Authenticity Aotearoa founder Nurain Janah talks to Rahul Bhattarai about her new venture that helps support the mental health of diverse youth
What does your business do?
Authenticity Aotearoa is a not-for-profit organisation that empowers people of colour. We provide a safe space for people to discuss the issues they are facing in the community. We offer mentorship and coaching programmes to help them become their authentic selves.
We are going to launch a new mental wellbeing service called Diverse & Proud for youth in mid-October.
What is Diverse & Proud?
Diverse & Proud is an initiative of Authenticity Aotearoa which was created to address the stigma around mental illness and conversations on mental health for people who come from minority communities.
We identified the need to provide a space for youth to share their stories, experiences and needs. This safe space is facilitated by mental health professionals who come from a similar background.
Most of the people who we've worked with have reported having suffered from isolation, depression and anxiety.
What was the motivation for launching it?
I lacked a sense of belonging when I first arrived in New Zealand at the age of 15 which was a very lonely and isolated experience that I will never forget.
I felt like I had lost my turangawaewae when I arrived here from the Maldives.
And as an immigrant, the societal pressure on us of having to excel at everything and perform above expectations is a huge burden.
"In order to be accepted we have to be exceptional, there are no two ways about it."
For me, this kind of pressure triggered a few mental health issues. I was very anxious and was diagnosed with depression, including suffering from imposter syndrome.
"I was never good enough."
But I had a supportive family and mentors who gave me the confidence to be my authentic self. And with this lived experience of mine, I wish to provide guidance to youths hoping they would easily navigate through hurdles in life.
I believe launching this programme would normalise the conversation around mental health issues, breaking the barrier of its stigma. When people start to talk about their problems to their peers, "the burden becomes lighter".
There is a real stigma in the community about mental health and instead of asking for help, we tend to keep it to ourselves. Which could be more damaging not just to the health of an individual but also to their immediate friends and family in a long run.
Our group sessions will educate people and give them the tools to better cope with challenges before it reaches a crisis point. We are not a counselling or a therapeutic service.
Our initiative has been created knowing many come from cultural, religious, or familiar backgrounds where mental health is either stigmatised or misunderstood.
How big is the team today?
We have an executive team of seven who lead and organise our programmes, with three advisers who steer the governance and strategy of the organisation.
What's your background?
I am a public speaker, trainer, and coach on a mission to create a more equitable world. I am an experienced non-executive director holding governance roles in local and international charities over the past nine years. I currently work as a senior consultant in the turnaround and restructuring strategy team at EY.
My professional experience in financial services as a chartered accountant combined with years of experience in volunteering and governance roles in the community sector.
My lived experience of being a young Muslim woman of colour growing up in Aotearoa gives me the insights and permission to engage with some of the communities we serve. I am aware of the importance of creating a supportive team that values and understands the importance of diversity and the need for lived experiences to inform our work.
How was your business affected by Covid-19?
Covid-19 has put a demand on our services as a start-up due to ongoing lockdowns. It has been challenging for us to keep adapting our programmes from in-person to virtual.
Not all of our members have access to digital platforms and private spaces within their bubbles to safely participate in our meetings, which has become a problem.
What's your focus for the remainder of the year?
Our short term focus is to grow Diverse & Proud, our mental wellbeing service for youth.
Demand for mental health awareness and support has grown exponentially throughout last year, particularly during Covid-19 lockdowns.
What are your long-term plans, and where do you see your NGO in five years time?
Our goal is to create role models and, to do so, one of our five-year plans is to reach out to as many youths as we can in the community and help shape them into leaders of the future.
How does your business stand out in comparison to other not-for-profit organisations in New Zealand? What makes it unique?
Our programmes focus on a very specific audience - young people and women of colour. We address systemic issues of inequality and barriers to accessing opportunities for people of colour from a preventative perspective.
This allows us to address issues before they reach crisis points, and all our initiatives are focused on achieving long-term and intergenerational equity and wellbeing both for young people and women of colour.
What does the competition look like in this market?
Whilst New Zealand has a relatively large number of charities and not-for-profit organisations - approximately 190 per capita in 2020 - we do not see this as competition. Our mission is centred on achieving equity and inclusion and we cannot achieve this alone. We see any other organisation or business working in the same area as potential partners and collaborators.
What advice do you give to people wanting to start a business?
Knowing your purpose of starting a business and also your personal drive for doing the work.
Where to get help:
• SHAKTI 0800SHAKTI (0800742584)
• Asian Family Service 0800 862 342
• Shama supporting Ethnic Women (07) 843 3810
• Lifeline: 0800 543 354 (available 24/7)
• Suicide Crisis Helpline: 0508 828 865 (0508 TAUTOKO) (available 24/7)
• Youth services: (06) 3555 906
• Youthline: 0800 376 633
• Kidsline: 0800 543 754 (available 24/7)
• Whatsup: 0800 942 8787 (1pm to 11pm)
• Depression helpline: 0800 111 757 (available 24/7)
• Rainbow Youth: (09) 376 4155
• Helpline: 1737
If it is an emergency and you feel like you or someone else is at risk, call 111.