The organisation fighting obesity and transforming lives

An Auckland-based community organisation is inspiring people to lose weight and get fit and healthy, through its free exercise classes and foodshare programme.  

Buttabean Motivation, otherwise known as BBM, is on a mission to reduce obesity among Māori and Pacific people and motivate them to choose a more active lifestyle.  

BBM is one of the charities chosen to take part in Z Energy's (Z) Good in the Hood campaign for 2023. Good in Hood supports local community groups by giving them a share of $1 million to do good in their neighbourhood. 

The organisation was founded in 2014 by Dave Letele after he found himself severely overweight and at an all-time low. 

"It started out of my journey," says Letele. "I was 210kg, I'd lost everything including my family and I was very depressed. I was on a bed I couldn't fit on staring up at the roof thinking, how did I stuff up my life so much?" 

It was at that moment that Letele decided to turn his life around.  

"I got up, went for a walk and my journey started." 

Fast forward a couple of years and Letele had shed 100kg and was boxing professionally, fighting under the name the Brown Buttabean. His remarkable weight loss had also inspired others, with people often asking him for tips on how to get in shape.  

As he continued to train, he would invite anyone keen to come along to exercise with him, a move which eventually led to him forming a popular Facebook group and ultimately Buttabean Motivation.  

"I just thought to myself, I wonder who else wants to come - and that's how it started." 

Buttabean Motivation is part of the 2023 Z Energy (Z) Good in the Hood Campaign. Good in the Hood supports local community groups by giving them a share of $1 million to do good in their neighbourhood. 

The organisation now has three gyms - in south Auckland, west Auckland and Tokoroa - and offers a raft of different classes catering to people of all fitness levels, including boxing, circuit training, programmes for mums and bubs and BBM's From The Couch programme, which helps people "with long-term health conditions to get off the couch and get moving again". 

All the programmes are free and Letele says they are having a "massive impact" on those taking part, not just because of the health effects but also because the bootcamps are a way of helping people reconnect with their community.  

"The results we're having are life-changing for a lot of people." 

Although primarily aimed at reducing obesity in Māori and Pacific communities, Letele says everyone is welcome to take part in the programmes. BBM now has 17 full-time employees, many of whom began their own fitness journey at a BBM bootcamp, giving them "lived experience" of what it's like to turn their life around. 

"[Participants] are being led by people who have gone through what they're going through so it's just amazing when you see it first hand." 

The real "secret sauce" of BBM, though, is based on changing people's mindset, says Letele. 

"You've got to give them the hope and the belief that it's possible. 

"It's just understanding them and then educating them and giving them the tools because they will get knocked down, we all do because life sucks sometimes, but if you have the tools and the mindset you understand you can get back up and keep going. It really is the consistency of the journey that will get you there." 

And it's not just fitness the organisation helps people with, BBM also operates a foodbank through its foodshare programme. 

"We started off as health and fitness and then we moved into the social space - because health is a lot more than just exercise," says Letele. 

The foodshare programme provides services for people struggling with food security, and at Christmas time BBM also puts together food parcels and presents for families in need. It also runs an employment programme and a community kitchen educating people on how to cook healthy meals and shop for healthy food on a budget. 

"It's all based on the Te Whare Tapa Wha Health model where you just have to have all those pillars in line." 

Letele says the immediate goal for the organisation is to extend BBM's impact around Aotearoa, by rolling out its From The Couch programme nationwide. 

He says it's "amazing" to be part of Z's Good in the Hood programme. 

"It's massive for us because as I think any community group will tell you, it's very tough going," he says. 

"And I don't recommend my business model to anyone - we've got three gyms, a foodshare, a community kitchen, a social supermarket, and not one paying customer." 

"The team at BBM are doing amazing mahi helping people achieve their health and personal goals. We have been incredibly humbled to work with Dave Letele as an ambassador for Good in the Hood this year – he is an inspiration to so many people and we are excited about the impact we can achieve together" said Abbie Bull, Head of Sustainability and Community at Z. 

This year, Z will surpass the $10 million milestone in donations to community groups and charities throughout Aotearoa New Zealand since 2011, largely enabled through its Good in the Hood programme.  

Customers who shop in-store at Z are given an orange token to pop in one of four boxes to vote for their favourite local group, like Buttabean Motivation, with $4,000 per Z station split between the participating groups based on the number of votes they receive. 

Article created in partnership with Z Energy