This article first appeared in the Waikato Business News on 7 September 2022.

LEADERS: Rebecca Skilton, Jane Searle, Kylie Leonard and Brett Maber launch the CELF Fund.

A new philanthropic investment fund that supports the development of high-quality leadership across community and business has been publicly launched in the Waikato.

The Community and Enterprise Leadership Foundation (CELF) has established the ‘Community and Enterprise Leadership Fund’ with a $50,000 opening deposit placed in the care of the Momentum Waikato Community Foundation.

This is a partnership between two young organisations focused on creating a stronger Waikato forever.

The Community and Enterprise Leadership Foundation was established in 2014 to ‘grow future leaders from all walks of life ‘to build a stronger Waikato’.

Momentum Waikato was established in 2013 to build a regional endowment fund and drive transformational projects, with the aim of creating ‘a better Waikato for everyone, forever’.

The public launch of the CELF fund was held recently at the Nancy Caiger Gallery at The Meteor Theatre in Kirikiriroa Hamilton.

Co-founders Bernie Crosby (Prolife Foods and CELF Patron), David Irving (CELF Trustee) and founding chair John Cook were joined by CELF’s current co-chairs Graeme Geurts and Susan Trodden, alongside Momentum Waikato, CELF’s key stakeholders and CELF Alumni (CELFies) to celebrate the launch of the fund.

A bonus feature was a vibrant panel discussion where CELF alumni Rebecca Skilton (RAW), Jane Searle (Child Matters), Kylie Leonard (farmer/director/Taupo councillor) and Brett Maber (PowerFarming) shared inspirational stories of their own CELF Elevate Leadership programme experiences, and how it has impacted their leadership and growth, their organisations and their contribution to their communities.

Leonard spoke of the more than 30 goals she had set herself after completing the programme and how she now has just four to accomplish – all whilst farming her property in Taupo, being committed to her family, serving on several boards and as a Taupo District councillor.

Maber at PowerFarming has re-invigorated the company’s purpose and activated a range of community engagements, including junior rugby in Morrinsville.

Skilton and Searle spoke of their growth in personal confidence, knowing their own leadership style and the results they have achieved for their respective organisations.

Peter Sun, a co-founder of CELF and its inaugural programme director from 2014, says its vision is based on the premise that responsible leadership goes far beyond the leader’s own organisation, embracing all stakeholders, both within and without, for the common good of all.

“Bringing leaders from all sectors within the community together, to understand each other and see where effective collaborations are possible, raises the capacity of the whole region,” Sun says.

Professor Brad Jackson, CELF’s current programme director and MBA director at the Waikato Management School, says the CELF programme is unique in Aotearoa.

“CELF's strong place-based learning focus has already borne fruit for the Waikato, as it tackles the growing array of complex problems faced by the world. The founders are to be commended for their foresight, vision and determination.

“I have been deeply impressed by the calibre and the spirit shown by our recent and past CELF graduates and am honoured, along with my Waikato Management School colleagues, to be working with the incoming 2022 cohort."

Momentum Waikato CEO Kelvyn Eglinton has warmly welcomed CELF to the fold of the community foundation’s regional endowment.

“The CELF fund is a particularly pleasing initiative, as it forges a key alliance that will go way beyond the usual service we provide,” Eglinton says.

“CELF is building the personal leadership capacity that creates and drives the transformational projects we are here to enable and power. Momentum exists to ‘connect and convene’, so there are obviously going to be great synergies as we tap into each other’s networks.”

CELF CEO Tania Witheford says leaders are the catalyst.

“Great leaders create a ripple effect that empowers everyone and everything around them,” she says.

“The unique aspect of CELF’s Elevate program is the bringing together of business and community. The fees from the for-profit sector students subsidise those from the for-purpose sector, and they then participate together.”

Witheford says the sustainable income generated by the CELF fund at Momentum Waikato will go towards resourcing access to the programmes, so that more people and their communities can benefit from this empowering experience.

The CELF Fund welcome donations from anyone keen to build leadership capacity for an even better Waikato – please go to