The Oceanic Leaders Project

Patron: Sir Graham Henry
Funders: Foundation North

Oceanic Leaders brings together 12 of the foremost business, not-for-profit, iwi and public sector leaders to help restore the health and mauri of the Hauraki Gulf. As successful and experienced leaders they understand that their organisation's future depends on a healthy and vibrant Gulf environment. Through this innovative and exciting project they will each explore their unique roles in helping to reconcile the wicked environmental challenges facing the Gulf region.

Based on an internationally proven approach to leadership and change, this project is utterly different from anything seen before in New Zealand. It's not easy - it requires a special kind of person, with determination, integrity and commitment. Participants must be willing to go off the map, sometimes literally. The approach includes:

  • extensive time spent outdoors;
  • revelatory analysis of our contemporary culture - both social and organisational;
  • practical insights about leading change drawn from living systems, psychology and social history;
  • inspirational group and one-to-one work;
  • deep empowerment - participants discover and strategise for themselves in ways that are totally relevant to their own context.

This is a unique chance to deliver on a vision for the Auckland region, where guardianship of natural resources can grow as people, communities and organisations thrive.

Who it's for...

  • There are only 12 places on the project - participation is by invitation only. Participants are recognised as decision-makers with potential to tackle the wicked problems described in the 'State of the Gulf' reports; they have been identified as pioneers who can set direction for their own organisation - and sector.
  • Participants will spend time with some of New Zealand's greatest leaders. They will undertake a challenging journey alongside 11 impressive peers. They will learn directly from Sir Graham Henry who, as Patron, will co-host a part of the project.
  • Participants are at the top of their existing hierarchy. Their sense of meaning and purpose calls them to give back to the social and ecological landscape within which they live and work. They are ready to take their skills and passion to new places. They will be supported and challenged to pinpoint their own unique way of contributing.
  • Participants want to future-proof their organisation. They know that early innovation brings significant advantages, especially in a context of increasing environmental compliance and legislation. They can see that a whole-system perspective is core to longevity in this fast changing world.
  • Participants are resilient and up for a challenge. Taking part in the project is not easy. It demands commitment and real openness to new ideas and perspectives. There will be both ups and downs - inevitable aspects of engaging with emotive and difficult issues. Participants need to be willing to be stretched.
  • Participants want the region to develop and the Gulf to thrive. They will have an unprecedented opportunity to help the Hauraki region develop strongly, along the shores of a vibrant, healthy Gulf - once again abundant with marine life. They want New Zealand and Auckland to exemplify sustainable best-practice on the world stage. They want to be part of a turnaround process that leaves this legacy to their children.

How it works...

Orientation Day - August 2019

Alongside Sir Graham Henry, participants meet the other participants, get up to speed on the wicked problems facing the Gulf and learn more about the approach being used.

The evidence shows that dominant approaches to change for sustainability do not result in long-term, large-scale change. It is suggested that this is because they don't address the deep-seated social and psychological structures that keep old patterns of behaviour in place. On this day we lay the foundations for participants to lead change through innovative psychological approaches that work with people’s values and sense of identity.

Leading in Living Systems - 20th - 25th September 2019

This four-day residential retreat explores participants' personal relationships with the Gulf in the broadest sense. Through a variety of practical activities, participants scrutinise the ideas, beliefs and perspectives that locate us - and our organisations - in the world. There will be time to reflect on living systems, on identity, agency and influence.

Refocusing on wider perspectives will reveal each participant's unique role within the systems of which they are part. They will witness how effects ripple through systems to impact communities, land and sea. This work will shed light on the potential of participants' organisations to create ripples too - as powerful agents for change in the Hauraki Gulf region and beyond.

Most of the time will be spent outdoors, weather permitting.

Leading in Social Systems - October 2019

The focus of this day is to explore psychologically savvy ways to design initiatives that work with an organisation's culture.

The single greatest barrier to innovation is our attachment to comfortable and habitual patterns of thought, which we may not even be fully aware of. Through analysis of some of the cultural symbols and beliefs that are embedded in mass media, participants will develop insights into the invisible culture within their own organisation, sector or community - especially in relation to the Gulf. The process builds leadership capacity to cut through the cultural assumptions which filter perception and limit transformative thinking.

This exploration is deepened through international case-studies of organisations and movements which have, in some cases, changed the world.

