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Celebrating 30 Years Of Unwavering Dedication To Youth In Aotearoa

Companion of the New Zealand Order of Merit Awarded to Jo-anne Wilkinson, Lady Dingle, Co-Founder of the Graeme Dingle Foundation for Services to Youth.

The year is 1994 and Jo-anne Wilkinson, Lady Dingle alongside acclaimed New Zealand climber, Sir Graeme Dingle, have not long returned from Graeme’s circumnavigation of the Arctic after crossing Alaska and back to the start point in Siberia. While there they saw the dysfunction and hardships faced by remote under-privileged communities.

The pair have come back to Aotearoa New Zealand, feeling lucky to be from a small and resource rich, caring country. But, with open eyes and a new perspective, they are shocked to notice the troubling negative youth statistics in their own country… in our own backyard. From this point the couple decide to dedicate their lives to help as many young people as possible, knowing that the job may never be done, but with a vision that Aotearoa New Zealand will be the best place to be young. This vision is realised through the Graeme Dingle Foundation (formally Foundation for Youth Development and Project K Charitable Trust) established in 1995.

On January 1 2024, Jo-anne’s friends, colleagues and family were delighted to read the King's New Year Honours List, which recognised Jo-anne’s consistent dedication to Aotearoa's youth through making her a Companion of the New Zealand Order of Merit (CNZM) for services for youth.

“In working to advance the positive futures of these children and young people through increased confidence, aspiration, and resilience the [honours] acknowledgement recognises the importance of that to the future wellbeing, prosperity and future leadership of a successful Aotearoa.

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The Graeme Dingle Foundation is being acknowledged for playing an effective long game!” said Jo-anne Wilkinson, Lady Dingle CNZM

A force to be reckoned with, for nearly 30 years Wilkinson has never strayed from the cause and can attribute the greater wellbeing of over 350,000 young Kiwis to her years of dedication.

“From early days Graeme and I have been very mindful of Succession Planning. We have a great team of people throughout the country at national and regional level - both volunteers and staff, and we are confident this means the work will continue long after us” she said.

“We have also ensured that from inception we have had robust Research and Evaluation, so we keep current to meet the evolving needs of children and young people – through evolution of social media (yes it has been that recent!) and things like pandemics which have been very isolating for the

young. In 1995 we started with 48 young people aged 14 in our flagship programme Project K – today we have evolved to working annually with nearly 30,000 children and young people aged 5 – 24 across a range of programmes to increase their sense of hope, aspiration, and resilience. We

have proven we increase school attendance, achievement, and self confidence amongst other many meaningful attributes“

Foundation namesake, Sir Graeme Dingle, was naturally thrilled for his co-founder and has a book about their journey over the last 30 years, due for release later in 2024. “My book about setting up the organisation will be published later this year, to celebrate the 30-year anniversary of our

work. It was in December 1994 that we announced our intention at Auckland's One Tree Hill– so the book is called ‘The One Tree Hill Promise’ he said.

“Together we seem to have an almost perfect yin yang of ability, knowledge and skills that allowed one plus one to be many times more than two, and to not only give purposeful employment to hundreds but to change the lives for the better of thousands – it makes me feel fulfilled and very happy. I’m so proud of Jo-anne.”

Foundation CEO Jo Malcolm-Black shared the organisation's great appreciation for Jo-anne, and her many years of developing the Foundation’s programmes to date. “Jo-anne was instrumental in developing and securing the Foundation’s programmes, Kiwi Can, Stars, Career Navigator, Project K, Kiwi Tahi and MYND. She has driven the organisation’s research and evaluation to ensure the programmes can prove their outcomes and have a direct influence on young people’s lives” she said.

“Jo-anne has been heavily involved as chair of the programmes committee board and as deputy chair of the Trusts primary board. Jo-anne is a formidable advocate and community leader in the youth space - her attention to detail and her drive to ensure good outcomes have been key for the organisation. Without her ongoing commitment, experience, guidance, and advocacy we wouldn't be able to support the almost 30,000 young Kiwis whose lives are changed each year” said Malcolm-Black.

Further complementing her array of achievements and generous allocation of her time, Jo-anne demonstrated commitment to youth through her position as interim Chair and Families Commissioner and on the Superu Board between 2014 and 2018. She has also chaired the Ministry of Social Development’s Grievance Panel and was an Oranga Tamariki Risk and Assurance Panel member from 2017 to 2020. With such a vast array of experience, we asked Jo-anne what she would like to see happen in the youth development space over the next 30 years.

“The skills to develop aspirations and the resilience to achieve them is something I believe should be embedded in our culture as Kiwis – we are innovators and well represented on the world stage given our population base – but many get left behind. My goal would be to see government,

business and other effective community organisations working together to resolve the inequity issues so apparent today. For example, we collaborate with organisations who work with the same profile of children and young people but add a different and sometimes extra element of support – such as The Prince’s Trust Youth Enterprise programme and Big Buddy Mentoring,“ said Wilkinson.

“I’d love to see more funding for organisations like ours with proven outcomes [so that we can] get on with it and enable young lives to be all they can be!”

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