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A hand-up helped Sammy rise and rise

Sammy Hughes is a Senior Fellow of the Atlantic Fellows, Chair and Founder of Nōna Te Ao Charitable Trust, and Senior Manager in the Consulting Division at EY. It’s a world away from where he may have ended up if he were without a hand up at just the right moment from First Foundation. His secret was to grab opportunity with both hands.

Sam Hughes, First Foundation Alumna
At first, Sammy missed out on a First Foundation Scholarship. It was a turbulent time for him. The school year was ending, his two whāngai brothers and best mates had spent the past year in court, and his university plans were derailed without the financial support a scholarship would offer. During one of his final bus rides home from school, one call changed everything.

A new journey began on the bus

Thanks to a last-minute sponsorship commitment from Fonterra, an extra First Foundation scholarship became available. Sammy Hughes was phoned and interviewed right there on the bus. His fellow passengers quieted down for the critical conversation. When the call ended in success for Sammy, the whole bus exploded in cheers. Everyone recognised the opportunity of having the financial support to attend a university that a First Foundation scholarship brought. For Sammy, that was only the beginning of the value he found.

“Within two hours, my entire life changed. I don’t know what I was gonna do that day, but it wasn’t a good thing. But then, with one call, I went from that place to being at the University of Auckland Business School’s auditorium.“

From that day, Sammy has grasped every opportunity with both hands. And everywhere he went, people noticed his attitude and talent, which led to more ways to step up.

Sammy’s scholarship partner Fonterra invited him straight into the work experience part of the scholarship over the summer break. The boy from Kelston now found himself being introduced at the head office of one of New Zealand’s biggest companies. 

“My first task was to print out some reports for a meeting of 12 senior managers of the various global teams. They were thick and had to be collated with post-it notes inserted at certain places. Everyone who came past the copy room said they’d never seen someone so happy to be printing something. I was smiling the whole time because I knew what I could have been doing if I wasn’t there.” 

Sammy retained his job with Fonterra for his entire degree, a Bachelor of Education at the University of Auckland.

Sam Hughes Timeline
Sam Hughes with Mentor??

Sammy welcomed everything with open arms

Sammy made the most of the mentoring the scholarship brought. At first, this was from the CEO of First Foundation, who happily took on the last-minute scholar. Sammy was eventually paired with Dave Hine, and the two have remained close.

After graduating, Sammy started work as a teacher. He loved being able to directly inspire dozens of others to grab hold of their futures. Every time Sammy saw a chance to do something more, he took it.

Sammy rose to the position of deputy Principal at Tolaga Bay area school. He worked at the tertiary level Māori Academic Advisor at the University of Auckland and had another role at Lincoln University. Sammy earned Masters of Indigenous Studies, and with his signature energy, he’s continued a meteoric rise.

As Chief Advisor at the Ministry of Education leading the New Zealand Curriculum Refresh, he found himself able to bring his influence to the entire system towards educational equity.

Sam Hughes, First Foundation Alumna

Transformation comes from education

Despite his incredible success, Sammy remains humble and hungry for more opportunities to contribute.

“I’m just grateful every day for the opportunities I’ve had. I was so lucky that my mum insisted that I stay at school, even though it meant I wasn’t contributing to the family’s income. Many kids I know didn’t have that. They had to leave and start working so their families could survive.

“And I know many people that are in jail or have gang patches simply because they didn’t have the opportunities I had. Many of them are natural leaders. But they just didn’t get a hand up.

“First Foundation has been life-changing. I’ve been able to go places I never thought I would and give so much to my family. I’m as comfortable on the marae as I am in the boardroom, and I don’t take that for granted.”

Sammy encourages every student, scholar and First Foundation supporter to see the power of the First Foundation programme.

“It’s not about short-term gratification. It’s about a much longer play. By seeing that bigger picture, it’s breaking the cycle for a whole family and then every generation after that”.