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Steven Carden, First Foundation Founder returns to the Board 2023
Kirk Sargent

Having worked across the globe in Fiji, Hawaii, Australia, UK and Aotearoa in a diverse range of roles, Kirk likes to remind his children his “past abounds with intrigue and adventure”. 


He cares deeply about empowerment, equity and engagement; his portfolio of commercial and learning focused-work operates at the intersection of today’s societal challenges and creative, innovative responses to them.

Most recently, Kirk led the Māori and Pasifika Trades Training initiative in Auckland.
His career has provided him with rich experiences across compulsory, non-compulsory and free choice learning sectors to draw on.

In 2014, Kirk completed an Education Leadership thesis by working with Tongan parents with children in primary schools – his central hypothesis being: “there is no such thing as a hard to reach audience, it’s about being relevant.

As evidence of his intrapreneurial nous, Kirk has led the development and implementation of a project-based learning curriculum as the vehicle for meaningful learner engagement for second chance learners.

He has championed a community and youth-curated outreach programme which won a New Zealand Museum Award for an outstanding new museum programme that contributes to best practice in the museum sector in Aotearoa New Zealand, and demonstrates community engagement, responsiveness and collaboration.

Inspired by the past; challenging the status quo; and the possibilities of the future, Kirk has headed projects which have led to meaningful learning and employment outcomes such as sending a team of trades trainees’ to Fiji to support the rebuild after Cyclone Winston.

He has also facilitated a courageous and gritty Youse Got Choices campaign targeting Māori and Pasifika communities which set out to shift attitudes about trades as a viable and worthwhile career pathway.

The First Foundation has been on Kirk’s radar for many years, and when the chance to work directly with First Foundation and support the positive and pro-active work the organisation does, he jumped at the opportunity.

Kirk is excited about this new chapter in his career, and working towards making Aotearoa just that little bit better for future generations.

Steven Carden, First Foundation Founder returns to the Board 2023
Partnerships Manager
Amanda Gilchrist

Amanda is a University of Canterbury graduate, gaining a BA double major in Business and Japanese before a Post Graduate Diploma in Secondary Teaching.


Amanda has travelled extensively, with stints working in Canada, Japan, London and Sydney, before returning to settle in Auckland. Since returning Amanda has worked as Operations and Business Development Manager at ACCESS Technology, (Wellington and Sydney), and Sponsorship Manager for Major Events at Auckland City Council.

Having taken 18 months out of the workforce to be a full-time mum to 2 toddlers, Amanda had a chance to reflect on what she really wanted out of her next role.

“There are so many reasons why I enjoy working at First Foundation. First Foundation and its model are inspirational and visionary. It allows me to utilize my key skills and experience in a challenging and worthwhile role that makes a real difference. It impacts the lives of young people that really need and deserve it”.

Steven Carden, First Foundation Founder returns to the Board 2023
Engagement Manager
Isaac Etimani

Isaac is New Zealand born. He has had a variety of work and voluntary experiences that include New Zealand’s top printing apprentice, studio production, leading various academic and mentoring programmes and voluntary work and events in the community.


He has extensive creative and people skills and always enjoys the opportunity to provide guidance and full wrap around support to young people.

His years of mentoring, student support and “on the ground” experience provides the appropriate knowledge to encourage our next generation of pioneers to reach their fullest potential.

“I am super privileged to be a part of the successful First Foundation team. I believe in the vision and the heart of the organisation. The scholarships that are offered by our scholarship partners are the most rewarding achievement to the successful applicants”.

Steven Carden, First Foundation Founder returns to the Board 2023
Stakeholder Experience Coordinator (Communications)
Duaa Belgacem

Duaa Belgecem is a proud First Foundation alumna and recent graduate of The University of Auckland, where she earned her Bachelor of Arts in English Literature and Communications.


As a 2016 Spark Scholar, Duaa is thrilled to have the opportunity to give back to the program that supported her throughout her degree. She is excited to share her first-hand knowledge of the support available, and the journey scholars face.

Duaa explains, “First Foundation really believes in your potential, and this has had a great impact on how I see myself moving into the future. 

Through First Foundation’s work experience, Duaa’s joined the Human Resources team at Spark. It changed the way she sees the professional world. She feels empowered by the experience of bringing her whole self to work and values the importance placed on diversity. 

Duaa also brings experience from Fletcher Building’s Corporate Affairs team. 

