NEXT Woman of the Year

Meet NEXT's 2018 Woman Of The Year Finalists

Courage, vision and determination all define these achievers who are making the world a better place.

Every day we are surrounded by exceptional women. Like the one born in a refugee camp who is now empowering other young refugees to achieve their dream.

Or the woman – the sole survivor of a bus crushed by a falling building during the 2011 Christchurch earthquake – who lobbied for a change to the Building Act and now has an amendment named after her.

Some of these people you may be familiar with, while others were brought to our attention as nominees for this year's NEXT Woman of the Year Awards, in association with Elizabeth Arden.

The awards shines a spotlight on Kiwi women who are achieving in all aspects of their lives while making a remarkable contribution to others. Across six categories: Arts & Culture, Sports, Education, Community, Health & Science, and Business & Innovation, these 30 women are shining examples of what can be accomplished through drive and determination.

We'd also like to thank prestigious and iconic beauty brand Elizabeth Arden for their support and involvement in this project, which celebrates these outstanding heroes.

This is the second year this international company has been involved in the awards. "Our company's game-changing founder, Elizabeth Arden herself, was a legendary innovator and entrepreneur, so it is only fitting that we honour and acknowledge these outstanding women," says Elizabeth Arden general manager Valerie Riley.

We present our Elizabeth Arden and NEXT Woman of the Year finalists:

Arts & Culture

Pietra Brettkelly: Film Maker

Back in the 90s, Pietra decided she had enough of being a production manager in children's TV. Instead, she wanted to become a director, a filmmaker who made documentaries.

She self-financed her travels around the world looking for stories that would have the power to change lives – and found them. Most recently she directed the documentary, Yellow is Forbidden, following couturier Guo Pei, who designed Rihanna's gold ensemble for the 2015 Met Gala.

Pietra, whose films have been mainly self-funded, is also a mentor to young women seeking to enter the film industry.

Dawn Sanders: Shakespeare Globe Centre NZ Founder

Former professional ballet dancer Dawn has helped introduce thousands of Kiwis to the Bard through the centre.

It runs the 24 regional and national SGCNZ University of Otago Sheilah Winn Shakespeare Festival, which more than 115,000 secondary-school students have participated in over the past 27 years.

Graduates of the festivals have gone on to become actors, doctors, lawyers, teachers and politicians, and some students have told her that their involvement with SGCNZ has saved them from self-harm and suicide.

Jacqui Kenny: The Agoraphobic Traveller Artist

Despite being diagnosed with agoraphobia eight years ago, Jacqui is still able to travel the world – through Google Street View.

The artist captures unique images from remote places, such as Mongolia and Chile using Google Earth, and shares them on Instagram as The Agoraphobic Traveller, which has more than 100,000 followers from nearly 200 countries.

Jacqui is also a media ambassador for the Time for Change movement with the charity Mind, and plans to visit high schools to talk about mental health experiences and their connection with art.

Renee Liang: Community Arts Activist

A second-generation Chinese-Kiwi, Renee is a multi-disciplinary artist, having written in many genres, including theatre, poetry and arts journalism, as well as collaborating on visual artworks, film and music.

Among her many credits, she has written and produced seven award-winning plays, has written a libretto for an opera, lyrics for two musicals, and has co-written three short films.

Renee organised New Kiwi Women Write, a writing workshop series to help migrant women to create and publish their work, and also works full-time as a paediatrician at Waitemata DHB.

Anne O’Brien: Auckland Writers Festival director

Under Anne's tenure as festival director, the Auckland Writers Festival has become one of the world's largest literary festivals.

It regularly attracts literary stars, such as Gloria Steinem, Haruki Murakami and Nigella Lawson, as well as being a valuable platform for Kiwi authors, who make up three-quarters of the participants.

Anne has also inspired others around the country to set up their own events, such as WORD Christchurch and LitCrawl Wellington, as well as encouraging young writers by sponsoring low-decile schools to attend the festival.

