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He’s met Barack Obama and the Queen and been named in the Forbes 30 Under 30 list of the Asia-Pacific’s most influential young entrepreneurs – but Ezekiel Raui has never lost sight of his roots. In fact, nothing has given him more satisfaction than showing young, rural Māori that they can succeed without compromising their culture or their values.
While still in high school, Ezekiel was profoundly affected by a youth suicide cluster in his home town. The small, far north community of Taipa lost five young people to suicide in just three months.
Inspired by a school visit from comedian and mental health advocate Mike King, Ezekiel brainstormed possible solutions with his friends. His approach was a peer-to-peer counselling programme with student mentors based in schools. In 2017, the Government funded a pilot of his programme, Tū Kotahi, meaning stand tall.
He says it's about empowering young people within their communities.
"I feel that young people's voices need to be empowered at every level," he says. "The best advice I can give to young people is to learn to believe in yourself…if you believe in yourself, anything is possible.
"Building your self-belief can be done through stepping outside your comfort zone, surrounding yourself with people who provide constructive and supportive feedback...and learning from mistakes you have made."
Ezekiel's work to support youth with mental health issues has seen him receive a Queen's Young Leaders Award and a Matariki Young Achievers Award, as well as an invitation to the White House for the first Tribal Leaders Gathering. But he considers graduating from university to be one of his biggest successes.
"For me, growing up, I didn't believe that I could be in these spaces…but once I became comfortable in myself, I thought, ‘Yes, university is a space for me.' I found this real fire in me, this love to learn, to understand people and their perspectives…to be able to move seats and change shoes. To see things through other people's eyes is what I think really came through from university."
None of his family had attended university before, let alone graduated, but Ezekiel doesn't view his degree as a solo effort.
"It's not just a success of mine, it's a success we can all share... I've gained a lot of skills, but the ability to encourage my siblings to step outside their comfort zone and pursue whatever they want is where the real value lies."
Since graduating with his Bachelor of Business, Ezekiel has been putting his new skills to good use as the programme manager of Tū Kotahi and also at Te Rau Ora, an organisation focused on improving Māori health and wellbeing.
"A lot of my work is in mental health…so people assume I studied health when I was at university, but I've been able to apply my degree in ways that I never thought I could," he says. "The real beauty for me is being able to marry what I've learned with my working environment to find the best way forward."