Ryan Boyd 26 Feb 2020

“Leadership is having the courage to stand up, but also having the courage to sit down and listen. 

“It’s someone who sees the huge potential in others, and they are able to empower those people.” 

Although he’s only 18 years old, Okirano Tilaia is speaking from plenty of experience. 

Oki is an impassioned environmental advocate, school and church leader, and as head boy of Cashmere High School last year, he organised and drove a huge student vigil in response to the Christchurch Mosque shootings.  

“I’m proud myself and many other young people were able to organise a positive response to the tragedy.  

“I was lucky to have such good support.”

The inspiring work Oki did saw him win the inaugural Youth Award, sponsored by Westpac, at the 2019 BLAKE Awards, which celebrates leaders who have delivered high impact results and contributed to a more sustainable future for Aotearoa – socially, culturally, environmentally or economically. 

“Since the Blake Award, new doors have opened for me,” Oki explains. 

“I had the opportunity to meet and address Prince Charles and Duchess Camilla in December at my high school, just talking about what 2019 was like, especially after March 15.  

“The Prime Minister was there and it was a great opportunity for me to finish such a huge year on a real positive note.” 

And 2020 has got off to a pretty good start too, starting his first year at University of Canterbury studying Political Science and international Relations. 

“I’ve also started an internship at the Student Volunteer Army foundation with Sam Johnson,” he says, “which has been super epic.”  

Not surprising considering Johnson is also a BLAKE Award alum. 

Oki says his parents are the motivation that drive him to stand up and be a leader. 

“When I do these things and stand up for what is right, I think it’s all because of them. They never got the opportunity to have a voice.” 


The BLAKE Awards have been going since 2005 and have celebrated over 100 leaders who follow in the footsteps of Sir Peter.  

Sir Peter Blake was a legendary New Zealand leader, explorer, and environmentalist who continues to inspire us all. With Westpac's support as the Foundation Partner, BLAKE aims to help New Zealanders make a positive difference to the planet by encouraging environmental awareness and leadership development. Find out more at blakenz.org.nz.