Inspiring Woman Highlight - Melanie Ahnau

As we build towards celebrating International Women's Day, we are shining a light on some of the amazing women who are associated with WorldCC Foundation, such as Melanie Ahnau, Commercial Leader for the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment in New Zealand. Check out our interview with her, that features in our Book of Inspiring Women, 2023.

WorldCC: Describe your professional background and story.

Melanie: Thirteen years ago, I embarked on a career in government procurement, starting with New Zealand’s Warm Up New Zealand: Heat Smart programme. This experience ignited my passion for procurement’s potential to enhance people’s lives. Transitioning to local government, I managed contracts for graffiti removal and asset repairs. Instead of merely addressing vandalism, I established the Stokes Valley Pride mentoring programme, which led to an 80% reduction in graffiti and positively impacted at-risk youth. I was incredibly fortunate to have a manager who endorsed and encouraged my developing vision to use procurement as a lever for public good.

Currently, I serve in a central government deployable commercial team, working across agencies to facilitate complex projects. My expertise lies in expanding supplier diversity, which aligns with addressing child poverty and wealth creation. Enabling emerging small businesses, traditionally excluded from government contracts, fosters financial independence, breaks generational poverty cycles, and reduces crime, all crucial in combating child poverty.

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. 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.

WorldCC: Tell us about two personal achievements and contributions through your career.

Melanie: I’m an indigenous woman from very humble beginnings. I grew up speaking simple English. I barely spoke during the first year of working in a corporate environment, I didn’t fully understand what people were saying, and I didn’t know how to articulate myself. It was a complete shock. This year, I have been asked to speak publicly four times to an audience of over 7,000 people, sharing my story and advocating for those with less equitable starting positions. I am an authentic voice and a beacon of possibility. 

I am a soft spoken, reasonably young, coloured women with a gentle demeanour and this has made me a target of bullying in the workplace. Only in the last few years I’ve grown the courage to start calling people out. I’ve encountered questions about being ‘the token Maori’; men often try to back me into a corner; people have made me feel guilty because I can’t do something that disrespects my culture. Despite pressure to conform, I’ve remained true to myself, refusing to teach my daughter that she should change to gain respect. My journey continues, driven by the desire to pave the way for future generations of young women. I’m carving a path so that young women will not have to face the same struggles, in the hope they won’t be asked to change who they are to fit in. That they will live in a world able to speak their truth and people will listen – they may not agree, but they will have enough respect to give people from minority groups the space to be heard.

In 2013, I was pregnant with identical twin girls. Tragically, Alyssia passed away at 29 weeks gestation due to umbilical cord complications. Her surviving twin, Mila, suffered temporary brain oxygen deprivation. The first month of Mila’s life was spent in the hospital. At five months, it became apparent she wasn’t reaching developmental milestones, diagnosed with quadriplegia cerebral palsy. Despite working and juggling hospital stays, we raised $110,000 within a year. Tragically, Mila passed away in 2018 due to complications from her disability. Her funds were donated to charities supporting disabled children facing challenges, marking the start of my healing journey. In January 2022, I joined a board supporting the disabled community, ensuring our experiences benefit others. I also assumed a role on the Oranga Tamariki Disability Advisory Group, advocating for disabled Maori children disproportionately affected in state care. My goal is to expand the Ministry’s mandate to include ‘prosperity’, providing these children with opportunities to thrive. It’s a long but vital journey.

WorldCC: How have you encouraged long-term resilience within your organization or beyond?

Melanie: In 2021, I established the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment (MBIE) Internal Broader Outcomes Leadership Group. I work in the New Zealand Government Procurement branch of MBIE, and I managed to connect with 30 like-minded people from across our agency to seek out people and groups who might have been working in silos, to deliver broader outcomes. The group has been a great avenue to share upcoming conferences, success stories and training opportunities. The intention of the group is to grow knowledge of procurement policy and practice within MBIE, establish MBIE as a leader in implementing broader outcomes, and be an example for other agencies to follow.

Find out more about WorldCC Foundation's incredible cohort of Inspiring Women in our 2023 Book.

About the author

Kate Hodgins

Kate is an accomplished marketing and communications professional with over 10 years of experience attracting, engaging, and converting audiences. She is a natural communicator skilled in building brand awareness and generating leads through content creation and digital marketing campaigns. As Head of Marketing at WorldCC, Kate leads integrated strategies to engage the association's global community of contracting professionals. Her passion lies in understanding stakeholders and nurturing meaningful relationships that drive business success. With her extensive background in audience growth and digital marketing, Kate delivers innovative solutions to elevate brand visibility and performance.