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Leading a cancer charity for young people, Nick Laing CEO of Canteen Aotearoa

Updated: Feb 22

Nick joins us on Purposely Podcast to share his organisation's mission and his career journey from social worker to charity CEO.

Nick shares his journey of coming out as a gay man during a time when societal acceptance was limited. This experience played a significant role in shaping his identity and influencing his approach to life. Nick's desire to make a positive impact led him to pursue a career centred around helping others. Fuelled by a deep motivation and a strong commitment to social justice, he pursued training as a social worker and seized the opportunity to join the local health authority. Over the course of nine years, Nick took on various roles within the organisation, culminating in his position as a team leader, where he began to explore his capabilities in management.

In a pivotal move, Nick joined the New Zealand AIDS Foundation (now called the Burnett Foundation) as a general manager in April 2012. This relatively small nonprofit organisation aimed to combat the spread of HIV and provide support to individuals at risk of HIV and other sexual diseases. Nick's experience at the foundation further solidified his commitment to making a difference in the lives of vulnerable people.

In April 2019, Nick assumed the role he holds today as CEO of Canteen Aotearoa, a cancer charity that offers psychosocial and practical support to young people aged 13 to 24 who are impacted by cancer. With approximately 4,200 young people affected by cancer in Aotearoa each year, Canteen plays a crucial role in providing much-needed support to both young people and their families.

Nick's tenure as CEO has not been without its challenges. When he first joined Canteen, the charity had been on the brink of closure due to a lack of funds. Those leading the charity at that time implemented cost-cutting measures and then embarked on hiring a new CEO. Nick stepped in with the brief of rebuilding the core team and refocusing everyone on the mission of providing the very best support on a smaller budget. Despite these obstacles, Nick's leadership and dedication have allowed Canteen to thrive and continue its vital work.

The COVID-19 pandemic presented a new set of challenges for Nick and his team. Raising funds, managing teams, and ensuring access to support for young people became even more difficult. However, Nick's ability to adapt and his team's resilience have enabled Canteen to overcome these obstacles. Nick references the charities close working relationship with Canteen Australia as crucial to their success. He also points to technology and the vital role it has played in maintaining connections and providing support during this challenging time.

Thanks to their partnership with Canteen Australia, Nick’s been able to ensure that the charity can stand at the forefront of innovation, utilising cutting-edge technology to support young individuals diagnosed with cancer in New Zealand. An example of this is their Robots Project, which has revolutionised education for young people undergoing treatment. Through user-friendly Kubi robots, these individuals can attend classes, interact with teachers and classmates, and participate in discussions, all from their hospital rooms. This initiative ensures not only continuity in their education but also helps them stay connected to their school community.

Nick Laing's leadership and commitment to supporting young people impacted by cancer have had a significant impact on the lives of rangatahi (young people) and their whānau (families). Through their support services and innovative initiatives like the Robots Project, Nick and his team have created a safe space where young individuals can find support and a sense of belonging.

Nick is way too humble to agree to the following observations, but it is clear that his dedication to developing the organisation, his empathetic approach to people leadership, and focused strategic planning has positioned Canteen Aotearoa as a leading provider of cancer support in New Zealand. With Nick at the helm, Canteen continues to make a difference in the lives of those affected by cancer, ensuring that no rangatahi faces this journey alone.

Charity CEO Aotearoa - Podcast Series on Purposely


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