The Journey from SOHK to Toiora
The School of Hard Knocks (SOHK) started as an idea that has since grown into Toiora, a program that stands as a symbol of resilience, transformation, and community support. Read on below to follow our journey from SOHK to Toiora.
1. The Beginning of SOHK
Our journey began when Hugo brought the SOHK concept to New Zealand. Inspired by a UK TV show, Hugo envisioned a program that could provide a lifeline for individuals facing high risks in life.
This program involved placing them in a rugby team, surrounded by coaches and mentors. Over 12 weeks, these individuals formed a close-knit team and honed essential life skills, like teamwork and communication, commitment and determination.
The program culminated with them playing as a rugby team, aiming to transition into meaningful employment.
2. Kickoff for the South Auckland Chapter
The initial SOHK edition took place in South Auckland and received crucial support from private sponsors, including NZ Rugby and SKY TV.
These organizations recognized the program’s value and secured the rights to the compelling video footage captured by Hugo and his team.
This first chapter of SOHK showcased the inspiring journey of high-risk youth, illustrating that with the right support, they could build resilience and achieve remarkable success in life.
3. The Essence of the School of Hard Knocks
SOHK resonated with a wide audience by emphasizing the valuable life lessons we all gain through facing challenges.
It served as a powerful reminder that everyone has a story, often hidden behind societal judgments. This realization led to our first mission statement:
“To create environments where people can flourish, and their stories inspire change in others.”
4. Continuing on from Initial Success
Following the success of the first season, SOHK partnered with private organizations to fund and share more stories of program participants.
This initiative led to the expansion of the program to Auckland in 2017 and Northland in 2018. Privately funding this unique program presented challenges, but the powerful storytelling in our videos and TV broadcasts convinced NZ Rugby and SKY TV to maintain their support, ensuring that rugby-related broadcasts continued to promote our mission.
5. A Turning Point - Government Support
In late 2018 and early 2019, the small yet impactful TV show gained recognition, leading to a call from a contact at the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment (MBIE).
This call invited SOHK to apply for funding through the Provincial Growth Fund, a government initiative aimed at supporting various industries and fostering growth in regions of New Zealand that hadn’t experienced as much growth in the previous 10-20 years as our major cities.
6. Seizing the Opportunity
SOHK embraced this opportunity and applied for funding through the He Poutama Rangatahi fund (HPR), a specific initiative designed to provide one-to-one support for high-risk rangatahi.
The goal was to empower them to seek a better life through employment and training opportunities while also fostering a holistic approach to improving rangatahi lives.
This holistic approach included the integration of sport, cultural connection, education, the cultivation of better habits, and the enhancement of work readiness, ensuring that rangatahi received comprehensive support for their overall well-being and development.
7. Funding Stability and Shifting Focus (2019 - 2020)
In 2019, SOHK embarked on a significant two-year funding contract with MBIE, based in Whakatane within the Eastern Bay of Plenty. This relieved us of the constant pressure of securing private funding and allowed us to concentrate our efforts on youth support.
This phase also marked a pivotal shift in our approach as we adapted to meet the accountability requirements of our funding partners, which entailed regular reporting, performance milestones, and objectives.
This period of adjustment reshaped our program and business operations, representing a substantial learning curve for our team. It emphasized the need for us to focus on delivering a structured program with well-defined outcomes.
Throughout this time, we sustained our ongoing collaboration with NZ Rugby, with a continued commitment to integrate rugby with education and employment preparation.
8. Youth-Centric Approach and COVID-19 Challenges (2021 - 2022)
Two years swiftly passed, and we gained invaluable insights into youth support through our initial funding opportunity, fostering significant growth as a business, thanks in large part to the guidance provided by MBIE and their regional advisers.
One of the most profound revelations during this period was the rangatahi’s strong desire for autonomy and the ability to make choices about how they invested their time. In response, we restructured our approach, shifting our focus from a singular educational pathway to prioritizing rapid work readiness and employment opportunities. We introduced various electives, such as online learning and engaging excursions, which allowed rangatahi to experience a wider range of activities, making their journey more enriching and diverse.
Between 2021 and the end of 2022, our program encountered a significant hurdle with the unexpected arrival of COVID-19. Notably, our primary funding partner, NZ Rugby, faced its own set of challenges, rendering continued support impossible. However, even in the face of adversity, we seized this as an opportunity for growth.
The absence of funding for capturing the evolving stories of resilience among our rangatahi was a notable setback. To adapt effectively, we expanded our program beyond the realm of rugby, introducing CrossFit and touch rugby to offer a more varied sports experience. This shift aimed to cater to a wider range of tastes and preferences among the rangatahi we served in the community, allowing them to find activities that resonated with them personally.
9. Refining the Program and Identity Transition (2022 - Present)
Responding to participant feedback, we made the program shorter and more intensive, reducing the course duration from 6 months of 20 hours a week study to 10 weeks with 6 months pastoral support depending on individual needs.
We also reduced the participant group size to around 12, which allowed for a more personalized approach to individual pathways, fast-tracking employment readiness, and offering an open-door policy for immediate entry based on merit and availability.
We introduced dedicated pick-up and drop-off services with our Logistics Mentor, ensuring accessibility. And we secured a fantastic Head Quarters for our program, which had a space for our own community gym and a dedicated class room space for online learning and work readiness preparations such as completing mock driver license exams.
Entering our third funding period, the HPR fund transitioned from MBIE to the Ministry of Social Development (MSD), introducing us to a new team. A significant transformation during this time was our program’s identity.
Our team felt that the School of Hard Knocks name was no longer culturally appropriate. Thus, we opted for a name change to align more closely with our business name – Toiora.
While we continue to hold the values and principles behind SOHK dear, we recognized the need for change. Toiora, with its direct linguistic connection to our team and community, resonates as a symbol of our ongoing commitment to empowerment, adaptability and transformation.
10. Our Journey Continues - Towards a Thriving Future
Our story doesn’t find its conclusion here; it’s a continuing narrative of empowerment, and the unwavering belief in our rangatahi. We forge ahead as Toiora, guided by a dedicated local operational team operating under the banner of Toiora Waiariki, managed by Toiora NZ Ltd.
Over the next two years, our mission remains steadfast: to support an additional 80 rangatahi on their path to success. We provide them with a nurturing and supportive environment, fostering their growth and preparing them for a range of opportunities awaiting them in the world of employment.
The journey that began as the School of Hard Knocks has evolved into Toiora, a name that encapsulates our commitment to the well-being and flourishing futures of our rangatahi while building the capacity to bounce back from adversity. As we continue to witness their journeys, we remain inspired by the transformations, and we look forward to a future where every rangatahi thrives.