Kupe news


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Excitement filled the air as friends and family, mentors, sponsors, Kupe alumni and integral members of the Kupe Community gathered to celebrate the announcement of the seventeen 2021 Kupe Leadership Scholars.

Following a stirring mihi whakatau by Kaiārahi Anahera Morehu, and a warm introduction by the Dean of Business, Professor Susan Watson, Kupe Executive Chair David Downs led an engaging discussion on the topic of leadership with the University’s Vice-Chancellor, Professor Dawn Freshwater and Pro Vice-Chancellor Pacific, Dr Damon Salesa.

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 Scholarship recipients were reminded by the panelists that having a quality education was a privilege that came with responsibility. 

“Your leadership journey doesn’t end in 12 months, it continues for life,” said Professor Freshwater. “Remember who you are and what you stand for.”

Dr Salesa highlighted “that the pathway to leadership is through service or tautua - service to a wider group.”

Following the lively discussion, the seventeen 2021 Kupe Leadership Scholarship recipients were invited to the stage to be introduced and they shared their kaupapa, before spending the remainder of the evening celebrating the beginning of their Kupe Leadership journey.

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On Tuesday 24th October, the University held a Celebration Dinner at the Maritime Room in the Auckland viaduct to mark the completion of the 2020 Kupe Leadership Scholarship Programme. The atmosphere was vibrant with everyone truly grateful to be able to celebrate the conclusion of the programme together in person after an unprecedented year.

The event was attended by a broad cross-section of the Kupe Community, including sponsors, mentors, academic supervisors, advisors, family, friends and supporters.  

After a year that has demanded a great deal of separation and distancing, coming together to celebrate in this way was particularly significant, and a special way to mark the end of the second year of the Kupe Leadership programme. The event enabled scholars and the Kupe Programme Team to acknowledge the incredible support of the mentors, sponsors, advisors and supporters who have stood alongside us as we have pivoted in response to the pandemic, with the scholars’ wellbeing and ongoing success of the scholarship at the forefront of our minds.

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We were honoured to have Charlotte Lockhart, Kupe Advisory Board Member, Kupe Sponsor and CEO of The Four Day Week as one of our speakers for the evening. She issued a challenge to the 2020 scholars to take every opportunity to change their world in whatever way they can, as a way to carry forward the Kupe legacy and trust placed in them by the wider Kupe community. Olivia Soesbergen, Kupe 2019 graduate, also took to the stage to share her reflections one year on. She spoke about how the Kupe experience was a catalyst in significantly shifting the way she perceived leadership and, more specifically, herself in leadership. Her drivers are no longer self-serving or embedded in individual career success, but instead are borne from a sense of duty to serve others and make a tangible difference to the community.

Samantha Menezes then spoke on behalf of the 2020 scholars, reflecting on a challenging, but nonetheless transformational, year and thanking all those who had helped make their Kupe experience so meaningful. She talked about the plans each of the 2020 scholars has for the future. Some are poised to take up positions in central government or policy-related roles in Wellington, some are pursuing further research and others are taking on internships or full time employment in a variety of sectors, such as medical device development.

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Despite entering a second period of lockdown in August, we were fortunate to be able to host another breakfast session in October, where the wonderful Kupe Mentor Dr Kim McGregor, QSO spoke with the Kupe Scholars. As Chief Victims Advisor to the Ministry of Justice and Director of her own therapy, research and training company, Tiaki Consultants, Kim had a wealth of knowledge and experience to share with the Kupe Scholars.

She spoke about dedicating over thirty years to working in the area of sexual violence as a therapist, researcher and the journey as an ‘accidental advocate’. Kim has been a constant campaigner as a founding and executive member of Te Ohaakii a Hine - National Network Ending Sexual Violence Together and Chair of the Tauiwi Caucus (2005-2013). Her session touched on the importance of having effective working relationships with influencers who hold diverse views and managing the ongoing risk of burnout. The scholars admired her honesty and her lifetime of advocacy for victims.




