Meet the NEXT Woman of the Year finalists of 2019

Making a difference in the world is the number one goal of these incredibly inspiring achievers. Here’s a look at our 2019 Elizabeth Arden and NEXT Woman of the Year finalists.

One of the finalists in this year’s NEXT Woman of the Year Awards had two patented innovations to her name before the age of 25. Another has an asteroid named after her.

These women are successful with a capital S. But what makes them truly remarkable, and why we think it’s so important to celebrate them, is that their efforts are for the good of others. Their success makes a difference to New Zealand as a whole. And that’s inspirational. Whether they are empowering others in their field, directly benefitting their communities or forging a new path to widen industry opportunities, our aim is to shine a light on the incredible work this diverse set of women do.

Across six categories: Arts & Culture, Sport, Education, Community, Health & Science, and Business & Innovation, these 30 women show what can be achieved with drive and genuine care for others.

We would also like to thank prestige beauty brand Elizabeth Arden for their support and involvement for the third year running. “We are extremely pleased to continue to sponsor the annual NEXT Woman of the Year Awards,” says Elizabeth Arden general manager Valerie Riley.

“Our game-changing, rule-breaking founder, Elizabeth Arden, was herself a legendary innovator and entrepreneur who left an unmistakable mark on the beauty industry, so it’s certainly fitting that we honour and acknowledge these outstanding women.”

Arts & Culture

Julia Parnell: Notable Pictures company director

New Zealanders are known for punching above their weight in the cut-throat film industry, and Julia Parnell is an exemplar. For the past 20 years, the pioneering creative has committed herself to improving the quality and recognition of documentary story-telling in Aotearoa, valuing diversity not only in the storytellers but also the directors.

Launching Notable Pictures 10 years ago, she also co-founded Loading Docs in 2014, a short-documentary initiative that funds and mentors film-makers to create shareable documentaries for online platforms.

Samantha Scott: Massive Theatre Company founder and artistic director

Sustaining a career in the performing arts in a country that doesn’t have a lot of funding in this sector is no small feat, yet this tenacious visionary has worked in theatre for more than 30 years.

Founder of the Massive Theatre Company, which nurtures and develops acting talent from age 14 up, she has enabled hundreds of actors, as well as directors to become successful in their fields via her mentoring programme The Directors’ Lab. Through her inspirational efforts, Samantha has made a significant contribution to our cultural heritage.

Dame Suzie Moncrieff: World of Wearable Art founder

The arts entrepreneur launched the World of WearableArt (WOW) competition in 1987 in Nelson to an audience of 200. Now in its 31st year, WOW attracts designers from across the globe, as well as 60,000 audience members annually over a three-week season, and contributes $26 million to Wellington’s economy.

Were it not for Dame Suzie’s determination, vision and passion, including once borrowing $4000 against her house to keep WOW going, we would not have this design spectacular – a highlight on the cultural calendar.

Dame Fiona Kidman: Writer

Renowned writer Dame Fiona has published a vast body of critically acclaimed books, and written more than 60 scripts for radio, television and film. Her book This Mortal Boy won New Zealand’s top literary award this year, the Acorn Foundation Fiction prize, as well as the New Zealand Booklovers Award for Fiction.

Fiona acts tirelessly to advocate for writers’ rights through the Public Lending Right, spearheads Book Council initiatives, such as Writers in Prisons, and has initiated programmes to help the next generation of Kiwi readers and writers.

Geraldine Brophy: NextStage Theatre actor, director-producer

One of our most awarded and best-loved actors, Geraldine has played more than 200 roles in theatre and written and toured 18 of her own plays. Her work has shone a light on topics including adoption, breast cancer, and bullying and opened the door to vital conversations.

She set up NextStage Theatre to give back to her local community, showcasing original New Zealand work, giving local storytellers a voice, and growing the Hutt Valley as a cultural destination. Geraldine also created A Woman’s Word, to develop and stage plays telling female stories.

Business & Innovation

Aliesha Staples: Staples VR founder/ managing director

A virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) pioneer, Aliesha founded Staples VR, working with the likes of Warner Bros, Disney and Paramount. She completed the first live stream of an event in 360-degree VR, bringing comfort to a hospitalised child. Staples VR’s vRemedies supplies digital-health solutions, including a world-first ‘patient preparation’ VR video for kids.

