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Decades of difference

Ali Farid was part of the first cohort of First Foundation Scholars 23 years ago. When we caught up with him, he was thrilled to hear the programme’s impact is greater than ever. Ali says being a First Foundation scholar was an unbelievable journey; it’s been life-transforming, without any exaggeration.

Ali Farid
Twenty-three years ago, I was a Form 6 Iraqi migrant who’d only been in New Zealand for 6 or 7 months. The Penrose High School principal invited me to apply for a brand-new scholarship and programme.

At first, a friend discouraged me, saying I wouldn’t have a chance. But, the principal called me into her office and said I couldn’t leave until I completed the form. It was quite intimidating! A few weeks later, I was confirmed! And, that was the first lesson, you’ve got to back yourself, even when others don’t.


Back yourself

And it was a non-stop learning curve. I remember attending the first meet and greet and meeting the GM of Coca Cola Amatil. As a migrant who didn’t speak English comfortably, I didn’t know how to behave – I was calling everyone Mr This and Mr That.

A few months later, I began as a production operator at Coca Cola. It was my first job, and it transformed my language ability; I had to pick up communication fast. I loved what I did! It made me passionate about manufacturing and production and the community.

I remember the day they sent out the NZ Herald to take photos of me on the production line at Coca Cola. Then, when I went to the dairy, the man said he saw me on page three! It was an amazing thing for a boy from Iraq in a strange land.

Mum still shows that clipping to my children sometimes. It was such a proud moment for my parents. And it meant even more because they sacrificed so much to move to a new country, so I’d have a safer future. I’m so grateful for all they did.


First Foundation offers a hand up

The First Foundation programme is about giving people a hand up, not a handout. When it came to fees, it was a partnership between me as a scholar and Coca Cola. I had to work for a share of my tuition, and they paid some too. 

It wasn’t a cheque that just gets paid to your university; you have a responsibility to hold up your end. The biggest gift was the work experience. That was actually the real scholarship; it cemented what I did for a career.

I had a chance to see engineering, customer service, sales, merchandising and so many other roles. That experience transformed me and allowed me to come out of university knowing where I wanted to start my career.


Mentoring is powerful

One of the most powerful parts of the programme is mentoring. I had an exceptional mentor who was totally invested in my success and took time to support that.

My definition of success has changed over the years, and I’ve remembered what I’ve learned through First Foundation.

In my first job interview, they asked how far I thought I could go in the organisation. I said I’d be the CEO within 10 years! Now, I’m striving for the satisfaction of helping others be the best they can be. One of the most incredible rewards is hearing from people I’ve coached that I’ve helped them, allowed them to look at something differently, find new solutions, or better their lives. That’s success; it’s the good you leave behind.

I have a 14 and 4-year old and I love seeing them grow and flourish. We have a very good life and I treasure every moment I spend with them.


Grab this opportunity with both hands

To anyone who has the chance to be involved with First Foundation, I would say it’s a gift; grab it with both hands.

Ali Farid in 1998

Ali Farid was First Foundation’s inaugural scholar, pictured here in 1998

And if you earn a place on the programme, and make your future, don’t feel ‘lucky’ to have it – you deserve it! It’s not an easy path, but you’ll reap the rewards. Persevere.

First Foundation provides an incredible opportunity for you to build a better life for yourself, your family and others. The programme uniquely brings together its three pillars; it’s perfect.


Ali Farid earned a Bachelor of Engineering from the University of Auckland. After graduation, he began as a process engineer at Feltex Carpets. His career has seen him progress through senior roles at British American Tobacco, Givaudan and Kerry.