The 2018 Essay Question and The Rt Hon Helen Clark’s Challenge To the IWA Entrants

Background to the 2018 Essay Question

More and more, in educational circles, we are hearing conversations that discuss and define each generation as a distinct social group. The Generational Model discusses groups as living, experiencing and progressing under different and specific social landscapes. Differences can be subtle or significant and all provoke their own set of opportunities and challenges.

Young people (under 18 years) in Aotearoa New Zealand now make up nearly quarter of our population. This means that this generation, Generation Z, is the largest youth cohort in our nation’s history.

Generation Z is further characterised by the notion that the world we are living in is changing and evolving at rapid speed. Massive advancement in technology as well as a growing economic inequality in most parts the world, and certainly Aotearoa, is having a profound effect on our communities and our people.

Despite the achievements and progress of the generations before, there is undoubtedly many issues or concerns in our communities that require leadership and action.


Growing inequality


The housing crisis

The future of education

Climate change and resource sustainability


Natural disasters and local and global response

War and conflict

Isolation or disconnection

Under representation of women and Māori and Pasifika people in government, professional leadership and decision making


The importance of developing and making room for Young Person’s Leadership and participation is a sentiment that is echoing all around the world. Organisations such as ONE Youth Ambassadors, UN Youth Delegates, World Youth Alliance, Youth Peace Fest, World Assembly of Youth (WaY), One Young World, Outward Bound, Aotearoa Youth Leadership Institute, NZ Youth Leadership Summit and Youth for the Environment are all organisations that seek the active involvement of young people as agents for transformative change.

Youth voice, ideas and stories will become the drivers for change and social justice. The more youth express ideas, values, beliefs and stories, the more they are participating in the process of co-constructing meaning, understandings and knowledge. Consider the recent message delivered by many thousands of school children who, globally, walked out of their classrooms in unison in the School Strike 4 Climate, or, as another example, the Student Volunteer Army in Christchurch that rallied as a response to the 2011 Christchurch earthquake.

The Essay Question 2018

In the 2018 Essay Question, students were introduced to the topic with a quote from The Rt Hon Helen Clark’s 2015 speech: “Youth as Partners for Change in the Implementation of Agenda 2030.” Specifically:

“Over many years in public life in New Zealand, including being Prime Minister for nine years, and now in my current position at UNDP, I have seen how young people’s incredible drive and commitment can change things for the better. On a daily basis, young people show their power for transformational change” (Helen Clark, 2015).

Students were asked to bring their voice to an area they considered in need of transformative change. An area could be an aspect of school or family life, peer relationships, community, the environment, social media, politics, sport, economics, equality, equity, education, health, democracy, life as young person, safety, food safety, food distribution, disaster response, conflict, animal cruelty, employment, disability, homelessness, ethical business practice or any focus of their choice. It may have been specific to them, to their gender, their culture, their race, their religion, or to all.

We asked, “Why does it matters to you?”

We challenged them to: Bring the story of who they are to their argument. What is the change they would like to see and what are the attributes, skills and attitudes needed in people to achieve it?”

The Rt Hon Helen Clark’s challenge to our students:

The Rt Hon Helen Clark wrote a personal letter to the 2018 IWA entrants adding context and explanation to the essay question. Students learnt of Helen’s role in the development of the new global agenda and detail of the necessity for its implementation.

In a direct and inspiring challenge to the students, Helen Clark stated “young people would not only be the beneficiaries of its [Agenda 2030] successful implementation; they must be the drivers of it.” Following a discussion about the global obstacles to our achievement of the sustainable goals, Helen asked the students to look at the interlinked global challenges our world faces and identify where you think a major change of course is required. What needs to be done to build peaceful and inclusive societies? What are the top priorities for climate action? What will the world of work look like with the spread of artificial intelligence and robotics? How can we guarantee decent lives and opportunity for all? My hope is that in thinking about the answers to these challenges, each of you will be motivated to play your part in building a better world.”

Helen’s complete and inspirational letter is available here.