Melanie Ahnau

Commercial Leader, Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment, New Zealand

Thirteen years ago, I began my career in government procurement. My first professional experience I worked on New Zealand’s Warm Up New Zealand: Heat Smart programme. This innovative government programme allocated NZ$347 million to retrofit over 241,000 homes with insulation and clean air heating products across the country.

As part of the final report, economists calculated the cost benefit ratio to the New Zealand society as 1:4. For every $1 spent there was a $4 return on investment from creating warmer, dryer homes.

The wider benefits to New Zealand included a reduction of hospital admissions, reduction of sick days for school children and a greater quality of life for elderly people from reduced respiratory conditions, just to name a small few.

This is where I realised the power of procurement and I decided that I wanted to lead purchasing activities that improved the quality of life for people (particularly vulnerable people).

I later moved from central to local government and worked as a contract manager in the road maintenance space where high levels of budget was dedicated to the removal of graffiti and the repair of vandalised assets

Rather than addressing these ongoing actions of bored young people, I developed a programme to work with influential at-risk young people in our city. This mentoring programme, Stokes Valley Pride resulted in an 80% drop in graffiti. By the second week of the programme, young people who had been labelled as “troublemakers” were lining up to come and “work” for me. I was incredibly fortunate to have a manager who endorsed and encouraged my developing vision to use procurement as a lever for public good. This backing, and immediate success, reinforced for me the power of aiming for wider social, environmental, or cultural outcomes through procurement. It also accelerated my passion to raise awareness of what can be created through this intentional policy.

Since then, I applied my skills in the state housing space at Kāinga Ora, with the intention of supporting people out of homelessness. Kāinga Ora provides homes for people and families in need while also connecting them with the support services they may require. I led special projects while I was there.

My most recent assignment is again with central government – in a deployable commercial team, mandated by Cabinet, that works across the government system supporting agencies to deliver complex commercial projects.

My speciality is to support government agencies grow their engagement with a wider range of suppliers - increasing supplier diversity. There are accepted economic and social theories linking child poverty with an absence of wealth creation.

Government procurement can be deployed to address this by enabling small emerging businesses – businesses that have never traditionally been part of the government contracting environment – secure contracts and grow as a result.

Child poverty is a significant issue in our country and wealth creation for those who have less social equity is my personal priority area.

By giving people the ability to support themselves financially, and participate in the government contracting arena, we increase their standard of living, their sense of pride, we break generational chains of poverty, and we reduce criminal activity. In short, the positive impacts are immeasurable.

Procurement is so powerful, and procurers may not know the power they have to create change. As a person who has lived in the chains mentioned above, I am passionate about sharing a message that tells procurers how important their role is and how it contributes to significant positive change in our country… and that is my life purpose.