One simple decision changed the course of Jamal Peneha-Parlour's life.   

Thirteen years ago, she applied for a First Foundation Scholarship, knowing just that she wanted to attend university.  

“I never imagined how far it would take me,” says Jamal, who is now People and Culture Manager for New Zealand Technology Services at Datacom. “It opened my eyes up to the potential of the big bad world and set me up for success.” 

A new lens on life

First Foundation offers financial assistance, mentorship, and work experience as fundamental scholarship pillars that give bright students whose circumstances disadvantage them ‘a hand up, rather than a handout.’  

For Jamal, her mentor offered not only a foot in the door when she transitioned from her law degree to studying human resources, but also became a lifelong friend and introduced her to a new experiences and ways of thinking during some of her most pivotal years.  

“I had my first cocktail with her,” says Jamal. “She was unlike anyone I had ever met, very different to those I had grown up around. She helped me see things through a different lens and took me under her wing.” 

Through her scholarship, which was sponsored by Foodstuffs, Jamal had the support of a steady checkout job at Pak’nSave but she knew relevant industry experience would be an asset when it came time to look for post-graduate employment. 

Jamal Peneha-Parlour smiles as she talks with someone out of frame
Receiving a First Foundation scholarship changed Jamal's life in many ways, and set her up for success.

When Jamal was looking to change her degree from law to HR, her mentor – who was the General Counsel at Chorus at the time – arranged an HR Assistant role at Chorus. The summer internship not only affirmed Jamal’s decision to swap pathways, it turned into a two-year role and kickstarted her career. 

Room to grow

After her time at Chorus and then four years with Rutherford & Bond Toyota, Jamal found a home at Datacom, where she says there are abundant opportunities for her to make a difference.  

“Once I got inside, I understood the true scale of Datacom and the reach that we have within the industry and both New Zealand and Australia, as well as our potential to keep on developing that. This is an organisation that has opportunity but also stability in the digital era that we are moving into,” says Jamal. 

“I was able to come into a team that was still quite immature as a function and be part of the growth and extension to what it is now, I am so fortunate to have had so many learnings, networking opportunities, and great career progression in the business.”  

Despite leaving Datacom for a new role at one point, Jamal couldn’t stay away and returned half a year later. “I came back because I realised just how much work there is to be done, but in a really positive way. There's so much exciting growth that is happening here in Datacom that I want to be part of it. I don't want to miss out – I got FOMO.” 

“I also appreciate how connected we are. So even though we've got nearly 7,000 people, I talk to my colleagues and stakeholders across New Zealand and Australia on a daily basis. We’re a big corporate from the outside, but we still have that local feel inside and that's what I love about Datacom.”  

Paving the way

“I love the fact that Datacom prioritises their people over their work,” says Salesforce Consultant Timoti Wharewaka, echoing Jamal’s sentiments. 

“Being positioned where we are, our culture extends outside of the business and has real world impact. We get to work on some of the biggest projects in the country. It's very rewarding bringing the latest technology to our customers to solve their problems and make a difference in the lives of everyday citizens.” 

Like Jamal, Timoti is a First Foundation alumni who has had a unique career journey, largely influenced by his scholarship, which he says offered an opportunity to pursue his dreams. 

“I come from humble beginnings. I have always had an interest in technology, and could see that university was the next step, but I was really weighing it up. With no one in my family having attended, I had no idea what to expect, and the element of cost had me wondering whether it was worth it, or if I should just get a job.” 

“Receiving the scholarship alleviated a lot of pressure in a lot of ways,” says Timoti. “The financial aid gave me clarity in my decision to pursue my education, paid work experience meant security and an understanding of what it’s like working in ‘the real world,’ while having a mentor lifted the veil on the mystery of the journey into tech.” 

Thanks to the support of First Foundation, Timoti pursued a degree and postgraduate certificate in computer science at AUT while sponsored by Spicers, where he interned throughout his studies, before spending four years at Accenture prior to his current position at Datacom. 

Breaking barriers

Now, Timoti wants to help others in his Ōtara community and Ngāti Hine iwi to access more opportunities in tech and overcome digital inequities. At present, he volunteers as a committee member at Ngāti Ōtara Marae, where he supports the decision making of kaupapa. 

