New foundation, backed by $25m endowment, offers scholarships to boost tech diversity

New foundation, backed by $25m endowment, offers scholarships to boost tech diversity


A new philanthropic organisation is building a $25 million endowment, which it will spend on various initiatives to reduce barriers of entry and inequity of opportunity in the technology industry.

The Hi-Tech Foundation is a registered charity born out of the New Zealand Hi-Tech Trust and Perpetual Guardian.

Its first round of funding is five $5000 scholarships aimed at boosting diversity (apply here).

The initiative was inspired by recent Technology Investment Network statistics showing that of an estimated 55,000 people working in the NZ tech sector, 20 per cent or fewer are women and less than 5 per cent are Māori.

A spokeswoman for the new Foundation said its donors prefer to stay anonymous.

But a clip calling on the industry to support its efforts includes some of the biggest names on the local tech scene, including prolific startup investors Sir Stephen Tindall and Greg Cross, Xero MD Craig Hudson, Serko founder Darrin Grafton and Vend founder Vaughan Fergusson plus NZTE and Hi-Tech Trust brass Wayne Norrie and David Downs and “Nanogirl” Dr Michelle Dickinson. Yes, most of these tech success stories are white males – but that’s kind of the point. They want to be able to create a follow-up clip with a more diverse lineup.

Some in the industry have already taken a front-foot approach to the issue, such as Fergusson who has stopped accepting speaking engagements unless he’s among a diverse lineup of speakers – or Justine Smyth, who recently only joined Pushpay’s board on the condition the company also added a second female director (though soon after she quit).

The endowment will be managed by Perpetual Guardian, one of the companies founded by four-day week champion and new Givealittle owner Andrew Barnes.

The foundation aims to have $25m of committed funds by 2025.

As an independent, non-profit and non-partisan organisation, it is structured to accept subscriptions, donations, subsidies, grants, endowments, gifts, legacies, and bequests to support its work. Several of New Zealand’s most successful high-tech leaders have already committed support to the endowment fund, contributing to the future success of the sector, Hi-Tech Trust chair Erin Wansbrough says.

“Importantly, the foundation is backed by a leadership group of passionate volunteers who are deeply familiar with the tech sector, including senior business and technology executives who have built outstanding careers and want to share their expertise for the greater good. The foundation is focused on building stronger technology leaders, teams, corporations and role models in a rapidly changing, flatter, and tech-centric world – which we believe is the approach New Zealand needs.”

Sir Stephen Tindall talks to Chris Keall about his post-Warehouse career, which has seen the entrepreneur commit hundreds of millions to philanthropy and startups.

Kirsten Taylor, one of the philanthropy managers at Perpetual Guardian, says, “The Hi-Tech Foundation represents the new world of philanthropy, in which we bring together technology and social entrepreneurship to improve lives. In keeping with this focus on social benefit, the opportunities presented by the foundation will range from scholarships and grants for training to co-investment into grass roots programmes to improve participation in the sector.”

Perpetual Guardian philanthropy services manager Kirsten Taylor. Photo / Supplied
Perpetual Guardian philanthropy services manager Kirsten Taylor. Photo / Supplied

“The core purpose is to encourage diversity and inclusion, with strong Māori and Pasifika involvement and in building diversity and encouraging participation there is real opportunity for all New Zealanders to contribute to the fast-growing hi-tech sector.”

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