Wananga landing Wananga landing

How to ‘lead with’ in a fast-changing world

20 March 2020

How does today’s education system prepare young people for a world that is rapidly changing in ways we may not yet fully comprehend? From COVID-19’s community implications to climate change to technology-driven disruption to work, modern challenges have global and local consequences, and solving them requires collaboration and new models of leadership.


(from left) Hilary Dutton,Mahdis Azarmandi,Christoph Teschers.

The diverse team assembled to teach the new Bachelor of Youth and Community Leadership (BYCL) degree programme at the University of Canterbury (UC) is determined to empower young people in innovative ways, combining authentic leadership, global awareness and bi-cultural competency with knowledge of how issues and communities intersect.

“The BYCL aims to respond to what’s happening in the world right now by equipping students with an education that, while useful for the changing world of work, will prepare them for the broader challenges facing them now and in the future,” BYCL lecturer Dr Bernadette Farrell says.

“Young people are increasingly finding their voice as it becomes ever more apparent that their future will be directly affected by decisions and actions taken today. There are numerous examples of youth leaders acting in the world right now, from Greta Thunberg and Malala Yousafzai on the global stage to local activists and social entrepreneurs responding to issues within their community, including students right here within the UC community.”

As the first students start the new degree qualification through UC’s School of Educational Studies and Leadership, they are also studying subjects from across the university. Core BYCL subjects will take them through self-awareness as leaders, to leading with others, to leading for change where they will plan and lead a community project. 

“There’s a lot of questioning, looking at yourself and what makes you a good leader on a personal level, and then how that translates when you go out into the world and interact with different communities,” BYCL lecturer Dr Mahdis Azarmandi says.

“I focus on social justice issues. A lot of my work is on intersectionality – what are the barriers in society that keep people from thriving or gaining access to justice or resources? How do different markers of identity, such as class, gender, race and ability, impact that? We need to be aware of those structural issues to create healthy, thriving communities and people.”

Students will choose the issues they feel passionate about, be they local, global, environmental, humanitarian or social justice, she says.

Young people themselves provided the inspiration for the new BYCL degree.

“The Student Volunteer Army (SVA) was a grassroots reaction by hundreds of students who mobilised across Christchurch to help out after the earthquakes,” programme leader Dr Christoph Teschers says.

“UC then created the CHCH 101 course, which is open to all UC students and awards them academic credits for community engagement projects, recognising the important personal development that takes place through service learning.”

UC also added community engagement to the graduate profile – a set of attributes all UC students should graduate with, which includes global awareness, bicultural competence and community engagement, alongside academic achievement and employability.

Dr Teschers makes the distinction between business leaders, and youth and community leaders.

“In the corporate environment, leaders are often seen as being at the helm – people appointed to a position, whereas in the BYCL we are focusing on what it means to lead within a community, which often means to lead from behind, to lead from within, and to draw people along, instead of making sure they follow.”

While new and unique, the BYCL degree is in some ways a return to familiar values.

“There’s a long tradition in education that advocates the university as a space for exploring, for resistance, for coming together in dialogue – where students can learn democratic dispositions such as listening, tolerance, questioning, critical thinking, self-reflection and debate,” Dr Farrell says.

“The BYCL is a degree that embraces all these characteristics that are so vital in the world right now.”

The Bachelor of Youth and Community Leadership team:

  • Programme leader Dr Christoph Teschers specialises in people’s well-being, the philosophy of the art of living and educational theory and practice.
  • Dr Mahdis Azarmandi is a peace and conflict studies expert, whose work has previously focused on anti-racism as a social justice movement.
  • Dr Bernadette Farrell has worked in student engagement, participation and leadership in Ireland, Kosovo and across Europe, specialising in the inclusion of marginalised voices.
  • Post-doctoral fellow Dr Hillary Dutton is inspired by youth development and mentorship, and brings research and data support to the programme.
(from left) Hilary Dutton,Mahdis Azarmandi,Christoph Teschers. (from left) Hilary Dutton,Mahdis Azarmandi,Christoph Teschers.

Media contact
  • Email
  • Phone: (03) 369 3631 or 027 503 0168
What to read next
Privacy Preferences

By clicking "Accept All Cookies", you agree to the storing of cookies on your device to enhance site navigation, analyse site usage, and assist in our marketing efforts.