2020 Kupe Scholars AllOn Tuesday 28th July, the 2020 Kupe Leadership Scholars were celebrated publicly for the first time at a special breakfast event entitled “Imagining New Futures”. We were thrilled to welcome Green Party co-leader Marama Davidson, inaugural Chief Science Advisor Sir Peter Gluckman, celebrated lawyer Mai Chen and alumna of the inaugural 2019 Kupe cohort, KDee Ma’ia’i as panellists in a rich and philosophical discussion moderated by well-known journalist Rod Oram. 

There was a palpable air of anticipation and excitement as guests gathered at the Sir Owen G Glenn Building at the Business School, many of them attending an event for the first time since New Zealand emerged from the COVID-19 lockdown. Most of the Kupe scholars had met their donor or mentor only over zoom so there was a buzz of joyous camaraderie in the room as people shared stories and swapped coping strategies, delighted to be together face to face. The voice of Kaiarahi Anahera Morehu transcended the hubbub with a poignant mihi whakatau and karakia signalling the formal beginning of the event, after which scholars, mentors, donors and other Kupe partners took their seats.

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Given the unprecedented uncertainty and disruption caused by the global coronavirus pandemic, it seemed fitting to have a wide-open discussion about all aspects of society in Aotearoa and how we both make sense of and respond to major changes unfolding around us. Acting Dean of the Business School Susan Watson welcomed the assembly by reminding everyone of the purpose behind the Kupe Leadership Scholarship, to “follow in the footsteps of Kupe to collectively ‘wayfind’ and lift our leadership capability to make long-term, culturally-responsive and impactful change in Aotearoa and beyond”. She also mentioned the unique nature of Kupe as the first truly multi-disciplinary scholarship of its kind in NZ, that selects not only for academic ability but also a passionate commitment to leadership action that will serve our various communities. Rod Oram then introduced the topic by acknowledging the enormity of the task of ‘resetting’ and finding solutions to the problems facing us:

“We have a simple theme for this morning's discussion, it's the state of the world and what we’re going to do about it. And we've only got until nine o'clock. This might just be a first cut for a continuing discussion.”

Each panellist then introduced themselves by describing the changes that had taken place in their thinking since COVID emerged and responses ranged from simple restrictions around travel to the recognition that diverse sources of knowledge must be brought together, not only in the finding of solutions but also in framing the right questions. Rod asked the panel two further questions around the influence of their associated cultural backgrounds in their responses to change and crisis and the methods by which populations as a whole can be engaged to take part in major change. Some intriguing and provocative suggestions and comments were touched on, including the concept of multiple identities and human-centred democracy; collective accountability, and; the value of dissonance in community discourse.

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There was time for three questions from the audience, the first of which touched on what the panel thought of common values held by members of New Zealand society. Sir Peter reflected that the ‘traditional’ Pakeha values we assume to hold as a right, such as privacy, autonomy and agency, may, in fact, be under threat and we should no longer assume them to be constant. Marama Davidson noted that, no matter what diversity of opinion exists, we must maintain compassion and fight against a fear of reducing privilege for a small minority. Mai Chen suggested perhaps Aotearoa needs some form of written constitution that would reflect our higher values as a nation. There was then a question reflecting the perception of ‘He Taonga te Tamariki’ around how to ensure the ongoing security of our children as guardians of the future. The panel discussion closed with a prompt for each panellist to give the current Kupe scholars one piece of advice for their leadership journey. A full transcript of the panel discussion is available here  Kupe-Breakfast-30.7.20-transcript.pdf

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Two current scholars gave an effusive message of thanks to the panellists and MC at the event, but also the many donors and mentors of the Kupe programme who give so generously to support this important kaupapa around change and leadership. Many guests lingered after the formal conclusion to talk further with panellists and meet the scholars in person. It was a wonderful, invigorating way to re-focus the programme for 2020 after what has been a challenging time for all.



Orientation6This year's scholars formally commenced their Kupe programme in late February with an Orientation at Te Tii Marae in Waitangi. They were joined for the powhiri and initial leadership discussion by alumnus Tamati Rakena, Lynette Stewart and Kris Macdonald of Ngati Wai and, on the last day, by kaiarahi Anahera Morehu.

