20 Feb 2020

Who's in the running for New Zealander of the year 2020?

5:00 pm on 20 February 2020

The 2020 New Zealander of the Year Award winner will be revealed tonight.

2020 New Zealander of the Year finalists (from left) Peter Beck, Jane Harding, Jennifer Ward-Lealand

2020 New Zealander of the Year finalists (from left) Jennifer Ward-Lealand, Peter Beck and Jane Harding. Photo: RNZ

Previous winners include mental health advocate Mike King, pay equity campaigner Kristine Barlett, and director Taika Waititi.

The finalists this year are Peter Beck, Jane Harding, and Jennifer Ward-Lealand Te Atamira. They hope their nominations will highlight the challenges and contributions in their respective fields.

The awards gala will be live at 6pm today.

Peter Beck

RocketLab chief executive Peter Beck said it was humbling to be among the finalists and a huge recognition for the whole team.

"As we've built the company along the way, [we've] had lots of positive influences from people and also right through America and Silicon Valley, there's just so many people that are part of the journey."

He grew up challenging himself to do what seemed impossible and "nothing was ever absurd", he said.

"There's always huge hurdles to overcome in anything you do, whether it's sending a rocket into orbit or building any kind of business.

"But being clear and being resolute about the impact that you're trying to have, is the guiding light. If we can achieve what we want to achieve here then, it has a massive impact for everybody on the planet, so that's all the inspiration I need."

Despite his accomplishments for the space industry, he said he felt he was just starting.

Peter Beck

Peter Beck. Photo: supplied

"It's not quite the right time to reflect just yet, there's more to happen, but I'm proud of the team and the industry that's been built here in New Zealand."

His longer term goal was lowering barriers to entering space for all nations to allow for more innovation.

"Ultimately, this is about creating access to space for a greater good for all human life on the planet."

But another difficulty he is aware of is the dominance of middle aged white males in the industry. He said the team was trying to give more opportunities to women and encourage children from a young age to consider a career in engineering.

"That's one of the key focus areas for us, is kind of demystifying engineering as this middle-aged white male profession."

To date, the RocketLab team has visited more than 100 schools and offered 80 internships, Beck said.

"There's two messages we push ... anybody can enter the space industry now, and the other one is that we're trying to push an entrepreneurial vent ... New Zealanders are fantastic entrepreneurs, but generally don't think big enough and struggle with the funding arrangements that are available."

And his message to New Zealanders if he wins is: "Go as big as you dream. There is no ceiling."

RocketLab is getting ready to launch a cubesat mission for NASA next year.

Jane Harding

Professor Jane Harding from the Liggins Institute at the University of Auckland has many accolades under her belt, including the Rutherford Medal, being appointed an Officer of the New Zealand Order of Merit, and the supreme winner of the Women of Influence award.

Most notably, she has helped inform and change health policy and practice with her research, including the Sugar Babies Study from 2013.

She said she felt honoured to be considered among the New Zealander of the Year finalists.

"It's one thing to be nominated for a scientific or research award but this is so much broader, this is about New Zealand as a whole, and that's amazing."

Distinguished Professor Jane Harding from the University of Auckland's Liggin's Institute.

Professor Jane Harding. Photo: University of Auckland

She is thankful for her colleagues, family, and friends as well as the mothers and babies who have contributed to her research.

"I think I'm probably most proud of the students and colleagues that I've helped train over the years, which is perhaps a more lasting and more important outcome than any particular piece of research."

But along with her achievements, Prof Harding said she has faced multifaceted challenges while taking on research, clinical practice, training, and looking after babies.

"Many people find it difficult, or indeed impossible, to get on with making a contribution in that space, I've been more fortunate than many but it's not easy.

"I don't think New Zealand as a whole has particularly valued research in science and therefore things like opportunities and funding and chances to grow are really quite limited in this country."

She hoped her nomination would raise recognition of the valuable efforts of researchers.

"I suppose part of the real honour of this award is that at least some people think that contribution is worth acknowledging for New Zealand.

"There are many areas that New Zealanders do stunningly in and do in fact make a difference around the world.

"Research in mothers and babies is actually an area that New Zealand's been leading the world in for decades, and I don't think most people know that."

Prof Harding said there were major projects underway that aim to find out the long term outcomes for interventions at birth.

Jennifer Ward-Lealand Te Atamira

Actor and director Jennifer Ward-Lealand Te Atamira said she was not expecting to be nominated and was still astonished at the news.

She has also been appointed an Officer of the New Zealand Order of Merit as well as a Companion of the New Zealand Order of Merit.

Ward-Lealand said she had her teachers to thank for where she was today.

"And I would also say again, I would thank my teachers from the bottom of my heart - those who taught me te reo Māori over the last 11 years.

"It's a great honour and I would hope to wear it with pride if I was chosen [to win], but I would still go out and do all the speaking I do regardless [of winning] and happily stand up and applaud whoever gets the award."

Jennifer Ward Lealand

Jennifer Ward-Lealand. Photo: Andi Crown

Ward-Lealand, who was gifted the name Te Atamira by Sir Tīmoti Kāretu and the late Dr Te Wharehuia Milroy, is known for her campaigning of te reo Māori me ōna tikanga.

"My hope for that is that it is heard and spoken by New Zealanders as equally as English is... so I will continue to champion that until my dying days," she said.

She is also hoping for a greater appreciation of the arts as a national resource.

"I think the arts is the lifeblood of any country.

"There is perhaps still a 'what do you do for your day job?' kind of attitude, not all the time, but I think it's still out there that [it's seen as if] the arts is something you dabble in and that you perhaps all just float around the house spouting lines and being terribly dramatic, but that couldn't be further from the truth."

There have also been industrial challenges for those taking on a career in performance, and Ward-Lealand said she wanted to do as much as possible to make their lives better.

"I think to have had rights stripped away from actors has been really, really hard. I think it makes the performance life for anybody... a very hard road and I wish that it was a more sustainable career in this country."

She said she was most proud of contributing to the growth in theatres and the union, Equity New Zealand.

"What really gives me a kick is... just to see people engaging with the craft of acting, I just find that incredibly rewarding.

"One of my biggest focuses is that the teaching of craft of acting is of good quality, and to have been a small part of making that happen particularly in the drama school is something that makes me deeply happy."

She said her next big step would be directing her first short film next year.

"I think every actor, whether they're 19 or 85, wants to be stretched and challenged and given a role and directed in a way that makes them find something else within themselves."

The finalists for the other categories include:

Young New Zealander of the Year

  • Tabby Besley
  • Georgia Hale
  • Fraser McConnell

Senior New Zealander of the Year

  • Professor Bob Elliott
  • Lexie Matheson
  • Dame Margaret June Sparrow

New Zealand Innovator of the Year

  • Bill Buckley - Buckley Systems Ltd
  • Fady Mishriki
  • Aliesha Staples - Staples VR

New Zealand Community of the Year

  • Foster Hope Charitable Trust
  • Good Bitches Baking Trust
  • ZEALANDIA (Karori Sanctuary Trust)

New Zealand Local Hero of the Year

  • Kenneth (Ken) Clearwater
  • Nick Loosley
  • Diane Yalden