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Let’s break more barriers

I am honoured to serve as Chair for an organisation that has transformed so many lives. We can share a huge sense of pride in the success of nearly 1000 First Foundation scholars. They’ve each proven what’s possible when they have a chance to pursue their dreams. I thank you for your part in this journey and for sharing our vision for the future. 

First Foundation Chair, Michael Harper is looking to break more barriers through education

Michael Harper is First Foundation’s new Chair, a top-tier lawyer and one of the most highly regarded in the industry. His experience includes advising boards of listed companies, high-profile private enterprises, as well as a number of venture capital and private equity companies.

I’ve always known the transformational power of education.

First Foundation delivers access to this at scale and where it will make the most impact.

My mother was the fifth of six children raised on a widow’s pension — her father died when she was very young. Although she was Head Girl at Horowhenua College, further study was beyond her family’s reach. She even won an American Field Scholarship, but the associated costs of taking it up were just not affordable. However, my mother was lucky. 

The township of Levin raised the money for her to travel to the US and take up the scholarship. Because of that, her life was totally different – as is my own. Education has a generational impact. It allows us to shape our futures, opens doors to endless possibilities, and turns dreams into reality. Giving one person access to education breaks the cycle, and future generations are freed from old limits.

Sadly, the need for support hasn’t changed. School principals tell me they no longer field sports teams because too many students spend evenings and weekends working to support their families.

“More than 15% of students are leaving school before they gain any qualifications at all. Sadly, in some cases, students of great ability are leaving for economic reasons.”

First Foundation’s vision is that every talented student has an equal opportunity to access higher education, irrespective of their background. I firmly believe Aotearoa should be a place where potential cannot be stifled merely by your economic circumstance. And as Chair, I’m excited to be part of an organisation that’s making this a reality.

First Foundation has honed its model over the last couple of decades. This readies us for a step change as we look ahead. I’ll be focusing on several priorities to accelerate and amplify our impact.
  1. We must strive to reach even more students. For every scholarship we award, we still have to turn away talented and deserving young people. As an organisation, a community and a nation; let’s stop saying no.
  2. We must keep nurturing our community. Together, let’s grow our network of like-minded partners and supporters; shared vision can help us give more rangatahi a hand up.
  3. We must keep inspiring people. First Foundation is undoubtedly one of New Zealand’s best organisations – but it’s not as well-known as it deserves to be. We need to give more people the chance to hear our scholars’ stories so they can help create more.
  4. We must continue to innovate. Our young people are making their way in a fast-changing world. The educational environment is not static, nor should our approach be.
  5. We must hold our values close. First Foundation wraps around each scholar with mentoring, financial support and introduction to professional networks. Furthermore, our team is dedicated to helping them overcome obstacles that stand in their way. Our approach and care must never be watered down.

First Foundation has demonstrated its approach works. Schools tell us the possibility of a First Foundation scholarship inspires students to prioritise academia. Mentors tell us they gain as much from meeting our young people as they give. Our scholarship partners say their workplaces and own values are enriched by bringing in the fresh perspectives and energy of our students. 


First Foundation, bringing higher education within their reach


The benefits of a First Foundation scholarship are immensely tangible and far-reaching.

You need only to read a few of our scholars’ stories to be convinced. I’m so grateful to know the impact of education first-hand because my mother had a hand up. And it’s a privilege to see so many outstanding young people embrace the same opportunities because First Foundation unlocks them.

I want to thank every single member of our community for your support. As we take the next steps on our journey, you’re our torchbearers – thank you. Together, we’re creating a much brighter future where all young people have their chance to shine.

Here’s to more dreams realised, barriers broken, and futures transformed.