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Civic entrepreneur & disaster-recovery guru


Sam Johnson has lived his life in the public eye and built a career doing service to others. His relentless energy to mobilise people around ideas has a magic ability in building movements that matter! Farm boy turned social entrepreneur, Sam's kaupapa is using the power of the collective to overcome the bureaucratic - shifting our belief system about what is possible.


Sam became a household name in New Zealand when he started what has become New Zealand’s largest volunteer movement-the internationally acclaimed Student Volunteer Army. What started as a small social media page after the devastating Christchurch earthquakes has been mirrored across the globe as a movement for impact, not an organisation for ego.

Sam is now the Director of Projects for STILL, a family office entrepreneurial venture focused on public interest capitalism and extreme long-term thinking and is the 2023 Institute of Directors Emerging Director of the Year for Auckland.

He also founded and eventually sold his startup company, WeVisit, which focused on the connection between older and younger people.

Sam thrives in turning a crisis into an opportunity and in using simple, old school models of community, with great tech, to make a difference.


Awarded Young New Zealander of the Year for his leadership, Communicator of the Year for his honest media commentary and a Sir Peter Blake Leadership Award to remind him never to rest on success. In 2021, Prime Minister Adern awarded Sam and the SVA a prestigious High Tech Award for ˜Impact for Good.'

In 2022, Sam was awarded the globally recognised Institute of Directors' (IoD) 2022 Auckland Emerging Director Award.

Current work

Sam is the Chief Executive of the Student Volunteer Army is most well-known for his entrepreneurial ideas that continue to make significant differences to the lives of others. Sam leads the charity's staff team who design and operate projects that impact over 65,000 volunteers each year in New Zealand. Sam's latest example with Covid-19 saw his organisation partner with New World supermarkets to design, develop and deploy an end to end shopping service for people most at risk from the virus within a week. Sam oversaw his team scaling from a team of 7 to 98 and building capacity to deliver contactless groceries for up to 10,000 households a week. Sam and the SVA team are continuing to make the most of the crisis, as every organisation must do, by rapidly testing new initiatives, and evolving their business model to fit the challenging times we are in.

Sam is also engaged with the international community and shares his experience regularly with governments, agencies and business on unlocking the latent capacity we have to help others. This work extends into his local advocacy and governance work with the Australian New Zealand Leadership Forum and as a member of Westpac Bank New Zealand's Sustainability panel. Sam is also a trustee for His Royal Highness The Prince of Wales New Zealand trust, 'The Prince's Trust.'

Sam is an Adjunct Fellow in the School of Education and Leadership at the University of Canterbury and teaches occasionally into the new degree, the Bachelor of Community and Youth Leadership, which was created as a response to the Student Volunteer Army's popularity.

In spare time, Sam rests, goes to bed early and stays away from any screens. As anyone recovering a head injury can attest, the journey is long. He's currently writing a book called "Don't Hit Yourself In the Head with a Hedge Trimmer and other bits of life advice" which will make you laugh, cry and be thankful for all the good things in life.

Talking Points

Build Your Own Army!

Sam Johnson famously mobilised an army-for-good of 11,000 students to respond to the New Zealand earthquakes. Sam took social media and a clear need to mobilize an army' of helpers to solve a real problem. But how do you keep a good idea going and how do you integrate small ideas into local institutions, businesses and everyday behaviours? Sam's journey is filled with real, raw and practical approaches to leadership and life. His team's work has attracted everyone from Prince Harry to Hillary Clinton to the Parkland Students to visit and learn how a group of students turned a disaster into a national movement that has now has 2% of the county's population involved.

Who this is for: Sam is most popular within the infrastructure, human resources, insurance, real estate, health care, sales or government industries given the direct relevance his work has to these sectors.

- Education and training industry events including teachers, principals, school supervisors, education department staffers, consultants, trainees
- Environment and waste conferences including local government, waste mitigation, utility, safety, three-waters, storm mitigation, disaster resilience, disaster risk reduction, disaster preparedness, FEMA, Fire Service, Volunteer Sector, emergency response sector
- Economic and community development at the national, state, regional, and local levels.
- Public service, service designers, public sector managers
- Hospital, medical, community health, nursing, health leadership events, health technology conferences
- People
- Agriculture or rural-focused events - events that attract people from smaller towns who are worried about the changing nature of communities

Key Takeaways:
1. Culture and leadership: culture is built by sharing responsibility for risk. Giving teams permission to execute is the most essential element to complex leadership challenges.
2. Strategy and action: You need three people with a combination of five skills to make anything happen: Vision, Plan, Promote, Do, Review.
3. How to build movements for impact, not empires for ego.
Excellent energy, positivity and engagement of the audience. Wellington Regional Primary Principals Association

Sam connected and engaged with everybody in the audience. He has some great experiences and stories to share that get to the hearts, minds and souls of the audience. Well done Sam!

Physical Education New Zealand

Sam was a delight to work with and we absolutely loved his presentation. Sam took time to come and mix and mingle with our delegates prior to his presentation the following morning. He was interested to get to know people and learn more about our industry group. Sam was a fantastic speaker. He was articulate, professional and his story was inspiring. Sam has the ability to convey a very human story with a business message. He was warm, funny, and he is a very special young man that will succeed at whatever he chooses to do.

Conventions and Incentives New Zealand

Let's talk, enquire with Louise now

Louise Ryburn

Let's talk, enquire with Louise now

Louise Ryburn

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