2021 YOUNG NEW ZEALANDER OF THE YEAR SEMI-FINALISTS
15 Jan 2021
Te Mātātahi o te Tau
The University of Canterbury Young New Zealander of the Year Award - Te Mātātahi o te Tau recognises a young person brimming with the potential to build a bright future for Aotearoa, striving across the last year to improve or support their whole community and Tai Ao.
Meet our 10 semi-finalists.
Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) affects up to 15% of people in the western world and is a major issue for many Kiwis. Yet, when Alana Scott was diagnosed with it in 2013 (along with coeliac disease and a tree nut allergy) and advised to follow a restrictive and complex low FODMAP diet, she found almost no information, which left her feeling isolated and wondering if she would ever be healthy or enjoy food again. Following her discovery, Alana went on to create A Little Bit Yummy; a successful online healthcare platform that is revolutionising medical management of bowel-related conditions and shifting IBS patient support into the telehealth world. Alana has helped thousands of people around the world better manage this complex condition through easy to understand online programmes supported by e-courses, recipes, meal planning guides, shopping tips, virtual dietitian led classes and real-life situation articles. Alana works with a team of qualified dietitians and healthcare professionals to create content that is people-focused and scientifically accurate. She also provides free low FODMAP resources via her website to over 1.3 million visitors per year and is the author of locally-produced The Gut Friendly Cookbook. Alana’s goal is to help people with IBS access affordable and personalised online care and reduce the burden on the healthcare system.
With a Māori–Pākehā mother and a Samoan–Tongan–Fijian father, Arizona Leger is a proud daughter of Oceania and sees herself as working to represent and advance our Indigenous and Oceanian peoples. Currently, a student of the Masters of Human Rights programme with a focus on Indigenous Rights, especially the rights of Young Indigenous Women, at Auckland University of Technology, Arizona has dedicated her studies, spare time and seemingly endless energy to work towards a fair, just and thriving Aotearoa. In 2018, Arizona was appointed to the Ministerial Advisory Group to review the National Certificate of Educational Achievement (NCEA) programme and in 2019 she was selected from thousands of applicants around the world to attend the G(irls)20 Summit in Tokyo as the sole Indigenous Delegate, a newly appointed role. In 2020 Arizona was selected as a northern representative for Kau Tulī, the youth steering group for New Zealand’s Ministry for Pacific Peoples, and she is also a trustee and board member of Inspiring Stories and a member of Auckland Council’s youth advisory panel. She hopes ultimately to create an NGO that focuses on empowering marginalized communities to exercise their rights and ensuring that Indigenous and underrepresented voices have a permanent seat at the decision-making tables.
Brianna Fruean has been campaigning for climate justice for most of her life. As a young girl in Samoa, where much of the population lives in low-lying coastal areas, hearing the implications climate change would have for her island jumpstarted Brianna’s activism and she hasn’t looked back since. At 11, she became a founding member of the Samoan chapter of the global climate organisation 350.org. At 14, she attended the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development as a youth ambassador and at 16 she won the prestigious Commonwealth Youth Award for her environmental activism. Brianna was the first youth ambassador for the Pacific Regional Environmental Programme and in 2017 she gave a keynote address at COP23 (the United Nations Climate Change conference) in Germany. In 2019, after helping organise Auckland’s School Strike 4 Climate, she attended COP25 in Spain where she spoke alongside former United States Secretary of State, John Kerry. When she attends environmental summits, Brianna speaks about youth perspectives and concerns about the impacts of climate change. Brianna, now 22, studies Politics and International Relations at the University of Auckland and sits on the Council of Elders for the Pacific Climate Warriors.
As a journalist at Auckland radio station bFM, Chlöe Swarbrick regularly interviewed politicians and was frequently struck by how out of touch they seemed to be with the lives of people she knew: she saw no sign of herself or her community in politics. So in 2016, at age 22, Chlöe ran for mayor of Auckland. She placed third in the race, and in doing so made a name for herself in national politics, going on to join the Green Party. A year later she was elected as a Green Party MP into Parliament, making her the youngest MP since Marilyn Waring in 1975. In 2020 Chlöe made waves when she contested and won the Auckland Central electorate, making her only the second Green MP to hold an electorate seat, and the first minor party MP since MMP began in 1996 to win an electorate seat without endorsement from a major party leader. Chlöe is known for her parliamentary work on mental health, drug law reform, climate change, fossil fuel divestment, and education. She has received numerous accolades, including being named in Fortune magazine's '40 Under 40' listing under the Government and Politics category in 2020.
After abuse, depression, hospital stays and multiple suicide attempts characterised her teenage years, Jazz Thornton has truly turned her life around to become a mental health activist who has written two books and produced multiple films. Shortly after her final suicide attempt, when Jazz says she decided to ‘stop surviving and start fighting’, she enrolled in South Seas Film and Television School to learn how to tell the stories of people like her. After only a few months she produced short film Dear Suicidal Me, which features real people reading their suicide notes followed by the reasons they feel lucky to be alive. The film had more than 80 million views in the first 48 hours after it was posted online. In 2014, Jazz and Genevieve Mora created Voices of Hope, a suicide prevention organisation that creates media content such as videos, podcasts, and blogs to provide support for those struggling with mental illness. Jazz has also released Jessica’s Tree, a web series that follows the final 24 hours of the life of her friend Jessica, who died of suicide in 2015. In 2020, New Zealand director Leanne Pooley released The Girl on the Bridge, a documentary about the production of Jessica’s Tree. Most recently, Jazz received the Commonwealth Points of Light award from Her Majesty the Queen for her work in mental health advocacy. She also volunteers at adolescent psychiatric wards and gives talks in schools on the importance of mental health.
