Billy Graham Youth Foundation – Empowering Rangatahi to Thrive

The Billy Graham Youth Foundation (BGYF) is the national body that supports communities who choose to use the Naenae Boxing Academy (NBA) model to care for their young people. NBA is about teaching rangatahi life-skills through participation in, and the discipline of, boxing and physical fitness.

Billy, a former New Zealand and Australasian light welterweight boxing champion, was inspired by his own experiences growing up in Naenae. He founded NBA in 2006 with a strong desire to make a difference in the lives of its young people. It’s a family-run organisation, with Billy, his wife Kerri, and their whānau, taking a hands-on approach to serving their community.

BGYF provide values-based, holistic youth development; their programmes are based on creating an encouraging environment where constructive relationships can be built, so that positive outcomes can be achieved for each young person. Their success is based on three factors: young people from all socio-economic backgrounds coming together as community, long-term relationships, and engaging with whānau, as well as rangatahi.


From their grassroots operation in Naenae, BGYF has supported the development of boxing academies in various locations throughout Aotearoa. From Cannons Creek, Mid Canterbury and Wairarapa, through to Tauranga, Te Awamutu and West Auckland, rangatahi are benefitting from their involvement in the academies.

Seeing the success of the Cannons Creek Boxing Academy (CCBA) has been a massive victory for us. This was the first academy to stem from Naenae and as such was the test baby that informed much of our expansion plan. We had a plan to replicate, however we didn’t know how/if this would work until CCBA opened the doors and surpassed everyone’s expectations,” says Kerri.

Despite realising resounding success, the BGYF’s mahi hasn’t come without obstacles.

One of the greatest challenges has been identifying and articulating exactly what scaling our model looks like. Billy’s skills, attitude and charisma were central to the establishment of the Naenae Boxing Academy. When it came time to analyse our model in order to replicate that, we had to consider that one of the driving forces, Billy, would not be available in the other academies in the same capacity that he was in Naenae. To mitigate this, we have spent a lot of time formalising and articulating our practices and principles to ensure that new academies are able to align themselves to BGYF and can then make their local academies their own, while using the unique practices and principles that make BGYF what it is,” says Kerri Graham, General Manager, BGYF.

BGYF has some ideas around how it can continue to grow sustainably so that more and more communities and rangatahi have the opportunity to reap the benefits of getting involved.

One of the plans we have for the future is to develop the coaching practice that the Naenae Boxing Academy has implemented and make it available to other sporting codes. We would love to see our kaupapa extend throughout different coaching environments in New Zealand. Our goal is for our tamariki and rangatahi to develop an outward focus; thinking of others before themselves. This happens when you have your own strong sense of personal identity and can then look to the needs of others. Our BGYF academies provide the environments that foster high trust relationships, in which our young people can become who they want to be. The final outcome will be youth-led social change,” says Kerri.

Billy and some of the rangatahi supported by BGYF recently featured in a Mark Albiston directed documentary called Billy and the Kids that screened as part of the NZ International Film Festival in August. In the film, Billy says: “We’re not talking about making champion young boxers. We’re talking about making champion young people.” It would be hard to capture the essence of BGYF’s mahi any more perfectly than that.