Previous winners

2023 Semi-Finalists

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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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Genevieve Mora

Genevieve Mora (Ngāi Tahu) spent most of her teenage years battling mental illness. As part of her recovery, she has made it her mission to offer hope to others, through connection, storytelling and shared lived experience. In 2014, Genevieve co-founded Voices of Hope, a mental health charity with a vision to show people that recovery is possible and that mental illnesses isn't a sign of weakness. She is now the General Manager. Alongside this mahi, Genevieve is the co-creator of Love your Kite, a global eating disorder resource app, and she speaks about her journey regularly through her social media channels. Genevieve co-wrote, with Jazz Thornton, a book sharing the tools she used throughout her journey and she is currently writing her second book with Penguin Random House. Genevieve has received a 'Commonwealth Point of Light Award' from Her Majesty the Queen and in 2022, Mora was named in the prestigious Forbes 30 under 30 Asia list for social impact, recognising influential young leaders, advocates and entrepreneurs across the globe.

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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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Mason Bleakley

Mason Bleakley has a vision. A passionate advocate for innovation, he has a goal to see New Zealand as the best place to launch global business through a thriving start-up ecosystem. With that in mind, he’s made a career out of supporting young entrepreneurs at the early stages of their businesses – in 2022 alone raising a $5 million venture fund that invests and supports young founders under the age of 30 called First Cut. As an early employee and investment principal at Icehouse Ventures, New Zealand’s most active venture firm, Mason has raised over $22 million in funds to invest in kiwi startups. In his spare time, he also manages the annual First Cut challenge and startup speaker series, supporting University students across Aotearoa who are interested in entrepreneurship.

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Nina Santos

Filipina-New Zealander and law graduate Nina Santos is challenging the status quo and fighting for a more inclusive and equitable Aotearoa. Nina is a staunch pay equity campaigner, writer, spokesperson and a vociferous champion for intersectional gender equity. Nina has a demonstrated ability to inspire and effect change through tireless advocacy and grassroots campaigning. Determined to address rampant pay discrimination and gender and ethnic pay gaps, Nina is Delivery Manager for - a campaign calling for new pay gap transparency legislation. She also sits on the board of The National Council of Women. As a first-generation migrant from the Philippines, Nina is driven by her and her family's lived experiences of racism and exploitation. Through her work, she has become a regular speaker and media commentator on women's rights and anti-racism. Nina is also Kiwibank Local Hero Medallist, and has been recognised as part of YWCA’s ‘Y25’ – a list of young women under the age of 25 who are trailblazing in their fields and fighting for a fairer Aotearoa.

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Rangipo Ngaire Takuira-Mita

Rangipo Ngaire Takuira-Mita (Te Arawa, Te Rarawa Kaiwhare, Ngāti Kahu, Ngāti Maniapoto) is a young innovator working with a group of environmental leaders to inspire the restoration of tūpuna mātauranga, encouraging caring communities that nurture nature. Through Te Pū a Ngā Māra,Takuira-Mita has created water quality testing kits to help the youth and local communities identify problems in their local awa.Their mahi began within iwi, hapū and whānau, and it has now expanded to all the reach all the marae and school across the country – and even overseas. But not only that that Takuira-Mita and her crew have created online digital resources to help those with understanding our Te Ao Māori practices. She is a change maker with huge impact, Takuira-Mita is a dedicated advocate for the environment and a proponent for the revival of Māori ancestral knowledge and traditional practices.

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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.

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Shaquille Shortland

In 2022, Shaquille Shortland (Ngā Puhi, Ngāti Hine, Te Roroa) is the youngest candidate running for Whangārei mayor. Affectionately known as Pā (Father), Shortland is widely regarded across Aotearoa for his vast knowledge and revitalization efforts of te reo Māori, tikanga, kōrero tuku iho (history) and the whakapapa of Atua Māori (Māori gods). Among the many hats he holds across governance, community development, education and cultural competency, he is the Founder and Director of Tūāpapa Māori Language Academy & Consultancy – a social enterprise focused on the restoration, revitalisation and retention of Te reo and Tikanga Māori with local communities. Shortland connects people across generations, providing opportunities to youth in new and imaginative ways, such as VR wānanga spaces, NFTs and gaming, whilst still incorporating traditional ancestral knowledge and values as we step into the future.

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Sukhans Asrani

Sukhans Asrani is the Founder and CEO of Zorbi – a digital tool that makes studying hyper efficient through flashcards that can predict when you’ll forget them. After struggling to pass his own exams in high school, Asrani dove deep into learning research at University, adopting the techniques that would ultimately form Zorbi. After realising that over 80% of students were studying using ineffective, passive techniques, Asrani gave up a 300K NZD job offer from Microsoft HQ (Seattle, USA) to go all-in on building Zorbi. Since its

inception, Zorbi has grown to be used by over 35,000 students across 50+ countries. Zorbi users now study over 200K flashcards every week, and the platform is rapidly expanding to support teachers with Zorbi being used at 10+ schools and 3 universities internationally. Through this work, Asrani is helping thousands of students achieve their goals by teaching them the best lesson of all: how to learn.

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Toilolo Leilani Taula

It’s been a busy few years for Leilani Taula. A musician with a career in law, Leilani is on a mission to see Aotearoa New Zealand appoint its first Pasifika Senior Court Judge and generally increase Pasifika representation in the legal profession. During her studies, she was the Pasifika Engagement Advisor for the Faculty of Law as well as the co-president of the Pasifika Law Student Society. She went on to complete an internship for the Institute of Small and Micro States, and is now a Judges' Clerk at the High Court of New Zealand. She is on the Executive Committee of the Pacific Lawyers Association, and has used her voice and platform to empower others at a range of speaking events including PACIFICA INC, where she championed Pasifika women in law. Alongside her law work and studies, Leilani produced the Bell Gully Tamata Pasifika podcast – a podcast for Pasifika people by Pasifika people. She was admitted to the bar in December 2021 and, only a few weeks later, was given the High Chief title of Toilolo in Taga, her village in Samoa. She intends to pursue her Masters in Law in the USA next year and hopes that when she returns home, she will be in the best place she can be to continue to serve her community and Aotearoa New Zealand at large in whatever capacity they may need her.



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