When 23-year-old Lucy Blakiston, along with friends Olivia Mercer and Ruby Edwards, created the website and Instagram account Shit You Should Care About (SYSCA) in 2018, the trio had one goal: to help people — especially young people — understand the news from New Zealand and around the world in a way that felt accessible and wouldn’t cause overwhelm or news fatigue. Lucy says that it was also important to use social media for good, and to be a source of quality and trustworthy content among “the fake news, influencers trying to sell us stuff and endless narcissism”. They’ve clearly hit the mark: their Instagram page now has more than 2.2 million followers and each post gets around 100,000 likes. Meanwhile, the website features longer-form coverage with posts written by domestic and international contributors, and in March 2020 the team launched a podcast, The Shit Show, which blends politics and pop culture. Lucy studied international relations at Victoria University of Wellington, taught English at an orphanage in Cambodia, and is the social media specialist at The Spinoff as well as running the day-to-day content on SYSCA.
Madeleine De Young
Over the last seven years, Madeleine (Maddy) de Young has carved out a unique role for herself in Aotearoa’s film landscape. This has been primarily through her work as Kaiwhakahau Hōtaka of the Māoriland Charitable Trust, which has a kaupapa of growing social, economic and cultural opportunities for Māori through supporting Indigenous filmmakers. As programme manager of the Māoriland Film Festival (MFF), the largest presenter of Indigenous screen content in the southern hemisphere, Maddy’s focus is on nurturing rangatahi to find their voice through film and develop the practical skills to tell their unique stories. In this area, a key focus is training and development, enabling them to enter high-value creative work by providing training, mentorship, professional development and networking. With Maddy’s guidance, the rangatahi lead everything: facilitating workshops, writing and producing films, and presenting screenings to their peers. In 2020, as well as curating the programme for the MFF and running the rangatahi development strategy, Maddy also co-ordinated youth-led film workshops in Taiwan and Finland.
When Covid-19 hit Aotearoa during 2020 Māoriland Film Festival, Maddy showed impressive leadership and compassion to quickly and professionally enacting a response plan. Throughout the year, this was seen through workshops and initiatives held in Kaitaia, Tāmaki Makaurau, Te Tairāwhiti and Ōtaki to connect rangatahi from across Aotearoa with an opportunity to learn the practical skills they need to tell their stories through film. In the wake of COVID-19 Maddy alongside her team opened M.A.T.C.H the Māoriland Tech Creative Hub Intensifier Programme training young Māori animators in a rapid six-week training programme. Following graduation, participants enter 12 weeks of paid employment.
Pania Newton says she’s never considered herself a leader, but was raised to be a careful kaitiaki of her whenua. She had only just completed her conjoint health science and law degrees at the University of Auckland and was about to move to Rotorua to join a law firm when survey pegs were discovered at her ancestral land at Ihumātao, near Manukau Harbour, where she had grown up. Pania and her whānau discovered that housing developer Fletcher Building was about to build nearly 500 homes on the 33-hectare piece of land known as the Ōruarangi block, and her long-held plans of practising law suddenly changed. Instead, in 2016 Pania and her cousins established SOUL (Save Our Unique Landscape) to resist the planned development and in doing so began a multi-year protest that ignited the country. Pania soon became the movement’s spokesperson and went on to lead the group through a four-year legal battle that included three appeals to the United Nations and saw thousands of protestors occupying the land. Pania is also part of groups such as Matike Mai Aotearoa Rangatahi, the youth arm working towards constitutional transformation, as well as Toi Tangata, Kī o Rahi Tāmaki Makaurau, Ngā Kaitiaki o Ihumātao, and Puketapapa Ascendants.
When New Zealand went into level 4 lockdown, 24-year-old Sarah Colcord’s event and project management business completely dried up. Longing for a platform for small New Zealand businesses to promote themselves during that time, she launched a Facebook group called New Zealand Made Products. The group was a huge hit: in just two months it grew to over 500,000 members, and Sarah and her team of moderators were run off their feet (at the group’s peak, Sarah had 20 volunteers, and 11,000 posts from small businesses pending review). The group was a lifeline for small businesses, helping them survive and thrive during and after the lockdown period. Now Sarah has transformed New Zealand Made Products into an online marketplace called Chooice that has already generated more than $1,000,000 in sales for small New Zealand businesses in just 4 months. Sarah has years of experience supporting young people and her local community, including co-founding Manurewa’s first creative youth hub, co-founding the leading network for youth participation in Auckland, and being a former elected member of the Manurewa Local Board – elected to Auckland Council when she was just 20 years old. She is also a YWCA Auckland Board member and a Duffy Book Role Model for low decile schools.
Dr Zhiyan Basharati
After spending her childhood in a Kurdish refugee camp, Dr Zhiyan Basharati arrived in New Zealand with her family at age 11, not speaking a word of English. Now, she has a PhD in forensic psychology and is a dedicated advocate for refugees and migrants. While studying she volunteered for the Canterbury Refugee Resettlement and Resource Centre and in 2013 she founded the New Zealand National Youth Refugee Council to help amplify refugee voices and perspectives. She has also been chair of the Canterbury District Health Board Consumer Council and vice-chair of the Christchurch City Council’s Multicultural Strategy Working Party. On the day of the Christchurch mosque attacks, Zhiyan was at Christchurch Hospital when she saw ambulances rushing in. She quickly made herself known to staff and began organising translators who spoke Arabic, Farsi, Urdu, Somali or Kurdish to assist victims and their family members. She went on to coordinate the welfare centre at Hagley College and set up the Christchurch Victims Organising Committee (CVOC), working around the clock to disseminate information and help survivors and their families in various capacities, including distributing donations and helping with immigration status and visa issues