15 Jan 2021
The Kiwibank New Zealander of the Year Award - Te Pou Whakarae o Aotearoa honours the achievements and contributions of an inspirational Kiwi who has made a big, positive contribution to our country this year. Their pursuit of excellence can be in any area; science, business, the arts, cultural or community involvement, te Ao Māori, sport, education, and health. Their achievements have positive effects on how we feel about our nation and ourselves.
Meet our 10 semi-finalists.
Chris Farrelly’s working life has been one with a focus on working for fundamental human rights and bringing people out of poverty. Inspired by Mother Teresa, this took him to the slums of Korea in the 1970’s where he spent ten years. After many years overseas which included completing a Master of Theology degree at Berkeley, California, Chris was drawn home and in 1991 commenced coordinating AIDs care in Northland and working to change human rights legislation which discriminated against people living with AIDs. This led to 25 years of working in the health sector of Northland which included being the founding Chief Executive of Mania Health PHO – a positon he held for 13 years. This was a PHO with a strong focus on addressing the determinants of poor health – colonisation, sub-standard housing and poverty. This work brought Chris into deep and enduring relationships with iwi Māori and a personal journey to understand Te Ao Māori, language and history. The road to understanding and living Te Tiriti partnership has been close to Chris’s heart. This led to a deeper desire to become involved in Dispute and Conflict Resolution and post graduate studies in this area.
In 2016, Chris moved to Auckland to take up the position of City Missioner (CEO) of Auckland City Mission. Under Chris’s leadership the past five years has seen a major transformation within the Mission as it has significantly grown, developed new models of practice and entered deeply into the issues of homelessness, food insecurity and access to healthcare. This time has also seen the Mission embark on the largest scale development in its 100 year history, the building of a major integrated housing, health and social services facility – “HomeGround” which will open in 2021. However, the most challenging time has been responding to COVID-19 in the community, caring and protecting some of those in most vulnerable circumstances in the community. While others “locked down”, the Mission “broke out” and provided supportive housing, food, healthcare and social support for many of Auckland’s homeless and vulnerably housed people.
The value of manaakitanga is now a strong driver in all the Mission does and how it delivers services, where the Mana of the other is acknowledged and brought to life.
After years of dealing with depression behind closed doors with the support of his wife, a major moment in Craig Hudson’s recovery was when he confided in his employer, who provided Craig with practical support, including connecting him with a psychologist. This moment not only transformed Craig’s personal life but solidified the type of leader Craig wanted to be: one that believes employers have an important role to play in employee wellbeing and the value of creating psychologically safe work environments. Craig is now the New Zealand managing director of cloud accounting platform Xero and is on a mission to improve the wellbeing of small business owners across the country, who are particularly vulnerable to mental illness, given the financial uncertainty and physical isolation (especially so given the rise in remote work) that is often found in those industries. Craig speaks openly about his struggles and has spearheaded several far-reaching mental-health initiatives, including Xero commissioning the New Zealand Small Business Wellbeing report, and the radical expansion of Xero’s Employee Assistance Programme which has significant impact, providing free counselling support to approximately 850,000 small-medium business owners, employees and their families across New Zealand.
In the hours that followed his wife’s death in the Christchurch mosque attacks in March 2019, Farid Ahmed’s faith led him to make an important decision. He knew that the massacre and his community’s response to it would have implications for Christchurch, New Zealand, and for Muslims around the world, and that he personally would respond to the act of hate with only love and forgiveness. Farid and his wife Husna had been praying at the Al Noor Mosque on the day of the attack and Husna had already helped several people to safety when she was fatally shot in the back while looking for her husband, who uses a wheelchair. Farid’s remarkable messages of love and forgiveness have captured the hearts of people around the world and in December 2019 he travelled to Abu Dhabi to speak at the Forum for Promoting Peace in Muslim Societies where he received an award for promoting peace. In addition, he’s travelled to the Netherlands and the USA to speak about the massacre, forgiveness, and the incredible response from Kiwis afterwards. In the year following the massacre, as Farid learned how to navigate life without his wife, he wrote a book about his experience. The book, Husna’s Story, is a tribute to her life and carries Farid’s enduring message of forgiveness. During lockdown, he wrote a second book which he plans to gift to the traumatised youths of Christchurch. He continues to speak in mosques and community gatherings to promote peace and spread the message of love.
