Our much loved CEO Paul Burns has recently stepped down after six years at the helm of Big Buddy.
During his time here at Big Buddy, Paul has led the team through many changes. We have significantly grown in size and profile and expanding into Hamilton and Tauranga. We have rebranded and matched many more boys to Big Buddies and celebrated our 1111th match recently. Before he left, we sat down with him to get his thoughts on what he has seen and learnt during his time at Big Buddy:
How do you think heading up Big Buddy has changed the way you may see the world?
It has been the greatest privilege to be part of an incredible team making a real difference. The honour extends to the hundreds of volunteer Big Buddies who selflessly show up for boys without their dads in their lives. The role has given me a valuable new perspective and at times, takes me back to my childhood. I lost my dad when I was 15, so I have genuine empathy for the Little Buddies and their mums. My incredible mum somehow found the strength and courage to do everything. Selflessness and simple things like good manners, actually make the world go round. Big Buddy wouldn’t exist if it wasn’t for kind-hearted men giving up their precious time. In these complicated, busy, and uncertain times we can all choose to be kind. That is what we stand for at Big Buddy. It’s simple and it works. I am so grateful I’ve had the chance to be part of that for six years.
What have you learned during your time at Big Buddy?
I have seen how generous and courageous so many New Zealanders are. Volunteer Big Buddies, funders and strategic partners, trustees and brave, courageous mums that bring their boys to us. Their boys are not broken, but there is a gap and they see it. This is the most important first act of selflessness. Making a positive difference in a sustainable way for a young boy takes time, energy and consistency. The incredible Big Buddies show up for their little buddy every week. The boys grow in confidence and develop a broader understanding of the world around them and their place in it. The Big Buddies sometimes say they think they are getting more out of the programme than their Little Buddy. That is powerful to see and hear. I take great pride in the fact that when we collectively make a difference for one boy it ripples out to touch and impact so many others. I have learned through my role how clear it is that everyone wants and needs to belong and feel connected.
Can you tell us a little about the Big Buddies you have met?
Yes, these men are the heroes of our society. And they are so humble and modest. Most of them don’t really understand the significance of the difference they make. A lot of these friendships will last a lifetime.
Seeing the commitment, they make is a powerful reassurance that there are so many good people in NZ.
Are there any Little Buddies that have stood out?
The first match I met stands out, we met at the grocery ball where he, his mum and Big Buddy were speaking. The first time I met him he held the door open for me. I know that boy had amazing manners, his mum was doing an incredible job and his Big Buddy would be building on what she was doing.
The strength of his relationship with his Big Buddy remains after six years. This boy has always been a talented sportsperson and now he has an opportunity to play rugby overseas. His Big Buddy has had a true positive influence and has contributed to this achievement.
What changes you have seen during your time with Big Buddy?
The biggest is the demographic, we have lots more men in their 20s and 30s as Big Buddies. They are growing up more socially conscious, want to give back, want to do good. They connect with the need.
Do you think things are tougher for young people these days?
It’s hard to be a young person, hard to be a parent too. There’s so much going on now and it can be overwhelming for young people. They’re facing more complexity and challenge in their lives. Things like climate change are in children’s faces 24 hours a day. And some of them are trying to make sense of it. My children are 16, 20 and 23 I often think about how hard it is to be a child – I feel my childhood was quite simple in contrast.
What’s next for Big Buddy?
The Big Buddy team is full of very clever people with big hearts and Big Buddy is a simple human story. Everyone gets it. The mums of the Little Buddies are our strongest advocates. The new CEO Jason Judkins is incredible and his energy, fresh eyes and ambition to grow our impact is exciting. We have great momentum and growing awareness thanks to exceptional partners, funders and volunteers helping us to reach more boys. Our vision talks about a ripple of connection and hope through our young people across all of NZ. There will always be a need to do this and Big Buddy will continue to contribute to that need.
Are you hopeful for the future of boys in NZ?
Yes. At Big Buddy the outcomes such as resilience, increased confidence and self-esteem are all part of mental and general well-being. There are so many dedicated NGOs, school teachers, parents and others that have a growing understanding of the importance of being conscious, aware and engaged in supporting, nurturing and walking alongside the youth of NZ. If we all continue to work hard to empower, support and show up for our young people, they will have the tools to make the most of all the challenges and opportunities.