Millennials are often pegged as lazy, selfish and entitled, but the unflattering stereotype goes against the grain of young people who are choosing "purpose over pay cheque", and investing their time and talents into careers and organisations that care about the world.

Career coach Paul Rataul of Millennial Mindset says in today's world of unprecedented student debt, inflated house prices and high living costs, many millennials do find it necessary to secure a lucrative day job, "but they want the opportunity to pursue 'passion projects' on the side that will not necessarily make them money but will stretch their potential, while making a positive difference to society".

Guy Ryan, 2015's Young New Zealander of the Year, believes the search among millennials for meaningful work is driven by the inheritance of a set of urgent and complex problems - environmental, economic and social. "Whether we like them or not, these are the challenges of our time - and we have to solve them."

Ryan became inspired to set up Inspiring Stories - a charity that aims to see every young New Zealander unleash their potential to change the world - while at university.


"There were thousands of young people around me, all interested in making a difference and making their mark on the world. Instead of writing meaningless assignments that sat on a shelf with little to no real-world impact, I thought, what if we could start to truly unleash the potential of young people?"

I'm privileged to have such a great life in New Zealand and I feel an obligation to provide a voice for the voiceless


More than 6000 Kiwis have taken part in Inspiring Stories programmes, some having gone on to represent New Zealand on the world stage, being shortlisted for the Young New Zealander of the Year Award, and winning International Youth Leadership Awards.

The Inspiring Stories website features young entrepreneurs with a social conscience, some of whom are working day jobs as well as running passion projects on the side.

Melody Guo is a managing assistant at SSA Wheels & Tyres. Her passion project is a 21st century penpal platform, Future E, connecting children in China and New Zealand to learn culture and language.

Noa Woolloff works at the Wellington Chocolate Factory and Inspiring Stories, and also runs a social enterprise, Increase NZ, which aims to break the teen-dad stigma. He sells T-shirts and tops to raise money to give other teen parents a boost.

Rez Gardi, this year's Young New Zealander of the Year, arrived here with her family at the age of 6 as a Kurdish refugee. Gardi's parents were freedom fighters who escaped Saddam Hussein's genocidal campaign against the Kurds in the 1980's, fleeing in cargo trucks to a United Nations refugee camp in Pakistan, where they were promised resettlement to a safe place within six months. That turned into nine years and Gardi was born in the overcrowded camp.

"I experienced first-hand the constant threat of danger, the unpredictability of basic rights, such as food, shelter and water, and the endless mass protests. I saw people die from disease and hunger strikes," she says.

Eventually the family received the news they would be resettled to a safe place -- New Zealand. Gardi started school in New Zealand speaking no English, but after the experience of being beaten with sticks by teachers in Pakistan, she was now able to learn without fear. However, as a target of bullying by students who associated her with Al-Qaeda after the 9/11 attacks, she tried to become "as Kiwi as possible".

She later visited Kurdistan for the first time and experienced the beauty of Kurdish culture and history. Gardi wanted to know more, and learnt about the persecution of the Kurds.

"I thought to myself, 'how could I possibly do anything to help?' I couldn't be a freedom fighter in the sense that my parents were, but I was quite good at writing, reading and public speaking, so I thought maybe a career in law could be my way of making a difference."

Gardi now has a busy role as a solicitor in the litigation team at Chapman Tripp, but finds the time and energy for two passion projects. She set up the Kurdish Youth Association in New Zealand with the mission of "providing the space for Kurdish youth to stay connected, to encourage them to stay culturally focused and to help them fulfill their goals". And recently she founded a charitable trust called Empower, which provides a mentoring and support initiative to try to address the underrepresentation of refugees in higher education in New Zealand.

"I'm privileged to have such a great life in New Zealand and I feel an obligation to provide a voice for the voiceless. The aim of Empower is to educate, enable and empower youth to determine their own futures. Changing the future for one refugee can change the future for the entire family and community."

Gardi says her role as a lawyer is teaching her many skills, including advocacy and communication, to aid her volunteer work. She hopes to align her legal career with her passion to help Kurdish people and other marginalised groups worldwide.

Inspiring Stories runs an annual Festival for the Future which is "a showcase of what's possible" and features inspiring speakers, hands-on workshops, performance and entertainment, all packed into a weekend, this year from August 4-6 at Auckland's Aotea Centre.

Ryan says the Festival brings together a diverse range of young New Zealanders who are dreaming big. "From leading volunteer movements to building the most innovative youth-led social enterprises in the world, running for Council and stepping into leadership positions. Last year we had more than 900 people, with attendees from every region and delegates from Australia, India and the US - the atmosphere was incredible."

The Herald has two double tickets to Festival for the Future - Aug 4-6 - to give away. Email with Festival please in the subject line and your name and mailing address in the body of the email.