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Untouched World CEO Peri Drysdale’s dream was to use fashion as a vehicle for change, and with sustainability running deep within the DNA of her business, she began looking for ways to engage the wider community to try and maximise the positive impact on the planet. After two years of in-depth research, the Untouched World Foundation (UWF) was born and its mission established: to educate young adults on key issues facing the world, to unlock their unique leadership potential and inspire them to become active change-makers, leading the way to a sustainable future.

A passionate team put in hours to develop what have become globally recognised high-intensity, high-impact ‘Leadership for a Sustainable Future’ programmes for young adults aged 18–30. UNESCO identifies Untouched World as one of three global exemplars for empowering and mobilising youth.
As a Global Action Partner (GAP) with UNESCO and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGS), the student-led programmes focus primarily around water quality, biodiversity and wider social and environmental issues. Over the course of a week, students are mentored by lecturers, teachers and community educators from a range of backgrounds, all who provide guidance and support to encourage independent learners that can share ideas collaboratively and work together to problem solve challenges along the way.

‘The transformations we see in these young people in just a week are quite mind-blowing,’ says Peri. ‘On a programme we ran for students with special needs, we had one participant on the first day not even wanting to be there. By the end of the week, she said she wanted to come back as a leader, and she did. Those are without a doubt the moments that make it all worthwhile.’

2021 sees the UWF celebrate 20 years of running programmes. More than 1,800 students have graduated the week-long programmes, with a number of students going on to take part in Advanced Leadership Programmes (ALP). The most recent ALP took place in Kaikōura post-lockdown, with a passionate group of UWF Alumni coming together to find answers to some pretty big questions.

The Foundation has seen its mission of inspiring young leaders to reach their full potential well and truly come to fruition, with some amazing stories of students that have shined and gone on to continue the good work they started.

Matt Shepherd’s first experience with the Untouched World Foundation was on the Otago Waterwise Programme. Matt recalls his time on the programme: ‘My experience is one that I look back on as a moment in time that profoundly shaped my future aims and actions. A couple of months later I was fortunate to have been nominated by UWF to represent the Foundation at a Global Education for Sustainable Development Youth Conference in Paris called “Youth Saves the Planet”. Rather than just sitting back and watching, I decided to take full advantage of the opportunity I had staring me in the face and not let my fear of public speaking stop me. The conference gave me both a platform to challenge myself, but also a platform to challenge other youth on their ideas and ventures. I shared my views and knowledge of local issues in the hope they would have global applications.’ Matt’s address was so well received he was nominated as one of three Asia-Pacific ESD Ambassadors.

Ciara Foley, another Advanced Leadership alumna, was recently announced as the winner of the 2020 Women’s Fund Grant Award.
As with anything, this huge achievement and dedication to giving back and inspiring change would not be possible without the tireless work and incredible effort put in by some very special people. Peri gives heartfelt thanks to Executive Director Mark Prain and Dr Barry Law; leaders Peter, Jocelyn and Caroline; UWF board members David Perenara-O’Connell, Chris Pickrill, Peter Sutton; and Matt Shepherd for leading the junior board.

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