Business & Innovation

Erica Crawford: Loveblock Wines Co-Founder

As co-founder of Kim Crawford Wines, Erica knows about a good drop – indeed, news agency Reuters described her as "one of the world's most notable winemakers" in 2017.

These days, she's the chief executive and co-founder of organic wine company Loveblock Wines in Marlborough, which produces eight varieties of wine.

While their product has won them many accolades, they also have reason to be proud of their working practices, which emphasise the wellbeing of their employees and sustainable farming methods.

Wendy Thompson: Socialites Founder

Despite being advised not to create a specialist social-media agency, Wendy founded Socialites in 2010. Today, New Zealand's first specialist social-media marketing company counts Spark, Sovereign, Auckland Airport and The Cooperative Bank among its clients.

Wendy has now turned her attention to help small to medium enterprises (SMEs), which lack the budget to employ a specialist company, by founding Start Social. The training programme and support group will have 500 members by the end of the year, and is projected to reach 50,000 in three years.

Sharndre Kushor: Crimson Education Co-Founder

At 18, Sharndre co-founded Crimson Education with $40 and a Facebook account. In her final year of university, she led the company's expansion to five other countries, among them the UK and Singapore.

And in 2017, four years after its founding, the company featured on the Forbes 30 Under 30 List, valued at $230M. Today, the 23-year-old has expanded the company to 24 offices around the world. The company connects students to top university graduates who help mentor them in academics, extracurricular activities and leadership.

Lillian Grace: Figure.NZ Founder

A leader in data use and diversity, Lillian founded the world's first organisation to make figures and data free to use by anyone. She has driven the development of software that processes and displays data, for anything from fertility rates in New Zealand to the number of beef cows and heifers on our farms.

The company also provides publishing services for data from Treasury, the Defence Force and the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet. Lillian is a big believer in data literacy being easy to use and access, and even made the company's charts accessible to colour-blind people.

Michelle Sharp: Kilmarnock Enterprises Chief Executive

Growing up in a village in Mexico, Michelle saw the barriers that stood between those with good ideas and their ability to build a business.

To that end she transformed Kilmarnock from a charity to a leading social enterprise. Today it's one of the country's first cases of a large-scale social-impact investment, which provides meaningful employment for disabled people.

Around 70 staff make, clean and package products that thousands of New Zealanders sit on, use, wear and eat.

Community

Merenia Donne: Kotuku Foundation Assistance Animals Aotearoa (KFAA) Founder

In 1997, the car Merenia was driving suffered mechanical failure and went off a steep bank, flipped upside down and landed in a creek, leaving her with horrific injuries. Luckily, her dog Nikki dragged her to safety. Had Nikki not saved her, Merenia would have died.

Six years later, Merenia started up a charity that trains assistance dogs. It takes about $50,000 to provide an assistance dog and Kotuku has placed more than a dozen specially trained canines around
the country.

Verna McFelin: Pillars Chief Executive

After her husband was sentenced to prison for 11 years in the early 80s, Verna realised how little support there was for the families and children of prisoners.

So she set up groups for those with family members in Christchurch's Addington Remand Prison, which in 1995 became Pillars.

Today the programme supports the 23,000 children who currently have parents in prison, as well as their families. Verna's tireless work to assist these children saw her awarded the New Zealand Order of Merit for services to the community in 2011.

Louise Allnutt: Foster Hope Charitable Trust Founder

Her mantra is, "As one person, I cannot change the world but I can change the world of one person" and over the past eight years, Louise's small acts of kindness have been making all the difference in foster children's lives.

It isn't easy to navigate through the many changes regarding the social welfare system for children and young people, but her charity is helping. It provides a backpack of essentials, such as a soft toy, books, underwear, or a quilt to the children arriving in foster-care placements with little more than the clothes on their backs.

Dr Ann Brower: Senior Lecturer Geography

On February 22, 2011, Ann was travelling on a bus in Christchurch when an earthquake struck. Masonry from a building fell on the bus, trapping and injuring Ann, but killing everyone else.

While overcoming physical injuries and emotional trauma, Ann began six years of research and communication on the issue of dealing with our earthquake-prone buildings.

