Ian White is a big fan of his Little Buddy Ben and of Big Buddy – the programme that instils confidence and resilience in the lives of boys who don’t have a father around. Ian White rarely gets nervous in his role as general manager of ZX Security, a New Zealand-based cybersecurity consultancy. But when […]
Ian White is a big fan of his Little Buddy Ben and of Big Buddy – the programme that instils confidence and resilience in the lives of boys who don’t have a father around.
Ian White rarely gets nervous in his role as general manager of ZX Security, a New Zealand-based cybersecurity consultancy. But when he met his “Little Buddy’’ Ben1, a 13-year-old kid from Cannons Creek in Wellington, he says he was more nervous than he had been in a long time.
Despite the nerves, Ian says he decided to take his authentic self to his first meeting with Ben and Ben’s mother Jade who had signed up for the Big Buddy programme.
Big Buddy is an organisation dedicated to matching young boys with a ‘Big Buddy’ as a positive male influence in their life.
Ian sees his ‘Big Buddy’ role as an opportunity to show up, be present and support his ‘Little Buddy’ through his individual journey into adulthood.
“I get a lot of fulfilment knowing I am potentially making a huge difference to a kid’s life. I don’t take it for granted, I know that as much as I have chosen to do this out of my own free time, Ben has chosen to as well, which is a huge commitment for a kid.”
While Ian is now in a busy role managing 28 staff, he says Ben’s life as a young man made him reflect on his own experience as an adolescent dealing with tough situations.
“I feel I’ve seen and experienced two sides of life: a harder life and a privileged one. I understand how your environment and other factors outside your control can really impact your future.
“I know many people who have been shaped by a lack of good role models in their life and I wanted to be able to be that positive influence for someone,” says Ian.
“In hindsight, I realise that I was really lucky to have my father as a positive male influence in my life and perhaps that’s what motivated me to sign up for the Big Buddy programme.”
Ian was adopted when four months old from a Romanian orphanage during the collapse of communism in the 1990s throughout eastern Europe, and was brought home to Ireland by his adopted father.
“At the time of adoption I was malnourished; my birth mother had passed away during her labour and my father never showed up to claim me. Knowing that this could have been my existence has always driven me to do better – for myself, and for others.”
Ian says during his childhood and adolescence he was showered with “emotional wealth” by his mother and father.
During his later teenage years, he and his family (and a large portion of the Irish population) sampled serious financial hardship during the 2008 global financial crisis.
“Seeing my parents, loved ones and friends struggle through that time really drilled into me the value of emotional wealth and support over and above any form of material wealth.”
The Irish recession had hit hard by the time Ian was of working age and at that point he had already dropped out of university twice. “The education system never quite fit with me,” he says.
At age 21 in 2012, Ian was lucky to still have a job, but says he “wanted out” of Ireland.
“I thought ‘what’s the furthest place I can go on the map?’ and that was New Zealand. I was here within three months of making the decision.”
Ian’s first job in New Zealand was in sales and he worked hard to make a life for himself.
“A few years in, someone took a chance on me, and offered me a role in a completely different industry as a project manager,” Ian says.
“I was employee number five at ZX Security, and after 24 months I was promoted to GM. Ever since, I’ve always had a sense of wanting to give someone else that one chance too.”
Big Buddy calls
In his work role Ian says he gets great satisfaction out of helping up-and-coming young professionals into a fulfilling career. But, he always felt as though there were a few young people left out of that equation.
“I love helping all people, regardless, but sometimes I’d think, ‘what about the kids I had seen growing up, who didn’t have the chance to make it to university in the first place?’”
So when he saw an online advert for the Big Buddy programme, he thought it was just the type of thing he’d like to be involved in.
“It was exactly what I had been wanting to do. For me, my move to New Zealand and the opportunities that came with it made me reflect on how hard it is to make progress in your life when you feel like you’re ‘stuck’. If someone can be there to help you and give you that extra step up the ladder; that is something I’d like to be a part of.”
Ian and Ben had their first outing on a Sunday, and have met each weekend since, doing things as simple as going for a drive or a walk, cart racing or going to rugby games. Ian has introduced his ‘Little Buddy’ to his world, his work and his friends.
He tells a story about when he and Ben were out walking and Ben was pointing out all the big houses.
“Ben pointed at one house and said he wanted a big house like that. I told him it’s not about the size of the house, it’s the people inside that matters.
“I think it’s important to instil in young people that material wealth is not the ‘be all and end all’ in life. We get caught up in system where financial reward always supersedes other forms of achievement; but when you are with a kid and see them listen and take advice, or ask a question they haven’t known how to ask for ages, that is more rewarding than anything.”
“I’m continuously reminded of what emotional wealth looks like by seeing how much Ben’s mum loves him, and how much he loves his mum.”
Ian’s message to anyone considering signing up with Big Buddy is “Just do it, you can make
a huge difference to someone’s life by just being there for them.”
Big Buddy recruits “good guys” from the community to spend time with boys aged seven to 14. It’s screening programme is known to be the most discerning of any agency or club in New Zealand. The team covers Auckland, Hamilton, Tauranga and the Wellington region, with expansion plans for Christchurch in 2022. With a long waiting list of boys in the Wellington region especially, the organisation is currently looking for more Big Buddies in the capital.
To learn more about becoming a Big Buddy mentor visit: https://www.bigbuddy.org.nz/mentoring/become-a-mentor/
 The real names of the little buddy and his mother have been changed for privacy reasons.