It was a profound and moving experience during which the scholars developed very strong bonds with one another and were introduced to the concept of wayfinding leadership in a uniquely New Zealand context. Being immersed on the marae, scholars were able to gain a greater understanding of the historic Treaty negotiations, learn about the origins of Kupe and explore leadership through cultural practices such as weaving, weaponry training and celestial navigation.

WakaThe highlight for many was a voyage on a traditional waka tangata (double hulled war canoe) with members of the Te Tii whanau. Two scholars took responsibility to blow the putatara (shell instrument) as the group embarked and for the returning salute to the marae. As members of the whanau on the marae and our scholars observed in the closing on the final morning, there was an abundance of wairua (spirit), manaaki (hospitality/care) and aroha (love) shared amongst the group.

In addition to creating a space for these connections to form within and across the cohort, the main objectives of this orientation were to set the scene for the remainder of the year, to understand what the scholars are seeking from this opportunity, to provide them with a sense of the potential their contribution has to shaping the programme and continue building the culture of the cohort. 



On Tuesday 29th October, the University held a Celebration Dinner at the Maritime Room in the Auckland viaduct to mark the completion of the inaugural Kupe Leadership Scholarship Programme. The event was attended by the Vice Chancellor, donors of the 2019 Kupe Leadership Scholarships, the 2019 Kupe Leadership Scholars and their mentors, and other supporters and contributors to the programme. 

The event was a wonderful occasion to acknowledge the completion of the formal aspects of the programme, where scholars enjoyed the opportunity to show their appreciation and thanks to the donors who made this all possible, and the mentors who have encouraged and guided them throughout the year. The scholars’ growth over this journey was clearly evident, and we look forward to the chance to continue our engagement with these fine young leaders as active members of our Kupe alumni.  

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Sir Jonathan PorrittOur very successful Breakfast Speaker series drew to a close with our fifth and final speaker in October.

We were honoured to be joined by the remarkable Sir Jonathan Porritt, a renowned British environmentalist and writer, who is passionate about sustainability and addressing the climate-change emergency the world is facing. He opened by saying he felt deep shame at the situation of the world that was being passed on to younger generations.

There is a general consensus that a dramatic and accelerated reduction in the emission of greenhouse gases is required to avoid the far-reaching and catastrophic impacts of climate change. New Zealand currently has one of the highest carbon footprints from agriculture in the world, and it is clear that we will not be able to reach our Net Zero Carbon goal without dramatically reducing the cow population. There is already a growing trend among consumers to reduce consumption of animal products, driven by a combination of personal health choices, concerns for animal welfare, and the impact of agricultural practice on the environment. The introduction of new plant-based and cell-based proteins to the market is also resulting in a shift away from traditional meat products.

In Jonathan’s view, New Zealand will have a critical role to play in addressing the crisis, particularly through the management of our fisheries and coasts – with wonderful opportunities to use seaweeds/kelps as carbon sinks and utilise macro and micro algae for the whole world’s benefit. New innovations around methane inhibitors and green hydrogen also present opportunities for New Zealand to be a leader in this space. In Jonathan's words, "pressures can turn into opportunities if we innovate in the right way". 

A key consideration will be how we as a nation support and protect people who are negatively impacted by the shifts that need to occur, and commit to open political dialogue in order to navigate these transitions.

Jonathan provoked rich discussion and he agreed with student observations that New Zealand also had a unique and important role to play in the ongoing protection of the Antarctica region, ensuring the principles and values of the Antarctic Treaty are upheld in order to prevent resource extraction and conventional development.


IMG 9943aOur August speaker, Rez Gardi, who was awarded the 2017 Young New Zealander of the Year for her services to Human Rights, shared her story of being born in a United Nations refugee camp in Pakistan, before her family’s resettlement in New Zealand as political refugees in 1998.

Rez's parents were actively fighting for Kurdish rights in Iran before making the decision to flee with their young family across the border into Pakistan to escape persecution. There they were granted instant assylum before finally being resetlled 10 years later.