He also co-founded Digitautua as a response to the digital divide experienced amongst students during lockdowns, supported youth entering tech as a mentor for Pasifika in IT and the Pam Fergusson Trust, and developed his leadership abilities through a TupuToa internship. 

Timoti is also focused on sharing his story whenever he gets the chance – taking part in media opportunities with Stuff and Idealog – to help pave the way for others to follow in his footsteps. “I want to break barriers and normalise my experience.” 

Partnerships Manager at First Foundation, Amanda Gilchrist, says that seeing such wide-reaching impact stemming from the decision to apply for a scholarship reinforces the Foundation’s mission to create a more equitable Aotearoa by unleashing the potential of talented rangatahi.  

“Seeing alumni like Jamal and Timoti go on to find success makes us so proud. We can clearly see the ripple effect of their scholarship as they disrupt intergenerational cycles of disadvantage not only amongst themselves, but in their families and communities.” 

Datacom First Foundation 2022 Ryley Gray, Brady Wilson, Emily Roxburgh, Deago Tataurangi, and Arno Stil stand together in their school uniforms
Datacom's 2022 scholars (from left to right) Ryley, Brady, Emily, Deago, and Arno have now all graduated from high school and are enjoying work experience at Datacom while studying at university.

A foundation for lasting change

Datacom has joined forces with First Foundation as a partner and has welcomed its five sponsored 2022 scholars – Ryley Gray (Tainui, Tākawira Dargaville), Brady Wilson (Ngai Tahu, Ōtautahi Christchurch), Emily Roxburgh (Papatoetoe), Deago Tataurangi (Rangitane, Papatoetoe), and Arno Stil (Pōneke Wellington) – as they embark on their work experience placements across the business. 

It has also recently welcomed its two 2023 scholars, Grace Fa’ave (Māngere) and Taranaki Te Hauora (Porirua), at the annual First Foundation awards ceremony for scholarship recipients. 

Timoti Wharewaka and Farnoosh Farahi welcome 2023 scholars Grace and Taranaki at the 2023 First Foundation scholarship awards
Timoti and Farnoosh Farahi, Associate Director of Engagement and Wellbeing at Datacom, excitedly welcomed Datacom's 2023 First Foundation scholars Grace and Taranaki at the annual scholarship awards ceremony.

Of First Foundation’s partnerships, Amanda emphasises the importance of synergy between parties. “It’s crucial that we have an open, trusting authentic relationship, that the partners that we work with share our vision of supporting these young people,” she says. 

“The purpose of the scholarship is to give them wraparound support, and our role is matching talent from one part of society with opportunity from another, which is where Datacom comes in. We see the company shares our passion, and how much they have to offer.” 

For Datacom, joining forces with First Foundation made perfect sense, says Technology Services Managing Director Justin Gray.  

“We were really impressed by First Foundation’s proven track record, and we want to be part of creating really meaningful opportunities that will have a lasting impact on these young people and their communities,” says Justin. “Offering four years of holistic support, the First Foundation model is not just a one-off – this is a programme creating real, lasting change in people’s lives.” 

Justin Gray and Dawn Brannigan at the 2022 First Foundation scholarship awards ceremony
Technology Services Managing Director at Datacom, Justin Gray, says joining forces with First Foundation made perfect sense, given the scholarship programme's proven track record for creating real and lasting change.

This partnership has made Jamal and Timoti even more proud to work at Datacom. 

“I was absolutely over the moon when I found out Datacom was becoming a First Foundation partner,” says Jamal. “I get emotional thinking about how much the scholarship changed my life and the potential for us as an organisation to be a part of something so special, to do that for other people.” 

Timoti Wharewaka with his mentee John at the 2023 First Foundation scholarship awards ceremony
Timoti is proud to have been selected as the mentor for 2023 NZ Community Trust scholar John Vave, a student at John Paul College.

Likewise, Timoti is looking forward to watching the Datacom scholars grow throughout the business, and is excited to have been selected as a First Foundation mentor. “It’s going to be incredibly fulfilling to be for someone else what someone was for me,” he says. “I can’t wait.” 

Related industries
Related solutions
Advisory & consulting Payroll systems & human resources