Ian White: being a Big Buddy to a boy who needs one

From Saturday Morning, 9:05 am on 3 July 2021

In his day job Ian White is the general manager of a cyber-security company, dealing with issues of hacking and ransomware, but in his spare time he has another important role: as 'big buddy' to a young boy who doesn't have a father in his life.

The Big Buddy programme recruits “good guys” from the community to spend time with boys aged seven to 14 in Auckland, Hamilton, Tauranga and Wellington, with plans for expansion to Christchurch in 2022.

Last month, Big Buddy celebrated having matched 1000 boys with buddies.

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Photo: Provided

White was born in Romania, but ended up in an orphanage after his mother died in childbirth and his father did not claim him. At four-months-old, he was adopted by an Irish couple and raised in Ireland.

Although he has no memory of his early life, the experience of being adopted helped him learn the importance of role models, which led him to sign up as a Big Buddy for a 13-year-old boy.

"It's made me acutely aware of the importance of having role models in people, like my dad is one of my biggest role models and so is my mum, I love them to the end of the earth. And like having someone who has always believed in you, the power that has.

While he does not have children of his own, White does not see his role as a substitute father, but rather as a male role model who can help his little buddy see his potential.

"That's my position, just to hang out with him and help him see things that he isn't aware of and the potential that he can get to," he says.

In order to be accepted as a big buddy, White went through two psychiatric assessments and a house interview. His friends and family were also interviewed, with the assessment taking around three to four months.

He's been with his little buddy for around nine months now and says it's been a learning experience for both of them.

"I think I've probably learned more from him than he has from me, I'm a bit of an idiot," he says.

"Just a lot of the stuff which he tells me he's growing up with and what he's doing, like with school and some of the things he doesn't say too, which fascinates me."

In particular, he learned a lot about how young people approach online privacy - which is obviously a big part of his work life.

"I think someone like the privacy commissioner is going to find it very hard to deal with when these younger generation get a bit older and don't care about who they share their information with and stuff like that.

"He's very willy nilly, just 'I don't care if my information's there or this person has it or this app has it', it doesn't really make a difference to them, they just want the best user experience, which trumps privacy."

Big buddies are able to catch up and compare notes through an outreach program held every few months. White says his biggest piece of advice for potential big buddies is to remember that it's a life-long commitment.

"It is a commitment, there's definitely no lies about that," he says. "The one thing that I've always said to my little buddy is I'll always be there, I'll always show up. And if I'm not going to show up I'll set expectations as far out as possible that I can't be here this weekend because of that. Because you have to be there, that's part of what this is."

While his buddy will turn 14 soon and the programme caters for boys aged 7-14, White says it definitely won't be the end of their relationship.

"From me and my little buddy's perspective, it's kind of a life-long commitment really. As long as he wants to keep it going or I want to keep it going and we just keep that communication going."