EHF - Welcome Week Reflections

Rebecca McMillan Photography-EHF-00353X-X4.jpg

It's not often you spend a week living in a valley, glamping in a luxury Belle tent, being fed delicious array of plant based food, learning indigenous Māori wisdom in a geodesic dome, and dancing into the night in a Mongolian yurt.

It has now been six weeks since I returned from "Welcome Week" with the Edmund Hillary Fellowship.

With my perspective and sense of possibility completely blown wide open, I have spent the few weeks following this experience in deep reflection, awe, and integration. Taking the time to assimilate the powerful lessons learnt, relationships forged, and the ideas cultivated, which still continue to seed and grow. 

Seeded into a database network of entrepreneurs, activists, investors, philanthropists and luminaries, I have been connected to people running million dollar blockchain companies, stewards in renewable agriculture, scientists democratizing space exploration, billion dollar impact investors, and Emmy award winning filmmakers documenting the forefront of human connection.

The most incredible thing is that all of these people share a common vision for the world. Hand picked for the fellowship for their unique set of skills and talents, they all carry their own medicine for the world, motivated to use their projects and networks to create massive positive change and transformation of our current world story - creating something Author Charles Eisenstein calls "the more beautiful world that our hearts know is possible."

Being part of this league of extraordinary people has been the honour of being chosen a fellow of 'Kopakopa' Cohort (42 out of now 108 fellows in total)- named after the common and medicinally potent grass herb "Kopakopa" - te Rongoā ki te Ao. (the medicine of the world).

Upon our arrival in Aroha Valley, Upper Hutt for the EHF Welcome Week, Savannah and I (yes we could bring our partners and families) began to meet the community. Witnessing the caliber of people present was enough to get me thinking I had somehow duped the selectors with my application.

How had I somehow slipped into this group of incredibly game changing people?

With a shiver of self doubt in my mind, we gathered the next morning outside the geodesic dome to be officially welcomed to the land with a traditional Pōwhiri ceremony. As the sacred weaving process of Pōwhiri began, we moved into a space of noble silence. The women stood at the front, and men at the back.

As Pekaira began the Karanga (call), beckoning us forth, weaving our collective whakapapa (ancestry) together in worlds not seen - I witnessed a Kahu (hawk) fly directly overhead. At this moment, I knew there was something deeper about what was happening here in Aroha Valley.

With the presence of this being and through the guidance of the Karanga, the space around me transcended into a new space of spiritual possibility. The hawk illumined to me the potency of this meeting, the sacred purpose, and the greater meaning of each one of us coming together at this place, and this time.

At this moment, my understanding of why I had been included in this group of 42 (only 12 kiwis) started to become clearer to me.

Sharing a hongi by the people of the land and local Mana-whenua Ti Atiawa Taranaki Whānui, we took our places as guests on the Marae, opposite the home peoples - and in Tikanga protocol, we sat experiencing whaikōrero back and forth between parties in full immersion Te Reo, followed by our Waiata (song) "Rainbow Warrior" by Matiu Te Huki.

There was no English spoken until the Pōwhiri process was complete. Where it was then 'unpacked' and explained in English from a Te Ao Māori perspective. For myself and numerous fellows, these sometimes spontaneous sessions with Tamahau, Pipiana, Pekaira, Matiu were often my favourite part of the countless amounts of Hui that ensued on the 4 days spent at Welcome Week.

Across the 4 days, we became very familiar with Whānaungatanga - building relationships through our smaller whānau groups, collectively learning a deeper understanding of the process of Pōwhiri, and through solid guidance, we learned a greater appreciation of Tikanga Māori (traditional protocols) and how these values can be applied to business. 

With his guitar Matiu took us through various Kapahaka activities, and all things were infused with Te Reo wherever possible. For the benefit of our international whānau, the current Te Tiriti o Waitangi (Treaty of Waitangi) situation was also addressed, reminding us of the work which still lies ahead to heal from the past here in Aotearoa.

