‘Boring person’ comment spurred Sir Graeme Dingle’s charitable work

Sir Graeme Dingle wants New Zealand to be the best place in the world for kids by 2050. ‘While there’s breath in me, I’ll strive for that.’

Some people would take offence at being called boring.

It was July 1971 when a companion of adventuring legend Sir Graeme Dingle told him straight during a winter traverse of the Southern Alps.

“If you want it honestly, you’re a boring person because you can only talk about mountains and climbing them the hardest way. And you’re selfish, because the stuff you do isn’t good for anyone else,” Jill Tremaine said.

In the early stages of the Graeme Dingle Foundation, Dingle and wife Jo-Anne Wilkinson took their kayak and dog, Jenny, for an information-gathering paddle. Photo from March 1993, Auckland Star historical photo archive.


“Life’s a cup to be filled not a measure to be drained… You will only fill your cup when you do things that are good for other people.”

That set Dingle on the path to working with youth.

Graeme Dingle was ‘obsessed’ with climbing mountains, a climbing*** companion once told him. He’s pictured in 1969, pausing for a rest while belaying on the north face of Cima Grand di Lavaredo, Italy. Photo from the Auckland Star historical photo archive.


“It took about two weeks for the thing to get through my thick head but eventually I got it. An avalanche helped me along the way.”

He went home, “borrowed a truckload of money” and set up a charitable trust now known as Hillary Outdoors.

But it’s a project he took on later that most recently brough Dingle to the Waikato – a youth-focused organisation that he talks about with the same enthusiasm that must have got him up mountains.

Husband and wife Graeme Dingle and Jo-anne Wilkinson co-founded the Graeme Dingle Foundation. (File photo)


It used to be known as the Foundation for Youth Development, now it’s the Graeme Dingle Foundation.
In just over a decade, more than 13,000 Waikato kids have done one of its programmes, which include values programme Kiwi Can and mentoring programme Stars.

Dingle’s path towards that started in 1979 when Hamilton man Bill Hall insisted Dingle take a job with him, then gave him another nudge in the charitable direction.

At one point, Dingle had to pull the pin on a youth justice initiative he’d put two years into, so he circumnavigated the Arctic “to try and get the problem out of my head”.

His wife Jo-anne Wilkinson joined him for a 6000km stage to get back to Siberia and, when they got back at the end of 1993, they started work on what would become the Graeme Dingle Foundation.

They gathered a who’s who of New Zealand for a public forum in December 1994, he said, and set up a high-powered board.

Dingle and Wilkinson had gone to the South Island and paddled north – with their dog on the front – stopping at communities to talk about what was going on for kids.

That revealed a gap in programmes to help kids who were “skipping down the hill but hadn’t yet fallen over the cliff”.

Once that idea was mixed in with some international research, the result was Project K, a 14-month programme for Year 10 students.

It involves mentoring, at least 20 days away getting out of their comfort zone, and improving “self efficacy”, Dingle said.

“It’s a horrible word but essentially it just means how helpless the kids are to change the circumstance. Most of them are at a point where they’re saying ‘Don’t like school. Don’t like myself. Don’t like my family. Don’t like much, actually.’ [The programme] turns them around 180 degrees.”

It doesn’t currently run in the Waikato, but kids in 13 schools – from Huntly to Mangakino – are getting a taste of other foundation programmes.

Infometrics has put the value of the programmes at $7.15 return per dollar invested, Dingle said.

“When I said ‘That’s rubbish. That’s much too small,’ they said ‘That is the most spectacular result we’ve ever seen’.”

The foundation is also “talking quite seriously” with Oranga Tamariki about collaborating.

Dingle already works with youth offender programme MYND, or Mentoring Youth New Directions.

Project K could work for these kids too, Dingle says – maybe through a referral-type arrangement with Oranga Tamariki.

His vision is clear: to create the best country in the world for kids by 2050.

“That’s my plan. While there’s breath in me, I’ll strive for that.”

By Libby Wilson