At First Foundation, Duaa is responsible for coordinating communications and supporting the team around events, marketing and more. Keep an eye out for her at our events and on our social media channels, as she is eager to connect and share her experiences with others.

Steven Carden, First Foundation Founder returns to the Board 2023
Stakeholder Experience Coordinator (Rhythm of the business)
Brooke Oliver

Brooke Oliver has a Bachelor of Health Science and is passionate about improving equity in our community. At First Foundation, she’s pleased to directly support a team that provides opportunities for real change.


Not only is Brooke deeply empathetic and bubbly, but she also thrives in a busy environment. She has worked across administration, sales and marketing in demanding industries. Now, she’s the person to speak to at First Foundation to ensure things get done as they should and when they should. 

She says, “I have always been driven by the desire to reduce the disparity among New Zealand’s socio-economic groups. Being part of the First Foundation team allows me to do just that. It’s an organisation that is truly making an impact.

You’ll enjoy hearing from Brooke – her warm sense of humour makes her a favourite member of our team.

Steven Carden, First Foundation Founder returns to the Board 2023
Alumni Ambassador
Liz Gillespie (nee Wright)

Liz Gillespie takes great joy in seeing our scholars progress through their lives to join the workforce, travel and even begin their own families. As Alumni Ambassador, she keeps scholars connected once they graduate from their studies and the programme.


Liz is also reconnecting with much of the First Foundation community as she worked with us from 2005 to 2015. Many may remember her as Liz Wright, but this changed when she married her husband Noel in February 2022.

Liz is a born and bred Aucklander who found a new home in Nelson in 2019. She has worked in a variety of corporate, educational and charity roles over the years. She brings empathy, compassion and a deep understanding of the path through and beyond tertiary education.

First Foundation has always remained close to Liz’s heart, so she is very happy to be working as part of the team again.

“I seriously cannot believe I have another chance to be involved with First Foundation. I have always believed in the work that we do and have never stopped telling people about what an amazing programme it is. I’m looking forward to catching up with our Alumni.”

Our Board of Trustees

First Foundation is a charitable trust which was incorporated in 1998. It is administered by a voluntary Board of Trustees as follows:

Steven Carden, First Foundation Founder returns to the Board 2023
Michael Harper

Michael’s advice to any business thinking about partnering with First Foundation: come along to an awards ceremony, where you’ll see first-hand that you’ll get far more out of it than you can ever imagine. 


It was at a similar event around five years ago that Michael, a partner at Chapman Tripp, was inspired to encourage the commercial law firm to become a scholarship partner.

Like many First Foundation scholars, Michael’s mum was the first in her family to go to university. Although she had the whole community behind her, it was still a big leap. That contrasted with Michael’s own experience years later, because his parents had been before him and most of his peers were heading to university too. 

He believes education is a great leveler, and the commitment and passion of First Foundation and its supporters is helping make education accessible to more New Zealanders.

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Steven Carden, First Foundation Founder returns to the Board 2023
Steve Carden

We are thrilled to announce that our founder, Steve Carden, is re-joining our board after an illustrious 20-year journey across diverse sectors and industries.


Many of you will remember Steve as the visionary who started the First Foundation, laying the groundwork for the support we continue to provide to our youth today. Since he stepped away from First Foundation, Steve has carved out an impressive path in the agricultural and business sector.

As CEO of Pāmu (also known as Landcorp), Steve displayed strategic foresight, embracing innovation and efficiency, and diversifying assets to maximise returns. His leadership led to a remarkable 300% increase in Pāmu’s profits, despite reducing the company’s farm portfolio by 20%. He then moved on to become the Managing Director of NZX-listed winemaker Delegat Group, further solidifying his love for agriculture and reinforcing his strong business acumen.

Before his tenure at Pāmu, Steve worked with McKinsey & Co. in New York and Auckland, advising companies across North America, Europe, and Australia. His educational credentials include a Master of Business Administration degree from Harvard Business School and Bachelor of Laws and Arts degrees from the University of Auckland.

Steve brings to our board not only his rich experience and broadened perspective from these roles but also his passion for empowering New Zealand’s youth. He firmly believes that the greatest gift the First Foundation provides is the nurturing of self-confidence. Steve understands that many of our students are not short on ability, but on aspiration – a situation he’s committed to changing.

