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Empowering indigenous communities driving force for EHF Fellow

Kaye-Maree Dunn is one of six Kiwi entrepreneurs selected by the Edmund Hillary Fellowship to create positive global impact from New Zealand.

Dunn considers her role to be that of a trailblazer — walking the hard road and diving in the deep end so that others who come after will have it easier.

A woman who walks in many worlds, she uses her experience within government, the NGO sector and as a social entrepreneur to bring about economic, social and personal empowerment for indigenous people.

She grew up in rural New Zealand in the town of Feilding.

Despite some challenging experiences growing up, she was surrounded by a loving and proud whangai family, the youngest of 11 children and grew up appreciating the importance of marae and community.

She went to Victoria University, managed to secure opportunities to work for the Ministry of Health and Child Youth and Family and had a child at the age of 24.

While she missed out on travelling and doing the things many of her peers were doing in their 20s, having her son built her resilience and gave her something to strive for.

Dunn returned to work when her son was just 3 months old in order to keep her family afloat and continued through to the Department of Labour, Plunket, the Maori Land Court, Maori Tourism and Community Housing Aotearoa.

When she lost her job due to government funding cuts she took on a role as a cleaner at a hospital.

Determined to continue to build her career, she utilised this time as an opportunity to learn and reflect, and as motivation to keep going and build better opportunities for herself and her whānau.

“It was during this time that I was humbled, humbled by the workers who strive hard in work most people do not want to do, to create opportunities for their whanau,” Dunn says.

Now a trained coach in Neuro-Semantics and training as a Hinepreneur ICF Coach under #RISE2025 and Māori Women's Development Inc (MWDI), specialising in project management and relationship building, she works with MWDI and Te Whare Hukahuka.

She has also started her own venture, Making Everything Achievable (MEA), which she describes as an intentional social design company.

Through coaching, facilitation, technology, community development and business management, she uses her commitment to kaupapa Māori and holistic principles to explore how we can create systemic change.

At its core, her work is focused on developing scalable models of indigenous empowerment.

Dunn has iwi (tribal) affiliations with Te Rarawa, Nga Puhi, Ngati Mahanga, Ngai Tamanuhiri and Ngai Te Rangikoianaake. She is dedicated to empowering Maori communities to generate income and have financial sustainability, particularly for women.

Serving as a bridge between diverse communities and sectors, her work is at the forefront of Maori social entrepreneurship.

“My intention is to share what I learn with my whanau and various communities as I do not learn and earn on my own. I wish to take my community with me,” she says.

Future plans for MEA include the creation of a land-based wananga (higher institute of learning), a focus on scalable models, and the development of an indigenous investment firm to facilitate Maori economic development that aligns with environmental and regenerative goals.

Dunn has a deep understanding of what it means to be living as partners to Te Tiriti o Waitangi (the Treaty of Waitangi) in Aotearoa New Zealand today, and the ongoing effects of both treaty grievances and settlements.

This is a unique lens that she brings to the Edmund Hillary Fellowship, and can help both our international and Kiwi Fellows to navigate business and life in New Zealand in a way that honours Te Tiriti.

“Whanaungatanga — building relationships — is critical to understanding our shared history, the history of this whenua and how this can strengthen our bonds with each other,” she says.

While Dunn has a vision for her work to become an example that could inspire indigenous people internationally, her focus is to start with New Zealand.

Dunn's major goal within the Edmund Hillary Fellowship is not to participate in the programme in isolation, but rather share the benefits of the programme with her wider community.

She is most excited to bring to her EHF cohort the perspective of a “hinepreneur” (a woman entrepreneur) and her lens on what makes Aotearoa New Zealand so special.

This article originally appeared on Medium.

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