From her early beginnings where she experienced the unpredictability of life as a refugee, where there were no guarantees of food, shelter or water, let alone access to education and basic human rights, Rez has vivid memories of her first taste of freedom and the stark contrast of the green New Zealand landscape to the barren desert of the Pakistani refugee camp.

It was when she visited her Kurdish relatives in 2005 following the fall of Saddam Hussein's regime that she realised the unique opportunities she had been given but also the injustice and oppression suffered by her people. This awakened a deep desire to use her passion and her circumstances to go to law school and fight for the rights of the Kurds and similarly marginalised communities around the world. Rez graduated from the University of Auckland with a law degree and is studying a Masters in Law at Harvard University.

She is passionate about promoting refugee rights in New Zealand, supporting their integration into society and campaigning for an increased refugee quota in New Zealand. Rez established Empower, an initiative to address the under-representation of refugees in higher education, with interventions aimed at young people to link them with mentors and show them what pathways they have open to them before they reach the stage of dropping out of school.

Her desire is to crush barriers and "break the narrative of refugees being ungrateful for dreaming of things beyond safety and survival". She says there is work to be done in how refugees are portrayed, with a shift from the focus on them as vulnerable individuals who put pressure on our resources, to a celebration of their strength and resilience, and an appreciation of the valuable contribution they can make to our society. 


Jenny SalesaOn 26 July the Honourable Jenny Salesa, Minister of Customs, Building and Construction and Ethnic Communities spoke to Scholars at our third Kupe Leadership Breakfast.

In addition to this important portfolio, she has Associate Ministerial responsibilities for Education, Health, Housing and Urban Development and, since 2014, has been electorate MP for Manukau East – which experiences many issues in her portfolio areas.

Minister Salesa is the first Tongan-born, Tongan-speaking Cabinet Minister in a NZ government and indeed is the world’s first Tongan-born woman Cabinet Minister anywhere in the world. Diversity is a subject dear to Jenny’s heart, knowing first-hand the challenges of being the sole representative of her ethnicity in many contexts. She is heartened by the fact that the government now has 8 Maori MPs and 3 Pasifika MPs.

Jenny spoke about her life, its challenges - personal and professional – and the critical issues for Aotearoa-New Zealand that she is addressing in her Ministerial roles. She noted:

• NZ is a shocking No.1 in the OECD for homelessness. (Jenny put this firmly on the public and political agenda in 2016 when she highlighted the plight of Auckland’s ‘Hidden Homeless’.)
• NZ is currently short by 71,000 houses – 45,000 of those are urgently needed in Auckland
• One of the highest occupational suicide rates in NZ is in the building and construction sector.

This sector is in crisis, Jenny said, and it has huge skills shortages. She is, however, very pleased that the sector’s new Industry Accord includes 100 companies from the construction sector. They are helping the government address the challenge of working with 600,000 products – all of which are unregulated.

Jenny finds Policy work extremely satisfying as she says it has such power to affect people’s lives. (She has worked as a policy analyst in both US and NZ, covering important areas such as health and education). Jenny is a firm believer in consultation and collaboration, but acknowledged that it isn’t easy. In her view, unfortunately discrimination is a top issue in many public consultation exercises.

When asked to what she attributes her success, she laughingly conceded that she usually takes a “feisty approach” to challenges she’s presented with.


It was an honour to Welcome Sam Judd as our guest speaker for the June Kupe Leadership Breakfast. Co-Founder and CEO of Sustainable Coastlines, Sam turned down a career in law to dedicate his time to protecting New Zealand’s coastlines and waterways, a cause that he cares deeply about.

Sam and his team create impact through beach clean-ups, tree planting and educational programmes that are delivered throughout New Zealand, from primary schools to prisons. Their national reach and commitment to a wide range of initiatives are critical to achieving their vision of Beautiful Beaches, Healthy Waters and Inspired People.