Aliesha is Aotearoa’s first female commercial drone pilot, gimbal technician and High-Tech Young Achiever of the Year. She’s just been named TVNZ’s inaugural future director.

Bernadette Casey: The Formary founder/creative director

Bernadette founded The Formary in 2008 to lower the environmental impact of textiles by creating systems and products to divert clothing from landfill. Today, it leads New Zealand’s Textile Reuse Programme, and has clients as diverse as Wellington Zoo and Starbucks. TEDx speaker Bernadette is invited to lecture around the globe.

Travelling to Italy for a Formary project, she stayed on to complete a Master’s degree. Her research explored ethical consumer behaviour and won University of Liverpool Dissertation of the Year.

Ezel Kokcu: Passphere CEO

Female-led tech start-ups are rare, yet before turning 25, and with two patented innovations to her name, Ezel had been founder, owner, partner and manager of three, attracting significant venture capital into New Zealand.

STQRY is the top tech provider for museums globally; Non-Stop Tix is an event ticketing platform that’s changing the industry; and Passphere is cutting-edge anti-scalping software. In March, Passphere and iTICKET merged and Ezel is now CEO. She’s also entrepreneur-in-residence of Te Papa’s Mahuki innovation incubator, and sits on the board of Student Job Search.

Helen Robinson: Oi co-founder/CEO

Taking a bold step for women’s health and the environment, Helen has revolutionised personal hygiene products.

Oi (Organic Initiative) is the fastest growing mainstream feminine hygiene brand here and has 11,000+ stockists in the US. Helen has long been a changemaker, from leading IT companies, to setting up environmental asset registry TZ1, to founding Valens Group to help career women build confidence. She was the inaugural chair of the N4L Network for Learning, giving schools access to digital education. In 2017, the mum-of-three was awarded an ONZM.

Josephine Gagan: New Zealand Health Group CEO

Former nurse Jo founded Geneva Healthcare in 1996 and now heads New Zealand Health Group. She has pioneered large-scale use of home-health innovations, including an app that supports carers and clients, and a free online platform that upskills carers.

Jo led Geneva Healthcare to receive the 2018 Best Practice Compact Award, and has been inducted into the New Zealand Hall of Fame for Women Entrepreneurs. She’s deputy chair of the Home & Community Health Association and chair of Minds for Minds charitable trust.


Eilish Wilkes: Charity volunteer

Diagnosed with an inoperable brain tumour when she was two, Eilish is legally blind and lives with ongoing, complex health issues as a result of both the cancer and the treatment, including migraines, chronic fatigue, severe anxiety and pain.

In between hospital appointments and treatments, and with the remaining energy she has, the 23-year-old supports charities such as Riding for the Disabled, is president of the Taupo branch of the Blind Foundation and she volunteers for the Child Cancer Foundation. A volunteer since the age of nine, the young leader says, “I want to give as much as I can, to as many people as I can.”

Jazz Thornton: Voices of Hope co-founder

As a teenager, having overcome childhood abuse and 14 suicide attempts, Jazz co-founded non-profit organisation Voices of Hope and has dedicated her life to advocating for others. The first short film she directed for Voices of Hope, Dear Suicidal Me, features suicide attempt survivors and has had more than 800 million views worldwide.

Through her actions, Jazz, who works unpaid, has saved lives and been part of the movement that helped to push the recent mental health reforms through to the tune of $1.9 billion.

Dr Robbie Francis The Lucy Foundation co-founder

A rare condition called phocomelia meant the bones in Robbie’s legs didn’t develop properly. Learning to walk on an artificial limb she called “Lucy leg”, she struggled to find role models who looked like her. At 16, she “came out” as a disabled person, painting Lucy Leg fluoro pink, and decided her disability was a strength.

It’s a resolve she uses for The Lucy Foundation, which supports disabled coffee growers and their families in a remote part of Mexico, as a peace and conflict-studies academic, disability leader and advocate.

Verna McFelin: Pillars CEO

Verna has spent 30 years advocating for Kiwi children with a parent in prison. In 1983 her husband was sentenced to 11 years in prison, and noticing the impact on her kids, she set up groups for those with parents in Christchurch’s Addington Remand Prison. In 1995, this group became Pillars.

