Previous winners


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Ali Muhammad

Ali Muhammad is reducing barriers to sport participation for young refugees. Originally from Afghanistan, he came to New Zealand in 2015 as a refugee, and since then has volunteered his time with numerous sports bodies. He is completing a Master’s degree in Sports Management currently and applying his knowledge practically to the communities around him. In 2021 Ali organised the first-ever refugee sports pilot programme, called SportsFest. This took care of the costs and travel arrangements for 45 young people from three different refugee communities to participate in sports together. The programme supported the participants with language help and translation, making it a truly inclusive environment. Now 70% of those participants are attending regular sports activities. He has now set-up the Thrive Foundation, which aims to help 100 refugee rangatahi to take up educational and social opportunities through a scholarship programme.

Finalist Dr Ellen Nelson

Dr Ellen Nelson

Dr Ellen Nelson used all her networks (team mates, Chris Parsons and Martin Dransfield, several interpreter friends, and many more supporters) and knowledge to bring 563 Afghan evacuees to live safely in New Zealand. A former captain in the New Zealand Army, she served with the Provincial Reconstruction Team in Bamiyan province; she never forgot the local people she worked with and they never forgot her. When the Taliban seized the country in 2021, those people that had supported the New Zealand Army became immediate targets. More than 40 of her former colleagues reached out to her, seeking assistance. It was the middle of a global pandemic and there was no Government representative on the ground. From her home in rural Manawatu, her and her team worked remotely, day and night, for almost a year, to help make emergency visa applications, lobby the Government, garner media attention, raise several hundred thousand dollars from generous New Zealanders, collaborate with government officials, distribute funds and travel documents, and facilitate border crossings. Foreign Affairs Minister Nanaia Mahuta set up a government task force to evacuate these vulnerable families and agreed to work alongside Ellen and her team. All 563 people on Ellen's team's list, which included the wives and children, have now been successfully evacuated to New Zealand.

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Maia Mariner

At the age of 12 Maia Mariner (Ngāi Tai, Ngati Koata and Samoan) founded a non-profit sneaker programme to give people access to good footwear. LazySneakers was created to provide rangatahi, tamariki and families with good quality sneakers so they can play, participate in sport and life and reach their potential. Maia has seen her project grow into a movement across the country and generate interest internationally, including in Australia - Melbourne now has a LazySneaker outreach hub. Maia is now 17 years old and LazySneakers has collected and distributed more than 10,000 pairs of sneakers to happy recipients. Her project has attracted big brands such as PUMA, who have partnered with the project to donate new sneakers, providing a bit of joy and freedom for people’s feet.



To be eligible for this award, the nominee must be an individual who has made (or is making) a significant contribution to their region, town, suburb, community, iwi, or local group. The impact can be across any field or have displayed courage in overcoming personal adversity.

Nominators should consider talking about the following areas in their nomination:

  • THE NOMINEE: Describe the person you are nominating and what they’ve done to inspire you over the past year to nominate them as 2023 Kiwibank Local Hero of the Year Te Pou Toko o te Tau.
  • PURPOSE: Who benefits from the work, contribution, or influence of this person - and how?
  • LEADERSHIP: How does this person set a positive example for other members of their local community?
  • COMMITMENT: Describe the commitment of time, risks, and challenges overcome to create an impact to this point (this may still be ongoing). What have they done that has gone above and beyond to show leadership, create change, and give back?
  • PROVEN IMPACT: How has this person clearly demonstrated a positive impact in their local community

Conditions of Entry


How do the Kiwibank Local Hero Awards work?

  1. All Local Hero nominations are divided up into regions across Aotearoa
  2. Nominations for each region are then sent on to the three Local Hero Judges for that region, for their consideration.
  3. Nominations are scored by regional Local Hero Judges based on the criteria above
  4. The top 100 (highest scoring) Local Hero nominees across New Zealand will be honoured in December. While we won’t be having official medal ceremonies this year, we’re making sure we recognise these inspiring New Zealanders by sending each of them their medals — and even hand-delivering a few throughout Aotearoa
  5. The 100 Local Hero Medallists go forward to Category Judging Day in November for the 2022 Kiwibank New Zealand Local Hero of the Year Te Pou Toko o te Tau national award and 10 semi-finalists will be announced in mid-January
  6. The 10 semi-finalists will be considered at the Executive Judging Day in late January. Three will be announced as the finalists in the New Zealand Local Hero award in February, and of those three, one will be awarded the 2023 Kiwibank New Zealand Local Hero of the Year Te Pou Toko o te Tau title at the Gala event in March 2023 in Auckland
“At Kiwibank we’ve always been here to support the growth and progress of Kiwi. We couldn’t be prouder of our decade long partnership with the New Zealander of the Year Awards. It is our privilege to be a partner of this celebration of those selfless, creative and visionary Kiwi who have put in the hard mahi for the benefit of our communities. These special New Zealanders embody how we can all play a part in contributing to our society and together have a positive impact.”
Steve Jurkovich
Kiwibank Chief Executive