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Brook Turner: An open letter as I finish as Zeal CEO

To our supporters, friends, and fellow social change warriors,

I was asked recently by my vocational coach to write down a list of my core values. The question was broad and deep and took some time to answer. Finally, I settled on my list. 

At the very top was integrity. I don’t think you can get anywhere in life without it. Integrity is found in people who live by deep rooted values centered on service above selfishness. It is personified in trustworthiness and reliability. 

My value of integrity was closely followed by a gritty determination to live my life mining for meaning. This is a pursuit that I firmly believe is found in the service of others. Servanthood is a forgotten virtue in our modern world but can be seen in the great stories of Mahatma Ghandi, Mother Theresa and our very own Dame Whina Cooper — people who grew to become influential figures in their world by service, not success. Heroes like these have been the inspiration for my leadership journey. 

These two key values – integrity and service – have driven a lot of my vocational decisions over the past ten years at Zeal. They have been the instruments I have used to inform my approach to leadership and have been proven reliable time and time again.  

A packed house at Zeal Wellington’s Glover St facility in 2006.

As I reflect on ten years of service to New Zealand’s young people I am encouraged and challenged by the group of like-minded changemakers who have been my comrades for a cause. These friends of the mission have been found within Zeal and in the many incredible organisations we have had the privilege of working alongside.

I am writing this, after a decade of service, to say that it is time for me to pass on the baton and leave the CEO role at Zeal. Earlier this year I tabled my resignation to the Zeal board and will finish as CEO officially on the 31st March, 2017. This has been an incredibly hard decision and one I have not taken lightly.

The Zeal West team in 2010.

Growing Zeal from the ground up has been one of the hardest, most rewarding pursuits of my life. It has exposed weaknesses in my leadership and character, challenged me to grow and learn new skills, and shown me the power of a small group to make a big difference in Aotearoa. 

I have been led by our young people, our volunteers, our staff, our supporters and our board. I have learned so many skills at Zeal and many of you have been instrumental in teaching me how to perform my role better.

Gregory Boyle – a hero of mine who founded Homeboy Industries and works with young people and former gang members in LA – says, “Service is the hallway to the ballroom. The ballroom is kinship.” When charity becomes your job it’s easy to see ourselves as the healed helping the hurting. The truth is that all of us are hurting and healing at the same time. Service is the hallway we walk through to get to the ballroom where our common humanity breaks down all barriers. If you can’t find wisdom in the ones you help you are missing out on the power of kinship.

Zeal’s first social enterprise cafe Stories Espresso Bar, launched in 2016. Stories & Georgia have transitioned over 30 young people into employment.

This resistance to hierarchical leadership has paid dividends for both myself and Zeal, establishing a strong relationally-driven organisation where all voices have value. This has ensured that Zeal’s mission and passion on the coalface has trickled up into the halls of governance and kept our business development centered on social impact outcomes.

My great mentor, friend and previous chairman of Zeal, Darryl Gardiner, once said to me, “We start as a mission, turn into a movement, become a machine and then die a monument”. This statement is one I have held dear at Zeal. How do we remain a mission and movement, without turning into a machine and worse still, a monument?

The answer has been found in searching for New Zealand’s most passionate changemakers and adopting their vision and devotion for community transformation. We have stacked the Zeal deck full of passionate, creative misfits and I am delighted to hand on this work to such an incredibly brave and powerful group of people.


The Zeal Event Box at Cuba Dupa in 2016.

I have always preached that we need to get better at succession in the charity sector. There is such an incredible group of intelligent, gifted and passionate changemakers rising in this country and they need room to lead. If as leaders we create a bottle neck by remaining on our towers of influence too long, we suffocate the potential for others to rise and take our place. For me, leaving Zeal is one of my greatest acts of leadership. It enables room in this great organisation for other budding leaders to flourish and for new vision to be established.

I am honoured to be handing the role of CEO to one of the best leaders I know: Matt Grey. Matt is a man of integrity and compassion who over the last seven years has selflessly served our young people as a youth worker, centre manager and, more recently, General Manager – not to mention his role as a Henderson-Massey Local Board Member. His heart for Zeal, skill set and tremendous capacity make him the ideal successor and leader of Zeal for this next season.

Matt Grey with young people outside Zeal West in 2010.

I believe that a vision worth fighting for is always bigger than any personality. It lives beyond the charisma of an individual and instead takes root in hundreds of hearts prepared to live a life of meaning. It is one where service of others and steadfast integrity remain the guiding principles. I have seen these values grow in my extraordinary team at Zeal. It is now time for them to make their mark in our next chapter.

As they do so, I will continue to cheer from the sidelines, support them with my board involvement, and champion their cause through my network of courageous New Zealanders. It has been an honour to share this journey with people who don’t see the world as a place of negativity and deceit, but one of hope, innovation, creativity and compassion. To you all, thank you.

The class of 2017: Zeal staff and interns at our recent hui.

To honour those who have walked with me I would like to personally thank by name: Keryn Martin, Darryl Gardiner, Bruce Pilbrow, Matt Grey, Elliot Taylor, Scott Reeve, Stacey Hitchcock, Anna Reeve, Talita Kassier, Amber O’fee, Erica Lossie, Rod Tombleson, Rod Baxter, Lloyd Martin, Sandy Thompson, Chris Clarke, Justin Duckworth, Annete Culpan, Lindsay Cumberpatch, David Cowley, Bryan Francis Fiest, Russell Du Plesis, Greg Eden, Murray Thatcher, Sarah Van’t Hof, Jon Hartley, Penny Hulse, Linda Cooper, Linda Wilson, Chris Tews, Rob Hawley, Levi Hohua, Beth Humphrey, James Harris, Lehi Duncan, David Orchard, Mark Wilson, Olivia Morrell, Nathan Telford, John Puleitu. 


Brook Turner

P.S. Those that are interested in contributing to the ongoing work of Zeal can vote for us in The Trusts Million Dollar Mission. Every free vote is $5. You can vote once per day here.