Member Highlight: J R McKenzie Trust

J R McKenzie Trust is one of the oldest and most respected philanthropic institutions in New Zealand. Established in 1940 by Sir John McKenzie, the Trust has a long legacy in giving that has evolved over the years to prioritize Māori long-term wellbeing and sustainable development. In 2003, the Trust board engaged in a strategic review of its philanthropic practices and noted that only 2-3% of its funding went to Māori, and the under-representation of Māori in the Trust’s philanthropic activities. In a proactive move, the Trust establishedTe Kāwai Toro, a proactive subcommittee of the Board, whose leadership and guidance helped increase board representation of Māori and prioritized long-term development in the Trust’s grant making.
Manaia King, Māori, Board Member and New Zealand Law Society representative on the J R McKenzie Trust, shares his perspective on the values of promoting Indigenous philanthropy and how the Trust builds a culture of learning and reflection to build authentic relationships with Māori communities.
What are the guiding principles of the Trust that shepherd its giving practices?
J R McKenzie has the following strategic principles and goals in relationship to its Indigenous philanthropy:
Moemoeā (Vision): Build a socially just and inclusive Aotearoa New Zealand, where Māori are succeeding as Māori
Whanonga Pono(Guiding Principle): Contribute toward Māori development through supporting self-determined development initiatives for Māori
Ngā Whainga (Goals): Support strategic and enduring initiatives that promote and strengthen whānau (family),hapū (sub-tribes), iwi (tribes) and/or Māori communities.
We also recognize that it is crucial to establish and maintain strategic relationships to promote Māori development and to advocate for a socially just and inclusive Aotearoa New Zealand.
How does the Trust build upon the Treaty of Waitangi to build the social justice lens in its philanthropy?
The 1840 Treaty of Waitangi is the founding document of New Zealand. It created a formal and legal partnership between the Crown and the Indigenous peoples of New Zealand, the Māori. The modern principles of the Treaty as confirmed by our highest court are the following:

Whānau Enterprise Development Trust
Partnership: Equal in status with the Crown and equal but first with all other citizens that come to Aotearoa New Zealand
Protection: The right to have recognition for our taonga(treasures), such as our land, and for those rights to be afforded protection by the Crown
Participation: To have an equal say in our citizenship.
These principles have informed the investment strategy of J R McKenzie Trust, which can be seen when reading through the above strategic principles and goals of the Trust.
What are the values and principles of Indigenous giving that are reflected in the Trust’s philanthropic model?
It is important to recognize that as a private Trust, there is no compulsion whatsoever for us to even consider adopting the principles of the Treaty of Waitangi or using them as guiding principles; the Treaty was signed between the Crown and Māori, not ordinary private citizens or organizations. However, the Trust absolutely believes that in order to achieve their ultimate goal of a socially just and inclusive Aotearoa New Zealand, it needs to provide opportunities for Māori communities to prosper.
I also strongly believe that having Māori members on the Board has allowed the Trust to understand the importance of recognizing the principles of the Treaty and how they can be used as a guide to achieving the Trust’s goal.
How does the Trust position itself as a listening and learning organization? How has this impacted its philanthropic practice?
There has been a significant shift in our funding priorities in the past decade. A rigorous process of evaluation and reflection led us to recognize that we needed to invest in long-term sustainable development which included an enhanced focus on the Māori community as they faced inequalities that eclipsed all other inequalities. Our Board composition also changed when the Trust realized the underrepresentation of Māori in its decision-making structures. We made an effort to add more Māori voices. A diverse Board brings different ideas, values and philosophies. The board education process was a key piece in keeping the Board more informed and helped in broadening its thinking. The board composition is dramatically different to former days: over a third are Māori, and nearly a half are women.
What are the principles of Indigenous Philanthropy?
It is important to have ownership of our destiny. The Treaty gave exclusive rights to Māori as partners, and it is important for them to have decision-making powers. Our strategy encompasses key principles of participation. Also, having Māori board members helped to reflect Indigenous values in our giving. They have a strong foundation of Māori worldview and understand the strands of Māori development. We now have a strategy that prioritizes Māori development.
How do you cultivate a culture of learning and unlearning within the Trust? How does a funder begin to listen proactively?
Our last board meeting was two months ago where we had carved out two days of learning new things and unlearning patterns that didn’t serve us. The bulk of this session was devoted to improving the Board’s understanding of Māori development.
How does one implement the Treaty of Waitangi from a philanthropic perspective?
We had eminent speakers and experts have a dialogue with the Board and two of our grantees also shared opportunities that they have leveraged with the Trust’s funding. These engagements have helped to shape the Trust’s perspective.
Matike Mai Rangatahi
Can you share an example of how your grants support Indigenous philanthropy?
New Zealand is in the middle of creating a new written constitution, and we learned that the government process to facilitate this, as well as academic discussions that followed, lacked the Māori voice. The Trust gave a grant to support a parallel process of engaging with Māori and gathered Māori voices and perspectives nationwide to offer key thought opinions from their perspectives on the constitution.
What is your approach to evaluations?
We believe evaluations are important to understand what improvements can be made in our philanthropic practice. We are being realistic about what we can measure and collect in terms of data. It’s okay to not put a finger on specific outcomes; however if outcomes can be attributed, we would like to learn and understand it. We are not a boastful funder, and we try to keep a low profile. Many philanthropic entities in New Zealand have flowered through the support and legacy of the Trust. As we have shifted our approach to long-term development and funding strategy, our evaluations are designed to support this shift. With the change in our funding strategy, there has been a dramatic increase in the number of proposals we receive from Māori.
What is your personal inspiration?
My personal inspiration is the ability to make a difference for a community. It’s nice to be a part of a process in an organization where you can have dialogues without fear. I like to meet people who have different worldviews from mine and see how we can build consensus. You don’t have to always debate an issue to build consensus.
Ngā Kanohi Marae o Wairarapa
Do you have a message for the IFIP community?
Yes! Be bold and courageous about what you want to fund and look at long-term sustainable efforts. Indigenous Peoples want long-term changes and they need consistent support. It’s important to look at long-term models of funding. It’s been fantastic to be a part of the IFIP community and see the initiatives happening around the world that are validating what we have done. We have benefited from the IFIP membership and look forward to attending the Summit in New York.