Masjid An-Nur Imam Gamal Fouda
Gamal Fouda is the Imam of the Al Noor mosque in Christchurch and a survivor of the March 2019 mosque attacks, which left 51 dead, including 44 from his Al Noor congregation. A week after the attack, Gamal led a mass Friday prayer in Christchurch's Hagley Park, attended by thousands of people, including Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern. The compassionate speech, in which he said the Muslim community was “broken-hearted but not broken” and that evil ideology will never triumph over love and unity, was heard by thousands of people across New Zealand and the world. He has continued to speak on behalf of his community as the gunman’s criminal trial took place, including addressing him directly at his High Court trial, speaking after his sentencing, and again after the Royal Commission’s enquiry into the attacks was released in December 2020, in which Gamal said the report’s recommendations could be used by other nations as a model of how communities can come together. Since the shooting Gamal has since welcomed leaders such as Prime Minister Ardern, Prince William, and United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres to the mosque to discuss the Muslim community's response to the attacks and to hate speech.
When Melissa Vining’s husband Blair was diagnosed with terminal bowel cancer in late 2018, the couple were shocked to discover first-hand how severely under-resourced the public health service was in Southland, where they lived. Blair had been told he had just weeks to live, but that waitlists meant he was unlikely to see a specialist before cancer took his life. The pair spent the rest of Blair’s life campaigning relentlessly to improve cancer treatment in New Zealand; his petition to create a national cancer agency was signed by more than 140,000 New Zealanders. They also established the Southland Charity Hospital Trust, which plans to build a community hospital where Southlanders who aren't covered by the Southern District Health Board can access colonoscopies and dental care for free. After Blair died in October 2019, Melissa has continued to work tirelessly to get the hospital off the ground, and in December 2020 construction on the hospital began. The Southland Charity Hospital is modelled on the Canterbury Charity Hospital, which has helped thousands of patients since its inception in 2007, and will not receive any government funding. Instead, it will rely on donations, grants, and volunteer hours from its staff.
Ranjna Patel, QSM, JP
When CM Police were concerned about the increase in Family Violence in the South Asian community in 2013, they asked Ranjna, an experienced health worker in high needs community and community leader for assistance. Research to Ranjna is identifying the root cause of a problem and gaps. As in health, access was the main barrier for men to get help. In order to keep women and children safe and lessen the trauma of being removed from the home, men are removed and offered emergency accommodation, counselling and behavioural therapy (while also providing wraparound support to the whānau at home, as we know only 20% of women ask for help). Despite all the research to support it, the concept was a challenging one to get off the ground, as people are less willing to invest in support services for men who are physically and emotionally abusive to their families. But 90% of women take the men back. In 2014 Ranjna established the first Gandhi Nivas home for perpetrators for rehabilitation in Otahuhu, partnering with NZ Police and Sahaayta Counselling services and now there are now three permanent Gandhi Nivas homes in Auckland, all staffed 24/7 by counsellors, social workers and Alcohol and Drug counsellors. Massey University released a 5-year longitudinal study (looking at men 5 years before entering Gandhi Nivas and after) and found 60% of men did not re-offend. 60% non-recidivism is amazing and will make a difference in NZ shameful Family Violence statistics.
Prof. Scotty Morrison
Prof. Scotty Morrison has had an enormously varied career, from playing for the Māori Sevens and BOP rugby teams and acting in The Māori Merchant of Venice, to near completion of a PhD. But it’s his passionate promotion of te reo Māori that is the consistent theme across all his work, and for which he’s made the biggest impact on Aotearoa. Scotty only came to te reo Māori after leaving high school, but has gone on to become an Associate Professor in the language and culture, and has been at the forefront of its revitalisation in recent years. Whether through broadcasting (he’s the longstanding presenter of Te Karere and Marae), workshops or book publishing, he presents learning Māori in a friendly, empowering and accessible way. His 14 books have sold over 150,000 copies combined and Māori Made Easy, first published in 2015, still appears on bestseller lists today. In 2019, Te Taura Whiri i te Reo Māori awarded Scotty its inaugural Tohu Kōrurenga Hau/Culture Change award and in 2020 Scotty received a Blake Leadership Award. He’s an associate professor at Massey University’s Te Pūtahi-a-Toi School of Māori Art, Knowledge and Education and at Ngā Pae o te Māramatanga, New Zealand’s Centre of Maori Research Excellence.
