Paying it forward: Kiwi philanthropists fund international business scholarships

A trip to America to learn about the laundry trade taught Neal Plowman a lot about business. A third-generation member of the family’s laundry and towel supply company, he returned to New Zealand bursting with ideas, transforming the business and later selling it for a large sum to an American corporation.

Now Neal and his wife Annette – two of the country’s most well-known philanthropists – are helping the next generation of aspiring business leaders build global expertise. Since 2005, the couple have funded over 130 international business exchange scholarships at AUT, through their philanthropic organisation, NEXT Foundation.

Each year, ten Bachelor of Business students receive a $5,000 grant that sees them jet-setting their way to business schools across USA, Canada, Europe and beyond. Students spend a semester building skills and expanding their knowledge, returning to New Zealand to fortify our economy.

NEXT Foundation chairman Barrie Brown has played a key role in scholarship recipient selection and he’s seen the benefits first-hand.

“This international exchange programme broadens students’ horizons. They learn so much, make friends, and gain a deeper insight into how things work. They come back better citizens, get jobs and apply all they’ve learnt in their workplaces.

“One of the hardest jobs we have is to narrow it down to just ten students each year. Reading the applications is incredibly inspiring – some of these students are working two or three jobs to fund their studies.”

AUT International’s Learning Abroad Manager Jacklyn Lim is extremely grateful for the financial aid NEXT Foundation so generously provides.

“Studying abroad offers a once in a lifetime opportunity for students to get out of their comfort zone by studying in a different learning system, travelling, and experiencing different cultures," she says.

“Sending our business students overseas and helping make their dream a reality is the most rewarding part of my role, and it wouldn’t be possible without the support of NEXT Foundation.”

The Business Undergraduate International Exchange Scholarship is just one of many projects NEXT Foundation supports, as part of its vision to leave a legacy of environmental and educational excellence for the benefit of future generations. From Touch First, Mind Lab and the Education Hub to Predator Free Wellington and restoration of Rotorua Island it is a foundation that is creating lasting value for all New Zealanders.

International exchange brings immeasurable benefits for AUT student

Danish exchange student

Monique Cooper, 2019 recipient of the Business Undergraduate International Exchange Scholarship in Copenhagen

The Danish lifestyle trend hygge has taken the world by storm, encouraging us to make our interiors more cosy and our lives simpler. For one AUT student the concept of hygge has inspired more than just comfortable conviviality. It has prompted her to travel 17,500 kilometres across the globe to grow her career.

Monique Cooper has recently returned from a stint at Denmark’s esteemed Copenhagen Business School, thanks to a $5,000 Business Undergraduate International Exchange Scholarship generously funded by NEXT Foundation. Currently studying towards a Bachelor of Business majoring in Management and minoring in Finance, the high-achiever is also completing a Bachelor of Engineering with First Class Honours majoring in Mechatronics.

“I had been feeling burnt out and found inspiration in hygge, an important concept that is integrated into the Danish psyche and culture. I thought by immersing myself in it, I could make a sustainable impact on my life,” says Monique, now in her fifth year of study at AUT.

“I wanted to experience life in a foreign country while developing my skills through a different teaching style. I knew that through undertaking an exchange I would be stimulated beyond the classroom syllabus and this would bring opportunities. I hoped to contribute to a community and understand the world in a new light.”

Although COVID-19 cut short her exchange, the seven weeks Monique spent in Copenhagen were life-altering.

“I learnt to fit into a different environment, and was exposed to progressive business ideas, fascinating politics, and an alternative learning approach. I was empowered to network and explore different businesses and career pathways.”

Making the most of everything on offer, Monique participated in sustainable business events, met locals, learnt about new more circular business models, and enjoyed plenty of sightseeing. What’s more, she joined two clubs which are still dishing up benefits back here in Auckland.

“TechLabs introduced me to people with business and tech minds and enabled me to learn new and personalised data science coding skills that will add to my double degree. I’m continuing with online learning and enjoying the support of this fantastic online community.

“I also joined 180 Degrees Consulting, the biggest student consulting group in the world. Through this, I have been working with an international group of students to solve a real client issue, to reduce consumers’ consumption of utilities. As part of that we get consulting training from a large Danish firm, Implement Consulting. This is proving exceptionally beneficial.”

Although the exchange was shorter than anticipated, Monique says the rewards have still been huge.

“I am incredibly thankful for this scholarship. Without it I wouldn’t have gone to Denmark or benefitted from all these experiences and opportunities. Not only has it helped me in my studies, but as an individual this experience has given me a greater sense of who I am, what is important to me, and who I want to be.”

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