Investing in the next generation of leaders for a sustainable future

Investing in the next generation of leaders for a sustainable future

“How can we use business profits to create the most impact outside of the business, beyond just donating to charity?” This was the question Untouched World founder and CEO Peri Drysdale asked herself after starting the brand. A period of in-depth research followed, starting in 2000, as we considered how we could make the biggest impact beyond the business. The result was the launch of the Untouched World Foundation (UWF), established to offer ‘Leadership for a Sustainable Future’ programmes to young people.

Within our brand, we believe that being sustainable means cultivating a community that cares for each other and the deeper world around us, and that ethos feeds through into the Foundation too. In fact, it was at the core of the culmination of Peri’s research and the mission that was built around it: to educate young adults on key issues facing society, unlocking their unique leadership potential and inspiring them to become active change-makers, making the most positive impact on the world.

To achieve this, for over two decades, we’ve run week-long programmes which focus on tackling some of the most important and urgent issues facing our future. We want the students of our programmes to get to grips with these issues at a grass roots level, so we’ve taken care to custom design each specifically for the region in which it operates.

Our first programme

The first programme we ever ran is a great example of how the Foundation operates in a local context. Launched in 2002, and run on Blumine Island in the Marlborough Sounds, the programme focused on developing a sanctuary for the native animals and at-risk plant species while simultaneously eradicating pests from the island. By 2009, the efforts of the Foundation and our brilliant students helped the island achieve pest-free status, a huge step in the right direction to restoring it to its original, natural state.

While we want to teach our students, we want to help them build independence and leadership skills too, so after two days of learning about what needs to be done on the island and how to do it, the reigns are handed over to the students and it's up to them to come together to plan and execute a course of action over the rest of the week. From the experience, our students gain many skills including youth leadership and action-based biodiversity expertise, all the while operating according to cultural best practice and conservation policies.

Growing our impact

We run two other programmes alongside Blumine Island, one in Canterbury and one in Otago. We’ve now been running programmes in Canterbury for 20 years, but 2024 marks the year we embark on our first Whakaraupō Moana Programme in partnership with Environment Canterbury, the Whaka-ora Healthy Harbour partnership, and Rātā Foundation. Our aim is to help our participants understand the complexity of the issues within the natural environment by having them interact with the different levels, aspects, and members of the system including governance, commercial, mana whenua, and those who call Whakaraupō home. As we always underscore the importance of the next generation taking up the mantle and showing leadership, the programme will wrap with our participants collectively integrating their new insights into an intergenerational workshop leading to action.

Our Otago programme is also changing this year, after being established as a Waterwise programme that prioritised sustainable water management for many years. We’re excited to share more details and to continue to build and adapt our programmes according to what both nature and our young participants need.

Our students

In running our programmes, we have engaged with over 3,000 secondary (years 12 and 13) and tertiary (ages 16-30) students, many of whom have gone on to pursue careers related to the knowledge they gained with the Foundation. Matthew Pledger became involved with the Untouched World Foundation in 2018 when he undertook the Blumine Island programme. “The full immersion helped our group to connect with an environment so different from our respective homes,” he says. “Sustainability was a word I used exclusively in reference to climate change or the natural environment. On Blumine Island I was challenged to think of sustainability as a process that can be transferred to all facets of life.” Matthew went on to study sustainable broadcasting, while Giahnnii Paraku went on to graduate in Business Management, majoring in Leadership. “The [Waterwise 2020] programme expanded my perspective and curiosity,” he says.

We build strong, lasting relationships with our students. Finn Boyle, for example, joined a Canterbury Waterwise programme as a tertiary leader after first taking part in a programme in 2012, while Brianne Peters was invited back to join our Advanced Leadership Programme (ALP), which she describes as “the most impactful weekend of my life”.

Advanced Leadership Programme

We piloted our first ALP in 2019, working with exceptional graduate students from across New Zealand. We found our students would often ask ‘what’s next?’ and we wanted to provide an answer to this. Designed for smaller groups of 15 participants, our ALP helps to further develop leadership skills, with an aim to build bold personal ambition, encourage acts of leadership within the community, and propel our students into higher education or employment.


In 2005, the United Nations Decade of Education for Sustainable Development (UNDESD) was launched and Untouched World became the first fashion company in the world to be given permission to carry the UNDESD logo on its labelling in 2007. After it came to an end in 2015, a new follow up called the Global Action Programme (GAP) was launched to build on the existing achievements and scale up education to accelerate sustainable development. Untouched World was invited to Paris to assist in establishing GAP, and we are recognised as one of three global exemplars for empowering and mobilising youth. We hold this recognition in high regard, just as we do the successes of our graduates, such as Matt Shepherd who was chosen by the UN to address a gathering of young adult leaders in Paris and an exchange with the Mahatma Gandhi Institute of young leaders between India and New Zealand.

A constant evolution

Alongside updating our programmes, we are continually looking for ways to evolve and accelerate the growth of the Foundation. In 2012 we launched our not-for-profit range called ProjectU. Profits from the capsule collection go to the Untouched World Foundation, and it also transforms the lives of the women who make it in Kolkata, India. They were once marginalised and trapped by poverty and prostitution but are now learning new skills, working in a caring environment, equipped with a pension and health insurance, and paid around twice the going rate.

More recently, we have been trialling running programmes in the corporate sector to further expand our reach. We are in the early stages, but we are keen to explore how and where we can expand our ground-breaking leadership programmes to maximise our impact.

We believe every one person can make a difference and welcome you to learn more about what we do at the Foundation. Explore the Untouched World Foundation website to discover more about our history and our current programmes, and shop our ProjectU range to support the future of the Foundation.