Dr Sean Simpson
While renewable energy sources like wind, hydro and solar play an important part in reducing global carbon emissions, the world still – at this point – needs high-density transport fuels and materials, which require carbon. LanzaTech, which Dr Sean Simpson began in 2005, developed and commercialized a novel microbial technology to convert waste streams from industry, society and agriculture into fuel, that achieves a 75–90% greenhouse gas reduction compared to gasoline. The company has raised over US$400 million in investment to develop this innovative technology and has already opened a commercial plant in China. Alongside LanzaTech, Sean has supported numerous other New Zealand tech start-ups, including introducing Rocket Lab to their major investment funders, and personally investing in start-ups Avertana, and Dotteral, and technology incubator Level Two. Sean has over 20 publications and 200 patents to his name, and a host of awards, including the 2014 New Zealand Innovator of the Year Award, the 2015 US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Presidential Green Chemistry Award, the 2013 Kea NZ World Class New Zealander in Science Award, the 2013 Bio Spectrum Asia-Pacific Entrepreneur of the Year Award, and the 2011 NZBIO Young Biotechnologist of the Year.
Dr Siouxsie Wiles, MNZM
Dr Siouxsie Wiles is an award-winning scientist who has made a career of manipulating microbes. She heads up the Bioluminescent Superbugs Lab at the University of Auckland where she and her team make bacteria glow in the dark to understand how infectious microbes make us sick and to find new antibiotics. Siouxsie is also passionate about demystifying science, and has won numerous prizes for her efforts, including the Prime Minister’s Science Media Communication Prize in 2013. In 2017 she published her first book, ‘Antibiotic resistance: the end of modern medicine?’ and in 2019 was appointed a member of the New Zealand Order of Merit for services to microbiology and science communication. During COVID-19 Siouxsie joined forces with Spinoff cartoonist Toby Morris to make the science of the pandemic clear and understandable. Releasing their work under a Creative Commons licence, their graphics have been seen by millions and even used by governments and organisations as part of their official pandemic communications.
In 2017, devastated by the sight of a woman living by the lake in Rotorua and washing her children in freezing-cold water from the public toilets, Tiny Deane and his wife Lynley launched Visions of a Helping Hand Trust, with the aim of assisting people into safe, permanent homes. They sold a retirement property in 2017 and re-mortgaged their house in 2018 to set up shelters in Rotorua and Taupō, now providing care for up to 350 people daily. The trust – which runs on donations and government funding – has changed the lives of numerous vulnerable people in their community, providing accommodation and wraparound services including mental health support, addiction treatment, and cooking, parenting and budgeting advice.
Once a whānau has moved into permanent housing, Visions of a Helping Hand provides three months of bi-weekly visits to ensure the members are well supported in their new home. Many people who have been in the trust's care go on to become advocates of the organisation and return to help others. When Covid-19 lockdown began, physical distancing rules meant the shelters had to close temporarily. Knowing that the need for the shelters would remain high, Tiny sourced government funding to rent motels in Rotorua and Taupō to provide temporary accommodation. In 2020, the trust's support was recognised with a Lion’s International Award and Global Humanitarian Award.
Tiny's work is far from done; presently, he is working to extend the trust's operations in Rotorua by establishing a factory. With 300 homes on the way and 107 sections already secured, the factories will provide the communities with alternate accommodation styles, including modular and transportable homes, and create 75 new employment opportunities. Alongside these projects, the trust has acquired a medical centre to support the delivery of wraparound services, employing medical professionals, counselling services and social workers.