Today Pillars provides nationwide support to 23,000 children of prisoners. In 2011, Verna was awarded the New Zealand Order of Merit for services to the community, and this year Pillars was named Community of the Year in the Kiwibank New Zealander of the Year Awards.

Dr Zhiyan Basharati: Christchurch Victims Organising Committee founder

In the wake of the Christchurch shootings, Zhiyan formed CVOC to assist survivors and victims’ families with translation and practical matters.

A refugee herself, who spent 11 years in a refugee camp in Iraq, Zhiyan’s wider community work promotes equity and inclusion in our society and includes being the current spokesperson and health coordinator for the Canterbury Refugee Resettlement & Resource Centre. She is also publicly calling for ACC to widen its mental health eligibility to sufferers of psychological trauma.


Dianne Daniels: The Digital Wings Trust Programme director

Former teacher and domestic abuse survivor Dianne is a champion of the under-served and socially excluded. Fifteen years ago Di recognised the increasing influence of digital technologies and led the Computers in Homes programme from a one-school pilot into a national initiative, supporting 20,000 families.

In 2017, nearing retirement age and working pro bono for more than two years, she created Digital Wings to link corporate and government organisations with the community for the donation of surplus computer equipment.

She was awarded the MNZM (New Zealand Order of Merit) in 2018 for Services to Digital Literacy and Education.

Haritina Mogosanu: Space Place at Carter Observatory Senior Science Communicator

How many people have an asteroid named after them? Haritina does! Growing up in Romania, her love for space science was sparked by the life cycle of a star she read about in a dictionary.

But with employment in this field unlikely, she studied horticulture and environmental management. In 2005, she moved to NZ for our famous night sky, working at Wellington’s Carter Observatory and the Ministry of Primary Industries. For 14 years she has brought space science education to the masses, influencing thousands of students.

Edwina Mistry: Create Ops Founder

Having worked in the tech industry for more than 30 years, Edwina is passionate about encouraging more youth, especially girls and Maori and Pasifika youth, to consider careers in technology – and she creates opportunities to help them achieve this. Edwina has started many initiatives in partnership with industry players, enabling school pupils to get experience and interact with businesses and industry leaders.

These include ShadowTech, which lets students experience a day in the life of an IT professional, and jhack which saw 300 students mentored on coding using Minecraft.

Dr Pushpa Wood: Westpac Massey Fin-Ed Centre director

While New Zealand is doing well in terms of global ratings for financial literacy, Pushpa says there are gaps in knowledge among youth, and Maori and Pasifika people. A recognised international expert in financial literacy, she has conducted 30 years of high-quality research and translated this into ‘real world’ training resources.

She’s worked across the school, tertiary, NGO and business sectors. She was the first woman and the first New Zealander to be awarded an ONZM for services to Financial Literacy and Interfaith Relations.

Dr Susan Foster-Cohen: The Champion Centre director

Susan has led The Champion Centre for 15 years. A highly regarded early-intervention-services centre in Christchurch, its multi-disciplinary team provides quality education, health and social support to close to 200 children with disabilities at any one time.

She is an active researcher into the development of children with disabilities, and has shared her work internationally in conferences and journals.

Susan has assisted several other not-for-profits, including developing resources for the NZ Down Syndrome Association.

Health & Science

Professor Diana Sarfati: Cancer & chronic conditions research group director

Cancer death rates are higher for Maori than for non-Maori, so for the first two decades of her research career, Diana focused on uncovering inequalities in the health system. She then focused on fixing cancer policy, becoming the power behind a conference that spawned the new national cancer plan, and was the driving force behind a landmark petition for a national cancer agency.

The single mum is also a world expert on multiple topics, runs a university department and sits on Ministry of Health and international committees.

Dr Max Berry: Neonatologist/lecturer/director

A mother-of-two, Max works with the smallest and sickest babies at the Wellington Neonatal Intensive Care Unit, gaining the NICU a globally impressive success rate; is a senior lecturer in paediatrics and child health at the University of Otago, Wellington; director of the Centre for Translational Physiology; academic leader of the Biomedical Research Unit; and leader of the Perinatal & Developmental Physiology Group.