Despite the work which still needs to be done, something special had happened at EHF. Throughout my life as a young, priveledged Pakeha (non-Maori), I had not witnessed a partnership and co-creation with the local Mana Whenua like this one - Ti Atiawa Taranaki Whānui (local Iwi from the Taranaki/Wellington region).

Learning from my studies of Rongoā Māori and recently completing my first year of learning Te Reo, what I had experienced at EHF had set a new standard for us all in terms of global cultural collaboration - acknowledging the wisdom and leadership of Indigenous cultures in a time when we need the connected and heart centred leadership and stewardship the most. 

Savannah had thought she was coming with me simply to support - but was quickly adopted by her whānau (Ti Atiawa Taranaki Whānui), ending up being included as part of the Mana whenua and helping to facilitate on the journey in many different ways.

One evening in the Yurt we were pulled out from the crowd as a couple to be part of The And experience, hosted by Topaz and Sonya. This was the (very vulnerable) experience which lead to Topaz winning an Emmy for his work in documenting human connection with

Learning from the founders of EHF, Yoseph, Matthew and Brian, I found great inspiration that EHF and New Frontiers were born out of experiencing the magical culture from festivals like Burning Man, Kiwiburn, Prana, Luminate Festival 2019, and many other transformational events from around the world.

With entrepreneurial minds from Silicon Valley, EHF has partnered with NZ's Enspiral, Immigration NZ, local council/community and many other impressive organizations. They family has invested into the land heavily, crafting the perfect environment to catalyze a transformational shift in planetary culture. 

Aroha Valley (historically named Whitemans Valley) is a magical place, with most of the food being able to be grown onsite in the grow dome, visitors are accommodated with composting toilets, and once barren farmland is being regenerated into native bush.

It all resonated. It felt so familiar to me… Because creating this space for transformation was a similar vision I shared for Organic Mechanic.

I had dreamed of the time when we could bring together the tribe to create massive shifts on a global scale… I had dreamed of the time when consciousness would meet and collaborate with financial abundance.

Since visiting Cape Reinga in 2016 and reading a prophecy from Maori prophet TW Ratana (1928) I had always had the sense that this ancient prophecy would begin here in Aotearoa…

He said that "a great light would one day shine out on the world from here."

As I learnt more about this kaupapa, I found that was birthed out of a collision of changemakers and the Hillary Institute of International Leadership, a charitable trust launched in 2007. The organisation shares a collective intention to bring together extraordinary leaders in the world who are addressing challenges across climate change, poverty, disease, peace, and justice.

Using Aotearoa as an "incubation nation", a "base camp" for a better world -  the Edmund Hillary Fellowship is setup as a nonprofit subsidiary of the Hillary Institute, honoring Sir Edmund Hillary's legacy of humble leadership, pioneering courage, ecological stewardship, teamwork, and generosity.

One of the products of this vision, was the world's first "Global Impact Visa" - a programme where entrepreneurs and their families are granted residence in Aotearoa and connected into the ecosystem here in order to support a community of global change-makers and accelerate the innovation economy here in New Zealand.

Up to 100 international and 20 Kiwi Fellows are chosen each year to build a globally-connected and locally-rooted community.

Put simply, EHF is a community of high-impact entrepreneurs, investors and changemakers, collaboratively building solutions to global challenges from Aotearoa New Zealand, and leading the way to a better world.

After 4–5 days at Welcome Week, EHF then hosts  -  a ground breaking festival showcasing inspiring projects of the latest Cohort to an audience of 300+, again from all over the world.

This festival happens at Trentham Racecourse in Upper Hutt every 6 months, welcoming in a new cohort of changemakers and giving them the stage to share their projects. is happening again next year March 11–13 in Upper Hutt, and Cohort 5 is now open for application.

Apply at

I will be there for sure.

To a few of the best weeks of my life and truly the closest thing I can imagine to the Avengers.

Photos by Rebecca McMillan / Vanessa Rushton