Brief profile : e.g. who you are, what you do
My name is Alex Nicholas. I am of indigenous New Zealand Māori and Cook Island descent. I was born and raised in South Auckland. I’m a daughter, a sister, a preacher and a friend. I love God and I care deeply about social justice for those who are disempowered, oppressed and marginalised, particularly by systemic and structural power.
My passion for social justice, instilled in my upbringing through the example of my parents and experienced through my own journey, led to and prepared me for my current role as the Lead Organiser for Handle the Jandal, a Pacific, youth-led campaign in South Auckland, New Zealand. The campaign empowers young Pacific people to take action on the mental health and wellbeing issues that matter to them, through community organising.
What has been your most notable radical accomplishment or experience?
I’d have to say Rise to Conquer: a mega youth workshop event we ran last year in partnership with other youth-led, youth-focussed organisations and community groups. That was the first time I really saw what a difference we were making through leadership development among Pacific youth. The youth team of 24 recruited 500 youths and 100 community members, leaders, workshop facilitators and representatives of organisations supporting the event. The youths were in control of everything. They planned and drove the whole thing. It was a huge accomplishment and it was amazing to see the way the young people took responsibility and made something of that scale happen.
I’m also proud of having presented our work on Handle the Jandal around the world: at the IHI Forum in Orlando, the BMJ Forum in London and, later this year, at APAC 2015 in Auckland.
When did you first realise that you are a health & care radical?
About a year before Rise to Conquer, we held a smaller-scale workshop event on dealing with distress for 150 youths. During the event, I was called out to a phone call for about 15 minutes. When I went back in, no one had even noticed that I’d gone! I realised that I could have just left that day and the youths would have run the whole thing without me; and that was the moment when I saw that Handle the Jandal was doing something really radical: that these youths, this disempowered population, had developed the confidence and capability to take charge of making change happen.
What advice do you wish someone had given you earlier in your career?
I wish someone had told me not to try to please everyone. I’m learning now that you can’t please everybody if you’re doing things differently, innovatively. If you try, you’ll probably end up doing things the same old way.
What is your favourite radical characteristic?
I think it’s love. We often separate love from our working lives. We do a lot of things because we’re obliged to, or because we want to please someone else, rather than because we love what we do, or the vision we have, or the people we serve. But when things are done in love, everything changes. With the Handle the Jandal youth, I’ve seen them work differently and respond to challenges differently, and because of that, the change becomes different as well.
What is your favourite question?
One word: ‘Why?’
‘Why?’ connects to people’s values and the passions that drive what they do. Encouraging people to think about why they care or why this matters to them or why they did that is one of my greatest coaching tools.
What one clue tells you you’re effecting positive change?
When you’re no longer the one doing everything! When you can step back and let others take the lead, it shows that they’ve developed the skills, experience, support and tools to make change happen themselves. They’re no longer dependent on someone else to make it happen for them. That’s when you know you’ve made a real difference.
What do you think it’s most important for people to understand about radicals?
Radicals all sound crazy, because they don’t think like everyone else! They’ll come up with crazy ideas that might sound off-base or take you in a direction you hadn’t intended. But if you listen to them and apply their ideas, they can create the most profound change.
What’s your one word piece of advice for radicals?
What’s your one word piece of advice for non-radicals?
Where do you think radicals are most needed today?
Everywhere! But in the context of health, radicals are particularly needed in management. We need people in managerial roles who are going to think up crazy ideas and take risks.
Who is your favourite radical from the past 100 years?
Martin Luther King Jr. He was an amazing speaker, and he had a lot of integrity. He knew how to articulate vision, create a sense of urgency and compel people to act. And while he was a great leader personally, he also knew how to enable other leaders.
What’s the one thing you should never say to a radical?
‘No’, especially continually. If radicals hear ‘no’ enough times, they’ll become discouraged. They’ll stop coming up with new ideas or they’ll leave. And you’ll miss so much potential.
How do you rate yourself as a radical:
I’m definitely still learning. I’ll be learning all my life.