Previous winners

The 2023 Finalists

Finalist Elliot Jones.png

Elliot Jones

One in ten New Zealanders have dyslexia. Elliot Jones, a 17-year-old school student, is one of them – and he’s made it his mission to ‘lift the cloak of shame’: transforming the way everyday New Zealanders see and understand dyslexia. In February 2021, Elliot began to map out his vision for a documentary that would disrupt assumptions, stigma, and negative narratives around what dyslexia is, and instead make dyslexic thinking synonymous with entrepreneurship, big thinking, innovation, creative and business leadership. Through good old-fashioned cold- calling, Elliot enlisted a powerful cohort of speakers to share their stories. The result, Unlocking Potential, premiered to a sold out audience, and its message has since reached over 750,000 New Zealanders. In addition, Elliot himself raised over $60,000 dollars through sponsorship and donations with all money going directly to the Dyslexia Foundation. The cumulative impacts of his efforts are now considered a breakthrough for dyslexia in New Zealand.

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Georgia Latu

Dunedin-based high school student Georgia Latu (Kāi Tahu, Ngāpuhi) started making poi when she was just 12 years old. Four years later her business, Pōtiki Poi, is the biggest poi manufacturer in the world. Committed to keeping her environmental and social values front and centre, Latu uses second hand materials and biodegrading plastic where possible to make her poi, employing a staff of whānau and friends from the Dunedin hāpori – all paid the living wage. During Covid-19, Latu and her Mum kept busy working on a book, Ngā Mihi, which speaks to the whakapapa of poi. In 2022, Pōtiki Poi secured a supply contract for the Rugby World Cup, taking over the women's final with thousands of twirling poi.

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Shaneel Lal

Shaneel Lal is many things – an LGBTQIA+ activist, a writer and journalist, a political commentator and a University student. Through it all, they have been a consistent and courageous voice for thousands of people across Aotearoa, calling out injustice and empowering others to stand up for what they believe in. As a survivor of conversion therapy, Lal founded the Conversion Therapy Action Group. Lal spearheaded the movement to end conversion therapy in Aotearoa New Zealand, successfully passing legislation in 2022 after a five-year campaign. Lal is advocating to protect queer people under hate speech laws and change the blood donation policies to ease the process for gay and bisexual men to donate blood. Lal has served as an executive board member of Rainbow Youth and Auckland Pride Festival and is a trustee of Adhikaar Aotearoa. In the face of racism, criticism and bigotry, Shaneel has continued to raise their voice for queer and indigenous communities across Aotearoa.



To be eligible for this award, the nominee must be aged between 15-30 years.

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 University of Canterbury Young New Zealander of the Year Te Mātātahi o te Tau.
  • PURPOSE: Who benefits from this person's work, contribution, or influence - and how?
  • LEADERSHIP: How does this person set a positive example for other young people and showing them the potential for change.
  • 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 area of influence? How has this been measured?
  • LONG-TERM IMPACT: If known, how does the nominee plan to grow and/or adapt their work, contribution, or influence in the future? How would winning this award impact this person and the work that they are doing?

Conditions of Entry

“The University of Canterbury is committed to empowering Young New Zealanders across Aotearoa to make a difference especially now, as the world continues to face complex challenges connected to the pandemic, climate change and wellbeing. UC is pleased to celebrate these young leaders and support their success as they make positive impacts in their communities”
Professor Cheryl de la Rey
University of Canterbury Vice-Chancellor – Tumu Whakarae