Sam JuddThe problems of plastic pollution in our oceans and increased nitrates and sediment in our waterways, like many adaptive leadership issues, are complex and mutli-faceted, and call for a more holistic approach. Sam spoke of Sustainable Coastlines’ role in education, public awareness campaigns, supporting policy reform through their extensive data collection and evaluation and even involvement in new product design to eradicate some of the sources of pollution.

Named Young New Zealander of the Year in 2013, Sam is passionate about enabling others and supporting local community-based projects from the ground up. He spoke of the importance of really understanding what people’s drivers are, helping facilitate their emotional connection with the issues facing our environment, and then providing opportunities for them to get involved. It is this combination, Sam believes, that can enable effective behavioural change. “We’ve realised that the issues that we are tackling are so big that there’s no way we can fix them all. The only way to try to scale this impact we’re looking for is to help local people to do it”.

Sam’s success to date can largely be attributed to his ability to think outside the box, finding innovative ways to engage others and capitalise on opportunities to expand their impact. He is also not afraid to muck in and get his hands dirty, quite literally, with tree planting events and beach clean-ups. His infectious energy and passion for his work were clearly evident as he shared some of the highs and lows of his leadership journey to date in an account that was at times deeply personal and reflective and at others a source of real motivation and inspiration for the audience.

The award winning Flagship Education Centre is one of the more recent success stories initiated by the team at Sustainable Coastlines, showcasing sustainable construction and regenerative design. Located in Auckland’s Wynyard Quarter, it is made out of 85% salvaged materials and includes an innovative roofing system that can decompose airborne pollutants.

In addition to the environmental outcomes they are seeking, Sam is equally attuned to the cultural and social value of their work. In addressing the costs associated with purchasing plants or fabricating materials for the construction of the Flagship Education Centre, Sam saw an opportunity to partner with the Department of Corrections. A nursery was established by inmates at Waikeria prison to supply trees for planting events, while serious offenders were given opportunities to learn welding and other skills that could provide them with a new pathway following release from prison. “Not only are we creating a sustainable building but we are also looking at reducing reoffending at the same time by giving these guys skills’.

Our sincere thanks to Sam for an inspirational and thought-provoking session.


On Friday 17th May, we hosted the first of a series of Leadership Breakfasts with our Kupe Leadership Scholars and invited guests. We were honoured to have Sir Kim Workman as our speaker at this event, who shared an honest and humble account of his leadership journey, from his schooling days to the present.

Sir Kim has devoted his life to social justice and has been a tireless campaigner for criminal justice reform. His work has recently earned him a knighthood in the New Year’s Honours List, yet he remains incredibly grounded and focussed on his work as an ‘active disrupter’. “My life is about speaking out against injustice. That is what I was meant to do”.

His journey has required resilience, courage, determination and, at times, a good sense of humour, but has taught him a great deal about leadership. “Up until 1995 I’d been this very bureaucratic directional leader…but I was starting to realise what leadership is about – a true leader doesn’t hog the limelight, they sit back and encourage other people to ‘eat first’ as it were, to be nourished and supported”.

Sir Kim Workman2He acknowledges that at one stage, the prospect of becoming a powerful, well-paid CEO was an appealing one, but his leadership story has never placed himself as ‘leader’ at the centre. He has had to put ego and personal ambition aside in order to speak the truth and advocate for positive social change, and has learnt to celebrate the many failures as they in themselves can generate new ideas, open up dialogue and create new pathways forward.

Over recent years, he has been gaining traction in his quest to open up the discussion around prison reform and increase the number and diversity of people engaged in the conversation. He was instrumental in the formation of JustSpeak, a youth movement that emerged as an off-shoot of Sir Kim’s Rethinking Crime & Punishment project. “I realised that all the things I wanted would probably never be achieved in my lifetime. They might, if they’ve got any value, be achieved in someone else’s”.

On behalf of the Kupe Leadership Community, we wish to extend our thanks to Sir Kim for so generously sharing his time and wisdom with us.



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Taking advantage of the visit to New Zealand by the founding donor, John McCall MacBain, the University of Auckland arranged an evening function to officially launch the 2019 Kupe Leadership Scholarship programme. It was a wonderful opportunity to connect him with the other 10 donors who have generously supported the Kupe Leadership Scholarships, along with the Scholars and their Mentors. 