Coaching and Peer Mentoring - August to December 2019

Coaching brings professional support as participants integrate their experiences of the project into everyday life and work. The focus will be on identifying goals and initiatives that are personally meaningful, and which are inspiring, innovative and pragmatic.

To support everyday leadership challenges, they will also have regular meetings with their peers to review and fine-tune their approach. This helps to maintain creative energy and to build coherence and thrust in their work.

Evaluation - December 2019

A half-day session to reflect on the individual and collective journey.

Why it's time to act...

Our precious Hauraki Gulf is in serious trouble. Over two lifetimes, the health of its waters have been severely degraded.

Overfishing has caused local fish stocks to decline - crayfish are functionally extinct and snapper stocks have reduced by around 80% (1). Fishing methods such as bottom trawling are destroying sea beds and the marine life that depend on them. The survival of vulnerable Hauraki Gulf species such as seabirds, dolphins and whales is under threat. Plastic waste and chemical pollution are destroying marine life and aquaculture, closing beaches to swimming and killing wildlife. Recent evidence shows that plastic contaminants are now present in the bodies of fish (2) and mammals - including humans (3).

Intensive agricultural practices in the Hauraki region use chemical inputs that create toxic run-off every time it rains. These chemicals end up in the Gulf's waters and sediments leaving the seabed barren and destroying the marine food chain. As Auckland's population grows, unprecedented building development is changing land use and creating destructive drainage patterns. Industrial forestry has reduced the land's capacity to retain soil, nutrients and moisture, leading to erosion and volatile patterns of flooding.

Everyone who works and plays in the Gulf is complicit and we all have a part to play in reversing this destruction. We need to change the way we think about the Gulf - to alter the ways we all act toward it. The data is clear: failure to act now will have a direct impact on recreation, tourism, food-chains, property and livelihoods - not to mention the region's extraordinary natural heritage. It's time for leaders to step up.


  1. Hauraki Gulf / Tīkapa Moana / Te Moana-nui-a-Toi State of the Environment Report 2017. Hauraki Gulf Forum, Auckland Regional Council.
  2. Galloway, T.S., Cole, M., Lewis, C. (2017). Interactions of microplastic debris throughout the marine ecosystem. Nature Ecology and Evolution 1, art:0116.
  3. Schwabl, P. et al (2018). Assessment of microplastic concentrations in human stool - Preliminary results of a prospective study. Presented at UEG Week 2018 Vienna, October 24, 2018.

Who's leading the project...

Rosie Walford

Rosie studied psychology at Oxford University and was Strategic Planning Director and co-founder of the Innovation Unit for a global advertising agency in London. Now a consultant and coach in the areas of regenerative strategy, leadership development and coaching, she has worked with leaders from Adidas, PWC, Vodafone NZ, BusinessNZ, Auckland Council, Akina and many more.

She is a beekeeper, an occasional photojournalist in NZ Herald and British broadsheets, and created her first outdoor leadership and nature connection programme The Big Stretch in 2003.

A passionate lover of the Hauraki Gulf, Rosie moved her life from London to Waiheke Island because of the love she has for swimming the waters here. She regards it as her job to stand up for these waters.

David Key

Dave is a consultant specialising in the design and facilitation of transformational change programmes. His background is in psychology, ecology and outdoor education. His special interest is in the ways experiences of nature can be powerfully transformative toward pro-ecological behaviour.

Over the last 20 years Dave has worked with a wide diversity of organisations and individuals including WWF, The Eden Project, the European Union, the Scottish government and companies from various sectors. He has also taught, supervised and researched extensively in the academic sector and is an internationally published author.

Dave has a Masters (with distinction) in Human Ecology, is a Fellow of the Centre for Human Ecology and a Visiting Research Fellow at the Global Sustainability Institute at Anglia Ruskin University in the UK. He is on the editorial boards of several international journals and is a National Governing Body qualified outdoor leader in both the United Kingdom and New Zealand.

Bianca Ranson
Ngapuhi, Ngati Kahu ki Whaingaroa

Bianca Ranson is the founder and director of Potiki Adventures. In 2003 she came up with the concept of offering tours and outdoor adventures within the natural environment from a Maori perspective.

Her business was the first adventure tourism company based on Maori culture to win the NZ Outdoor Awards. Bianca also won Best Maori Women in Business category at the 2007 MWDI Maori Business awards.