Working with scientists and doctors worldwide, her groups develop best care practices and investigate the impact of early-life adversity.

Dr Elizabeth Iorns: Science Exchange CEO

Elizabeth is an innovator transforming scientific research. She co-founded Perception Biosystems, a gene therapy company, and Science Exchange in Silicon Valley, which is a market leader in outsourcing research and development. She is also a biotech expert at Y Combinator, an incubator that funds start-ups; and speaks at ‘thought leadership’ events.

In 2012, she co-launched the Reproducibility Initiative, which assists researchers to validate their findings. Her own research has identified mechanisms of breast cancer development and progression.

Dr Iona Weir: Bionona CEO

Iona was the first in the world to show that programmed cell death occurs in plants and (unlike in humans) is reversible. The research is applicable in cancer treatment, skincare, immune function, digestive health, and the development of crops.

Making a bold foray into the commercial world, she became a director and CEO of multiple companies, and has founded several others. An inventor of skin and gut healing products, she’s also a mother of two, CEO of Bionona and executive director/CSO of Tawhiwhi Bioactives, which develops commercial products using traditional Maori medicine.

Dr Karen Waldie: Associate Professor of developmental neuropsychology

Karen has studied childhood learning difficulties for more than 20 years and made many vital discoveries. Having moved to New Zealand in 1998, she led a team at University of Auckland running neuroimaging scans comparing children functioning normally and those with dyslexia, ADHD and autism.

As a result, the Ministry of Education formally recognised dyslexia for the first time in 2007. Karen’s research has informed several programmes, including her own, MovinCog, which uses computer games to help ‘rewire’ children’s brains.

Kendra Cocksedge: Black Ferns player

After first picking up a rugby ball at age four, Kendra has had an outstanding career, which she builds on each season with the Black Ferns and her provincial side, Canterbury.

One of the best halfbacks in the world, she has won an avalanche of awards, including being the first woman to win New Zealand’s Rugby Player of the Year Award.

Kendra works full-time as New Zealand Rugby’s women’s development manager for the Crusaders region and gives back by mentoring young players and changing minds about what women can achieve.

Laura Langman: Silver Ferns captain

Epitomising what it means to be a Silver Fern, Laura leads by example on the court. Her name has been the first to be chosen when it comes to selecting the national team since making her debut in 2005 and she’s now our most-capped Silver Fern.

Laura has won Commonwealth Games gold twice and attended four World Cups, captaining the Silver Ferns to a win in July. She sets the bar high when it comes to fitness, has a performance record few athletes could rival, and after more than a decade at the top, remains at the peak of her power.

Neelu Jennings: Limitless with Support director

At 16, an autoimmune reaction left Neelu unable to swallow, see, sit, stand or speak. Rehab saw her recover most of her functions, but her coordination is impaired and she has only 30% of her sight.

Despite this, she gained a Master’s in disability policy, worked for community and government, and founded a charity, Limitless with Support which pairs able-bodied and disabled people with common interests. The new mum is also an endurance athlete, and the first legally blind person to complete the Coast to Coast and Crazyman races.

Noeline Taurua: Silver Ferns head coach

In the space of a few months, head coach Noeline transformed the Silver Ferns from a team short on direction to champions. Coming to the role less than a year out from the 2019 Netball World Cup, she guided them to the title for the first time in 16 years.

A trans-Tasman force, she also coaches the Sunshine Coast Lightning team. A former Silver Fern herself, the mum-of-five has a knack for building successful teams (including Southern Steel and Waikato Bay of Plenty Magic), and has earned global praise, being called the world’s best netball coach.

Sally Morrison: Cricket Wellington and Wellington Hockey chair/ Change the Narrative director

‘First lady of cricket’ Sally has toiled as a volunteer in cricket governance for nearly 30 years, advocating that women get a fair go. In 2009, she was the first woman elected onto Cricket Wellington’s board and is now the first female chair of this – or any – Kiwi cricket association.

Sally’s trailblazing has seen an increase in female cricketers in Wellington and in funding for the women’s game. Sally also directs her own consultancy, Change the Narrative, working for diversity in rugby.

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