HomeFEATURESYoung Businessperson of the Year embraces Te Ao Māori

Young Businessperson of the Year embraces Te Ao Māori

Winner of the Young Businessperson of the Year at the 2022 Newmarket Business Awards, Holly Bennett, founder of government relations firm Awhi, is keen to pave the way for values-driven businesses.

At the age of 27, Bennett founded Awhi, a communications company that worked towards making government communications and relations for other companies easy, simple, and accessible.

Bennett created her company Awhi, being the Māori word for “embrace, hug and support”, to transform the traditional way of doing things in the industry.

Awhi works with groups such as the Restaurant Association of New Zealand to ensure businesses voices are heard particularly in the midst of the pandemic crisis. The organisation also works alongside companies needing support when working with the government.

Having already worked in the Beehive as an advisor for four years, Bennett knew exactly what she wanted and needed for a company like hers to thrive in this landscape.

“Four years for me was enough. Once I got to the end of the general election in 2017, I was like I can’t do this anymore. I’m sacrificing myself now, and that was a really hard decision to make because ultimately where I am today is because of those experiences,” she says.

“There are a lot of things I learned there but there are lots of things I don’t want to risk perpetuating in my workplace.”

After working at the Beehive, Bennett began doing pro bono work before her father told her she could turn what she was doing into a business.

“I literally started my business after my conversation with my Dad,” she says. 

Read more: Winners announced for 2022 Newmarket Business Awards.

Nearly five years later, Bennett finds herself busy with the workload of running Awhi with her close-knit team, who she says give life to the company.

She says her team are at the core of Awhi and who they represent.

“As the work started to progress, I found is my values are very, very important to me, and a lot of my values are Te Ao Māori values. That’s just a lot to do with my upbringing,” Bennett says.

Holly Bennett.

“The clients we are working with, whether they are Māori or non-Māori organisations, a lot of them are values driven.”

Bennett says with Awhi, she wants to attract like-minded businesses who have similar values and want to achieve the same things through the way she works.

“We don’t have a win or lose mentality. It’s about how can we move through the process and get the best possible outcome for all those involved,” she adds.

“Now that is not very traditional.”

After a successful year, her hard work paid off when she was presented with the Young Businessperson of the Year.

She admits that the winning the award was not at all expected, saying she nearly had a “massive tangi” (cry) on stage because she was so shocked.

However, she says it was encouraging to be nominated among people under the age of 35, let alone make it to the five finalists list.

“I think for any place in Aotearoa, to have five really high-quality finalists made me so happy,” she adds.

She says looking at the finalists she felt that business is thriving for young people.

Presented by Rotary Newmarket,  Bennett felt “extremely grateful” to receive an award from an organisation that puts service first in front of others and says it was a “humbling experience”.

However, Awhi and Bennett still have more work to do to make big change as many people have been stopped excelling because of inaccessible avenues.

With the help of companies such as Awhi, she says, they would benefit and be able to go further and faster.

“I just want to change that for them,” she adds.

“We’re continuing to grow, continuing to get really high-quality inquiries. We do absolutely no marketing, everything is word of mouth or referral business.”

Looking at the industry growth, Bennett says that when she finds other companies who are like-minded and are a values-based in the sector, she can’t help but support them. “You can do more together,” she says.

“I think ‘what I can do to make you succeed along with me and my team.’”

“It is a generational thing. I see it more and more with people who are a similar age to me, and that makes me excited because then that is something I want to see encouraged in business.”

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Bernadette is a content writer across SCG Business titles, The Register and Idealog. To get in touch with her, email bernadette.basagre@scg.net.nz