University of Auckland: 2021 Kupe Leadership Scholars announced

When Lawrence Gao started school in New Zealand he spoke no English. On Thursday, before a large crowd, he joined 16 other exceptional students on stage at the University of Auckland Business School, to receive a prestigious Kupe Leadership Scholarship.


L-R: Kupe Executive Chair David Downs, Pro Vice-Chancellor Pacific, Dr Damon Salesa, and Vice-Chancellor, Professor Dawn Freshwater discuss leadership at the 2021 Kupe Leadership Scholarship launch.
Gao who is completing a Bachelor of Science (Honours) specialising in psychology, is passionate about education. “I see it as a vehicle to drive social change,” he said.

With diverse research areas including how to bridge gaps in our education system to ensure more equitable outcomes; to ways of protecting our natural environment; and advocating for marginalised youth; all of the Kupe Leadership Scholars plan to use their knowledge and skills to build a brighter future.

Founded by Canadian philanthropists John and Marcy McCall MacBain, their foundation gifted over $1 million to the University of Auckland to launch the scholarship initiative, which is aimed at creating exceptional future leaders.

Now in its third year and supported by generous local donors, the scholarships are open to New Zealand’s top postgraduate students. There were 117 applications this year.


Covering one academic year of full-time study, Kupe Leadership Scholars receive a bespoke development programme that includes mentoring from leaders in their field.
Covering one academic year of full-time study, Kupe Leadership Scholars receive a bespoke development programme that includes mentoring from leaders in their field.

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

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. Remember who you are and what you stand for.
Professor Dawn Freshwater, Vice-Chancellor
The University of Auckland
“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, scholarship winners were invited to the stage and introduced, before spending the remainder of the evening celebrating the beginning of their Kupe Leadership journey alongside friends and family, University representatives, alumni from the previous two cohorts, supporters, mentors, and sponsors.

The Kupe Leadership programme draws on the legend of the great Pacific explorer, Kupe, who, together with his wife, Kurumārōtini, is credited with discovering and naming Aotearoa. Their sense of adventure and courage in heading out across uncharted waters, drawing on their sailing skills and travelling by the stars, exemplifies the spirit needed by leaders in today’s uncertain and fast-changing world.

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