Through her successful lobbying for a law change to the Building Act – which was passed in 2016 and known as the Brower Amendment – Ann has potentially saved many lives.

Deborah Manning: KiwiHarvest Founder

Less than a decade ago, two newspaper articles struck a chord in the life of lawyer Deborah – one was a story about how Kiwi children were going to school hungry, the other was about "dumpster divers" who lived off food thrown away by supermarkets.

The solution to her seemed obvious – connect the surplus, dumped food with families going hungry – so she started a food-rescue charity in Dunedin in 2012. Six years later, Deborah launched KiwiHarvest, which has delivered the equivalent of 5.4 million meals to people in need.

Education

Dr Rachel Williamson: Summer Learning Journey Founder

After leading a two-year study on Year 4-8 students at low-decile schools in Auckland, Rachel realised that pupils who don't exercise their literary muscles can fall behind by as much as 12 months over the six-week holiday break.

This prompted her to found a free literacy and educational blogging programme for students. With just three weeks to design and implement the first version of the programme, it has since grown from 23 participants in three schools in Auckland to hundreds of students in 52 schools from Kaikohe to Greymouth.

Brittany Teei: KidsCoin Founder

Growing up, Brittany saw first-hand how valuable money management was as a life skill. So she taught herself the skills she needed to launch a social enterprise that teaches children money management and digital literacy.

The programme, which launched in 2015 and is the first programme of its kind, now reaches 20,000 Kiwis across schools, families and the social-service sector, and there are plans to take it globally. The fees from KidsCoin go back into the community and Brittany also works with Maˉori businesses to integrate successful money management into their own enterprises.

Ariana Paul: Squiggle Co-Founder

With 20 years of experience in education, Ariana is committed to helping people, particularly families, youth and women, reach their potential. To that aim, she secured the New Zealand use of the internationally renowned STEM programme Young Engineers and translated it to te reo.

Today, it is available in te reo Maori, Hindi and English and is available in 50 schools around the country, helping students to forge careers in science, technology, engineering and maths. Ariana has also developed programmes to help Maori and Pasifika adult learners.

Rez Gardi: Empower Youth Trust Founder

Born in a refugee camp, Rez is now empowering other young refugees to achieve their dreams. As the founder and chief executive of Empower Youth Trust – which she founded from her own pocket – Rez works to provide support and mentoring to more than 50 refugees so far and hundreds more have attended her educational workshops.

Outside of the trust, Rez wears many hats, among them working demanding roles as a solicitor at commercial law firm Chapman Tripp and as a legal officer at the Human Rights Commission.

Dr Lucy Hone: Resilience Educator

No stranger to tragedy – in 2014, Lucy lost her daughter, Abi, her daughter's friend, and her own dear friend in a car accident. But far from letting it stop her, Lucy went on to lay the foundations for wellbeing and resilience education in schools.

Her programme, Wellbeing Literacy, has created a shift in our educational landscape, with the widespread consensus that teaching wellbeing and resilience skills must be part of our children's education. On top of launching the programme and finishing her PhD, Lucy also wrote What Abi Taught Us, a best-selling book on resilient grieving.

Health & Science

Dr Jane Harding: Professor Of Neonatology

World-renowned neonatologist and researcher Jane has saved the lives of many babies around the world with her studies on how interventions from pregnancy through to the newborn period affect babies' development and long-term health.

She led a trial that showed that a sugar gel was safe for treating low blood sugars after birth. That study changed medical practice globally. Jane was also behind a 30-year study of babies whose mothers had received steroid shots before preterm birth, finding that there were no adverse effects.

Dr Julia Rucklidge: Professor Of Clinical Psychology

Vulnerable people in New Zealand, especially, women, children, adolescents and Maori, are negatively affected by having limited access to safe and effective treatments for mental health issues.

Julia has been exploring the potential of nutritional interventions for treating psychiatric illnesses. She lobbied the government to amend the 2018 Natural Health and Supplements Products Bill, recognising that it would result in decreased access for people to treatments. The government has since decided to review the Bill.

