Date posted: 17/12/2018

Meet the 2018 Young Enterprise Scheme CEO of the Year: Nitha Vashti

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To date, Project Ātaahua - a community initiative led by 18-year-old Chief Executive Officer Nitha Vashti - has commissioned seven artists to create vibrant murals in public spaces in the Gisborne NZ locale.

"Other regions had vibrant city centres, so we saw an opportunity to enhance the Gisborne CBD, allowing local artists to tell their stories of journey and the Tairawhiti region," Nitha says.

Lina Marsh Library

Lina Marsh Library Mural

Nitha co-founded the project through the Young Enterprise Scheme (YES) in February 2017 with four fellow students from Gisborne Girls' High School. She currently works alongside co-founder Kate Plummer and new addition Kaea Gillman - Project Ātaahua's Marketing and Production Manager and Finance Manager, respectively - continuing to showcase Gisborne's rich culture and heritage through the eyes of its local artists.

Project Ātaahua

Project Ātaahua team members

While the team share the award for the 2018 YES Regional Company of the Year, Nitha has a significant achievement of her own to celebrate - the title of 2018 YES CEO of the Year, an award sponsored by Chartered Accountants Australia and New Zealand.

Nitha Vashti and Peter Vial

Nitha Vashti and Peter Vial

Nitha has been given the opportunity to attend a networking event with CA ANZ after impressing the judging panel of senior staff with her CEO statement and exceptional leadership skills.

"I'm so incredibly grateful!" Nitha says.

"Winning [the 2018 Chartered Accountants Australia and New Zealand] CEO of the Year is a huge recognition of my hard work and dedication the past two years."
Nitha Vashti, CEO of Project Ātaahua.

The idea behind Project Ātaahua was born out of one team member's interest in art and the entire team's passion for connecting with the community.

After initially getting their idea off the ground by finding sponsors and establishing community support, the project's first mural "Whales" by Nick Tupara and Phil Berry was painted in Bright Street Carpark in April 2017, while the second mural "Diaspora" by Lina Marsh was finished just after that Christmas.

Flower Mountain before

Fred's Place - Before

Flower Mountain after

Fred's Place - After

Production sped up this year after they received funding to commission an outstanding five murals in January. Project Ātaahua also began collecting revenue by creating merchandise featuring images of these murals in the form of bags, prints and postcards.

Nitha credits YES and Project Ātaahua for giving her skills in leadership, marketing, finance and entrepreneurship. Highlights from the experience to date include observing the creation process for each mural and being selected for a business study tour of Singapore with nine other high school students.

The greatest lesson she's learnt to date is just how keen the community has been to support Project Ātaahua and their mission: "We started with no idea of what we could achieve and throughout the journey we have learnt and grown with the business. Everyone in our community has been so willing to assist us, with that support still continuing to grow."

Nitha's sights are now set on transforming Project Ātaahua into an educational program for teenagers aged 14 to 18 years old: "In our region, 14.9% of young people aren't [currently] in education, training or employment*, so we've decided to target that by funding and co-creating an educational program in which young people will learn digital and practical art skills, with the end goal of creating a collaborative mural," Nitha said.

*Source: Youth who are not in employment, education, or training in the Gisborne and Hawke's Bay regions, New Zealand, 2008 Q3–2018 Q3, % of people aged 15-24 (NEET rate), Stats NZ,