy Institute, 9 January 2021
[4] 2020 Corruptions Perception Index, Transparency International
[5] Unicef Report Card, published 3 September 2020