Dr Nicola Gaston: MacDiarmid Institute Co-Director

Her work with nanotechnology has earned Nicola accolades, among them the Conference on Mathematical Methods in Science and Engineering Prize, a global honour for important contributions in the field of science.

Nicola developed a new method for applying quantum chemistry to periodic, metallic systems, and developed theoretical models for the description of 'nanoatoms'. Her book Why Science is Sexist advocated solutions for underrepresentation of women in science due to unconscious and systematic biases.

Dr Philippa Howden-Chapman: Professor Of Public Health

A warm and dry home improves our health and wellbeing, says researcher and campaigner Philippa. She has been a key driver in government policy, among them the Warm Up New Zealand programme for housing insulation. Through the scheme, which provides grants for landlords with low-income tenants, nearly 310,000 homes have been insulated.

She has also advocated for warrant-of-fitness checks for rented homes, which has seen her partner with the Wellington City Council to roll this out, as well as influencing the Healthy Homes Guarantee Act.

Dr Malvindar Singh-Bains: Research Fellow

Despite only being 30, Kiwi-Indian neuroscientist Malvindar has worked tirelessly for the last decade to improve the lives of those with incurable neurodegenerative diseases.

Her ground-breaking research into the degeneration and clinicopathological features of Huntington's disease was published in the Annals of Neurology, and this year, she was presented with the Leo Nilon Huntington's Disease Research Fellowship, which is dedicated to the advancement of innovative treatments for the disease – by the Governor-General.

Sarah Goss: Black Ferns Sevens Captain

The Black Ferns Sevens team has won Commonwealth Games gold, three IRB World Series tournaments and took home the World Cup in July. Not only did the Ferns reign supreme in San Francisco a few months ago, but skipper Sarah made quite an impression on the field, receiving the Mark of Excellence Award for most outstanding player.

That's not her only accolade, which includes being named NZ Women's Rugby Player of the Year in 2017. Sarah, who is known for her unstinting work ethic, is considered one of the best players of women's rugby in the world.

Professor Sarah Leberman: Sports Researcher

The co-founder of Women in Sports Aotearoa, Sarah is one of our strongest advocates for women and gender equality in sport.

For more than 25 years, her focus has been facilitating opportunities for more females to be involved in sports and recreation. She co-developed Massey's women in leadership programme, achieving career excellence programme and young women in leadership programme. Much of her research has been unfunded, but she has been tenacious in her quest for equity, visibility and opportunities for women in sport in NZ.

Natalie Taylor: Tall Ferns Co-Captain

This Tall Fern knows a thing or two about keeping balls in the air. Two years ago, Natalie gave birth to her son Rocco and in the same month opened her own holistic sports-performance facility in Brisbane with her husband, Ezra. Ten months later, she was commuting from her Brisbane home to New Zealand to play for the Tall Ferns as well as national side, Auckland Dream.

In a low-profile sport that offers no professional contracts, Natalie, who has bounced back from numerous debilitating injuries, is the embodiment of true grit and determination, and is a role model for aspiring sportswomen.

Sophie Devine: White Ferns Player

When she was 15, talented cricket and hockey player Sophie was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes and thought her sporting career was finished. But she got over it, and a few weeks later was
on the hockey field playing at a national tournament.

At 17, she became one of the youngest ever members of the White Ferns. An inspiration to other young people with diabetes, she is a role model to families and those who live with this disease.

Regarded as one of the world's most powerful players in her code, she was this year's recipient of the T20 women's player of the year at the 2018 NZ Cricket Awards.

Luisa Avaiki: NZ Rugby League Women's And Wellbeing Development Manager

In rugby league circles, Luisa is a legend who is known for her dedication, integrity, vision and humility.

The former player and captain of the world-cup winning Kiwi Ferns, she has been a driving force of the sport for the past two decades. Not only is she the NZRL women's and wellbeing development manager, she has been instrumental in getting more women playing the game.

In March this year, a long-held dream of Luisa's was realised when she became the first woman to be appointed head coach with an NRL club.