BizVenture winners tackle youth mental health with "It's Okay" clothing range


A team of high school students from around New Zealand are winners in the inaugural BizVenture programme with designs for a funky and sustainable clothing range aimed at promoting positive conversations around youth mental health in Japan.

The innovative business entrepreneurship scheme is a pilot initiative led by Education New Zealand, Young Enterprise Scheme (YES), and Japanese partners to give students in both countries real-life experience in developing business solutions that address one of the United Nation’s 17 Sustainable Development Goals.

Forty students collaborated in a three-day virtual exchange, where they chose a challenge tackling some of Japan’s pressing social issues, before designing and presenting a business plan in a “Dragon’s Den” style pitch to judges.

The winning New Zealand team - Hamish Robinson (Taradale High School, Napier), Benjamin Young (Tauranga Boys’ College), Daniel Blight (Waimea College, Napier), Kaiah Sherriff (Southland Girls’ High School), and Abirami Kabilan (Pakuranga College, Auckland) - chose to come up with a strategy which would directly enhance the mental wellbeing of Japanese teenagers.

It is a topic which directly impacts young people in both countries, as UNICEF ranks Japan 37th among 41 OECD countries for the state of children’s mental health, and New Zealand one lower, at 38th place.

Insights into business and culture “eye-opening”

To succeed, the students had to gain a thorough insight into Japanese culture, youth behaviour, and business practice. Ahead of their pitches, the teams joined interactive workshops with New Zealand and Japanese guest speakers, cultural mentors, and language coaches.

Abirami Kabilan describes the exposure to Japanese business and societal culture as “eye-opening”.

“The UN SDGs are some of the biggest problems facing humanity today, so working on them was a pretty full-on task.”

“One of the most interesting things about this cross-cultural experience was seeing how the Japanese students approached the same problems. Young people around the world will have such different ways of approaching these problems too. Imagine the ideas we would come up with if we all worked together.”

The winning team successfully pitched a clothing brand called 大丈夫, which translates in English to “It’s Okay”, to get the conversation about mental health out in the open among Japanese youth, and hopefully gain the support of high-reach Japanese influencers to help push their critical wellbeing message.

They decided the best way to break into the Japanese market would be with “in your face” messaging using symbols of strength, such as dragons and samurai, to promote their message.

“This is something that has not been done in Japan before and we’re ecstatic to be winners,” Hamish Robinson says.

BizVenture promotes global competency

The BizVenture programme will allow students to understand the Japanese business context and increase their global competency, says Young Enterprise Scheme lead Elizabeth Pittman.

“New Zealand youth have such a strong interest in sustainability and improving social outcomes within their communities and abroad, and this challenge allows them to explore that interest in a business context.” 

International education adapts to changing needs of learners

Education New Zealand is keen to build on the success of this year’s pilot BizVenture programme as international education adapts to meet the changing needs of learners. International research shows that students are increasingly seeking programmes and content that is relevant to real world problems and which will allow them to make a real difference.

The programme also builds on New Zealand’s diplomatic relationship with Japan while travel for international students remains limited.

“Over many decades Japan and New Zealand have benefitted from an enduring partnership,” says Hamish Cooper, New Zealand Ambassador to Japan. “Education has played a really important role in fostering people-to-people ties, and supporting the development of what are now, in 2021, very close connections between our two countries.”

“Before the pandemic, more than 10,000 students from Japan studied in New Zealand every year, making an important economic contribution, but also enriching our schools and communities, and helping New Zealand students become more globally connected.”

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