Shay Wright

Iwi Affiliations: Te Rarawa, Ngā Ruahine, Ngāti Ruanui

Finalist: Te Whetū Maiangi Award for Young Achievers


In 2016, Shay Wright was named as part of the Forbes 30 Under 30 Asia list in the social entrepreneur category which honours top promising young leaders, daring entrepreneurs and game changers in Asia.

This is a massive nod of acknowledgement for this Kaitaia boy who grew up “grass-roots” and “grounded” with a desire to make a difference – especially for Māori.


Shay Wright grew up in the far North and attended Kaitaia College where he was head boy in 2007. He went to study commerce and law at the University of Auckland where he received a Chancellors Award for top Māori and Pacific scholar.

“I think coming from a small town like Kaitaia means we think differently, think more creatively and I think we’re more grass-roots.

“And what that means is I’ve got my feet firmly on the ground – and because of university, I’m quite exposed to a whole range of opportunities.”

Passionate about business and entrepreneurship as a means for economic empowerment, Shay joined Auckland business growth organisation The Icehouse. He initially worked in marketing and communications and then went on to head up the Māori business unit.

“I got paid less than 10 dollars an hour but I was learning from some of the best entrepreneurs in the business.”

Shay developed the strategy for the Māori unit at The Icehouse and has led its implementation over the past four years. More than 600 Māori business leaders have since participated in its training sessions including governance training and strategic planning.

He co-founded Te Whare Hukahuka in 2015, developing a range of programmes to empower existing Māori leaders as well as training the next generation of Māori leaders.

Created from business growth hub, The Icehouse, Te Whare Hukahuka is helping rebuild the local Māori economy through education and training and focuses on empowering community leaders with skills to run world-class organisations.

The alumni base already includes more than 500 Māori leaders and is impacting communities worldwide.

Looking forward, Shay says they are working on making training accessible to more indigenous communities, including online components, and are in conversations with other indigenous nations and governments about taking their programmes global.

He now has experience in entrepreneurship, education, Māori development and community economics and has been involved in shaping the strategy of several organisations including Māori trusts embarking on exciting projects.

He is driven by the idea of empowering Māori business leaders to pursue opportunities that will bring pride, employment and improved wellbeing to Māori communities.

He is also a founding trustee of TeachFirst NZ, helped develop Callaghan Innovation’s Māori Engagement Strategy and sits on the Kahui Māori for the National Science Challenge.

Māori generally fall within the bottom 80 per cent of indicators that the Government uses to measure wellbeing; Māori are nearly three times as likely to be unemployed and/or convicted of a criminal offence.

These stats, Shay believes, are unacceptable and changing them is the key driver behind his work.

“In that regard, I am fortunate to connect my heart and mind to my work. I do this ‘cause I want to make a difference for the Māori communities like the one that I come from. Being responsible, thinking globally but acting locally, and creating solutions that we can share with indigenous communities around the world.”