The event was also attended by other key stakeholders and invited guests, who were treated to a keynote address from Sir Peter Gluckman. In his address on The Critical Leadership Challenge: Democracy, Difficult Conversations and Truth-Decay, Sir Peter issued a challenge to the Scholars. Your potential to be leaders, to make a difference, comes at a critical time in our history as a species”.

Sir Peter spoke of the unrelenting need for leadership in tackling the emergent social, technological and environmental issues facing the globe. “Leadership will mean ensuring truth prevails, that citizens have access to robust knowledge, that we find ways to address the existential and difficult challenges ahead and get beyond the short-termism that prevails in much current discourse and politics”.

In addition, Stuart McCutcheon, Vice Chancellor of the University of Auckland interviewed John McCall MacBain on his commitment to philanthropy and the development of leadership, as well as his hopes for the Kupe Leadership Scholarships.

“We’re trying to create not just a pure academic scholarship but a scholarship that looks for those future leaders who may not be leaders today but who we see have the potential to lead…The interesting thing about giving scholarships is that your dream is that [the recipient] will go and change the world, but your downside case is that they change themselves and their family and their friends around them… So your failures are pretty successful, you’ve changed their lives”.

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Group photo with Dartmouth Scholars Piritahi maraeIn early March the 14 Kupe Leadership Scholars gathered at the beautiful Piritahi Marae on Waiheke Island to commence their year-long leadership programme.

Throughout the Orientation weekend, the Scholars explored the concepts of manaakitangi, whanaungatanga and kotahitanga, and put these into practice as they helped prepare meals, cook and clean, and began to get to know each other. Among tangata whenua of the marae who came to share their knowledge with the Scholars was Maikara Ropata, herself a descendent from Kupe, whose carving graces the inside of the meeting house. A series of activities, including waka ama in the nearby bay provided opportunities for discussion and reflection about leadership.

Sleeping in the wharenui was a special occasion and a first for many, as was having the privilege on Saturday of conducting the powhiri to welcome a contingent of students from Dartmouth College in the USA. The scholars had the opportunity to engage with a diverse group of leaders, from Bianca Ransom, who shared her experiences as a Maori entrepreneur and discussed her work with Maori prisoners, to Mike Maars, founder of the Waiheke Recycling Centre who illustrated what can be achieved through passion, commitment and a sense of purpose.

The Scholars arrived on the island as individuals, but left as a connected group who are excited about their shared journey ahead.


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After many months of planning and discussion, the inaugural Kupe Leadership Scholars have been confirmed. The 2019 Kupe Leadership Scholars were selected following a rigorous and competitive selection process. Candidates were required to complete a written application, with the shortlisted students being invited to engage in a full-day session that combined group activities with 1:1 interviews. The selection panel then had the challenging task of identifying the inaugural Kupe Leadership cohort from the talented pool of post-graduate students who applied. The successful Scholars represent a diverse array of disciplines across a number of faculties, but they each demonstrate evidence of leadership capability and share many commonalities in terms of their drive, determination, passion and humility.

AU Kupe Scholars 2018 011A2Canadian philanthropist John McCall McBain made a special visit to Auckland in December after his Foundation provided $1 million in seed funding to kick-start this initiative. The Kupe Leadership Scholars enjoyed the opportunity to meet with John and offer him some insight into their area of study, their passion and the difference they want to make for Aotearoa. 

Each of our 2019 Kupe Leadership Scholars have been assigned a mentor who will work with them to inform, challenge, support and nurture their leadership aspirations to help them make a meaningful contribution to New Zealand. Many Kupe Leadership Mentors are well-known to New Zealanders and have been hand-picked due to their expertise and experience.

The programme will consist of a series of workshops throughout the year where scholars will develop the mindset and leadership capabilities that will be so essential to their leadership work. We are very much looking forward to getting the formal programme underway and wish our scholars all the very best for the year ahead.