As we continue our mission of transforming lives through educational support, we are excited about the experience, vision, and leadership Steve brings back to our team. His strategic expertise and innovative approach will undoubtedly enhance our ability to impact more lives positively.

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Steven Carden, First Foundation Founder returns to the Board 2023
Loretta Elive-Daunakamakama 
A first-generation Samoan immigrant, Loretta came to Aotearoa when she was 11.
Her Mum was a teacher who believed that education is the great equalizer and Loretta’s ticket to the world, so she made the huge sacrifice to send her daughter to New Zealand to attend school. Loretta remembers her mum’s parting words to her words: “You’re my shooting star, I’m sending you off into the world to make a difference.” It’s that sacrifice that has given Loretta her drive to achieve.
Receiving scholarships to attend university means that Lorretta recognises herself in First Foundation scholars and believes that success has a great deal more to do with the individual than the decile of the school they attend. A huge part of success requires a good support network around them – something the programme provides. Representation matters to Loretta and she sees that First Foundation forges pathways for diversity in the workforce that is creating a generational shift.

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Steven Carden, First Foundation Founder returns to the Board 2023
Sarah Coleman

Sarah knows first-hand the value that partnerships can offer to businesses, having developed a relationship with First Foundation through her roles at Chapman Tripp and Warren & Mahoney.


Supporting diversity through the First Foundation programme helps keep organisations relevant and connected to the future face of Aotearoa New Zealand, she says.

The ‘hand up, not hand out’ approach of the First Foundation programme really resonates with Sarah, who believes the three pillars of mentoring, financial support, and work experience are vital to set students up with the best possible opportunity for success in their chosen fields.

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Steven Carden, First Foundation Founder returns to the Board 2023
Tuputau Lelaulu

As a former First Foundation scholar, Tau brings valuable insights to the board. 


After being awarded his scholarship in 2009, he followed his dream of becoming an architect. This qualification has helped him relieve financial stress from his family, inspire younger students to follow their dreams, and set up MAU Studio – a design practice focused on creating regenerating environments that enhance well-being and contribute to a more equitable world.

Raised in South Auckland and of Samoan descent, Tau describes his graduation as a family event made possible by his parent’s sacrifice for him. Being able to share his achievements with them is one of his proudest moments.

Tau believes a sustainable future for business requires an organisational culture that values youth development in Aotearoa and is committed to supporting our rangatahi into these businesses.

Steven Carden, First Foundation Founder returns to the Board 2023
Gerald MacKenzie

Gerald’s track record of leading strategy, digital innovation and sustainability for large organisations aligns him perfectly with First Foundation’s vision for the future. We are excited to introduce Gerald Mackenzie, to the board of Trustees.


With his 25-year global career spanning multiple industries, Gerald is a business leader with a passion for helping businesses and communities thrive in a sustainable way. We are incredibly fortunate to have him join our family of change-makers.

Gerald has worked in various roles in New Zealand and overseas. Gerald led Innovation & Sustainability at Fletcher Building Ltd, and prior to that, strategy and transformation for the Bank of New Zealand. In Singapore and Switzerland, Gerald helped lead the development of the award winning Credit Suisse Digital Private Bank.

Beyond his professional endeavours, Gerald enjoys the thrill of backcountry skiing, hiking, and fly fishing in New Zealand’s stunning landscape. His passion for sustainability and resilience isn’t limited to his work; Gerald is involved in various volunteer efforts to build a more sustainable environment and inclusive society.

“As Gerald’s career and values align seamlessly with our own, we’re confident that his addition to the First Foundation will bring impactful changes to our shared cause. We look forward to the amazing innovation Gerald will bring to First Foundation and are thrilled to have him along for this exciting journey.” – Kirk Sargent

Steven Carden, First Foundation Founder returns to the Board 2023
Rich Easton

Rich was introduced to First Foundation while a manager at Spark, where he had the chance to mentor and provide work experience to scholars. He loves seeing young people grow into strong leaders with the ability to give back to their communities.


Rich’s own journey shows the power of education to propel a career. After leaving school at 16 to start an apprenticeship, he quickly decided to enrol at university. A one-year study break turned into a four-year honours degree, followed by a long career in the business sector. 

Rich believes that, by partnering with First Foundation, businesses can access talented young people with skills to make a difference at the future leadership table, helping organisations appeal to different cultures and customer demographics.

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