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Solutions to complex challenges can be found when diverse groups of people work together, and emerging leaders are encouraged to speak up and make a difference.

That’s the premise behind Smart Seeds, an initiative developed by GHD to drive greater collaboration across industries to meet the needs of diverse communities and people. GHD is a global engineering, architecture and environmental consulting company with a staff of more than 500 in New Zealand.

Smart Seeds was first developed in 2012 as a programme for summer interns, but has expanded to an annual 11-week design-led programme that brings together emerging leaders from a variety of industries, who are invited to solve real-life challenges their city is facing. Participants are drawn internally and from partner organisations, and attend a variety of workshops to learn and understand the design-thinking and innovation process.


Photo of three people putting post it notes on wall chart as part of Smart Seeds programme.APAC Digital Lead Maurice Hoban says the most important aspect of the programme is the diverse teams, who draw on their varied experience and backgrounds to deliver a new idea. At the end of the 11 weeks, the teams pitch their solution to a judging panel.

“Smart Seeds brings together a diverse group of people, from lawyers to zoo keepers, engineers to marketing professionals, as well as connecting generations by bringing together our future leaders with our current ones. Mentored by industry professionals throughout, this programme provides a collaborative environment for participants to make new connections and influence change within their cities,” he says.

“Smart Seeds is the perfect platform to change the way our leaders think, while also developing fresh responses to challenges that our increasingly diverse cities and communities are facing.”

The initiative is recognised as a key professional development tool for both GHD’s emerging and senior leaders. Senior team members are offered the opportunity to take a role in planning the challenges put to programme participants, and mentor one of the teams.

“Mentors are selected based on their appreciation of the creative process, but also having the mindset where they can encourage collaboration within their team and challenge them beyond what they would consider themselves capable of.”

Smart Seeds is led by Maurice Hoban and a dedicated programme coordinator with senior leadership showing support by judging the programme each year.

Photo of people taking part in Smart Seeds workshopew Zealand General Manger Al Monro says, “Smart Seeds is building for the future. We are creating some great diverse networks across industries and disciplines. This is important as these young people are the future leaders of our city.”

There has been a distinct change within the organisation since the programme was introduced, says one of its Project Leads for Transport, Gansen Govender.

“Smart Seeds has given confidence to my younger team members to speak up with new ideas or a new approach when tackling a challenge on a project. Even though they may not have participated in the programme, they recognise innovation within GHD is championed by our managers and leaders and it gives them confidence to put forward their ideas in delivering innovative solutions for our clients.”

That’s a view reinforced by a GHD employee who took part in the programme. “I probably would not have felt comfortable approaching senior managers within GHD prior to Smart Seeds, but now I am not worried about the hierarchy. I worked alongside all levels within the programme and came out with a great result.”

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