Anti-violence campaigner and the mother of Sophie Elliott, whose life was brutally taken, has overcome personal tragedy to be named the Supreme Winner at the Women of Influence Awards at Auckland’s SkyCity last night.
After witnessing the death of her beloved daughter at the hands of a former boyfriend, Lesley Elliott started the Sophie Elliott Foundation, an organisation aimed at preventing violence against women through education and empowerment. She has channelled her energy, time and resources into helping others foster healthy relationships through the foundation’s Loves-Me-Not programme and other interventions.
Now in its second year, the Women of Influence Awards celebrate the bold, energetic women helping shape the future of New Zealand. A partnership between Fairfax Media NZ and Westpac NZ, the awards are judged in eight categories; Board and Management, Local and Regional, Business Entrepreneur, Community, Social Enterprise, Innovation and Science, Arts and Emerging Leader.
Westpac’s General Manager Business Bank and Wealth and judge Simon Power said Lesley stood out as both the community category and supreme winner because of her enormous influence on New Zealand’s consciousness.
“Lesley’s bravery and courage in overcoming a personal tragedy, her quiet determination in the public arena to further this exceptionally worthwhile cause, and her direct and very real impact on public policy and political discussion make her a game changer. Her influence in this area of New Zealand consciousness is unequalled.”
In addition, the first Women of Influence Lifetime Achievement award was presented to Dame Malvina Major, recognising her success as one of New Zealand’s finest and most loved opera singers and a tireless worker in the community. Judge Dame Rosanne Meo said Major had been a giant figure in New Zealand and abroad in the Arts.
“Not only has she been one of our finest cultural exports, but she has been a tireless and selfless supporter in nurturing the generations that have followed her path. She has also raised literally millions of dollars in over 30 years of charitable work.”
Fairfax Media’s Managing Director Simon Tong said all of the finalists were accomplished and making a difference.
“We’re extremely pleased to say the number and calibre of entries this year has once again been impressive. The ongoing public support for the awards shows the importance New Zealanders feel in recognising the incredible achievements of Kiwi women. We hope that through the Women of Influence Awards we can create cause for not only celebration, but also aspiration.”
The judges’ panel, which included Dame Rosanne Meo, Dr Mary Quin, Therese Walsh, Simon Power, Peter Tennent and Lynley Belton, had the tough job of deliberating over a strong group of finalists.
Seven other category winners were also celebrated for accomplishments in their respective fields.
Traci Houpapa was selected as the winner of the DLA Phillips Fox Board and Management award. Women of Influence inaugural supreme winner and 2014 judge Therese Walsh praised Traci’s ability to lead in new and different ways in some tough environments. The judges were especially impressed by the progression made in her role as the first women chair of the Federation of Maori Authorities – the largest Maori Economic network in New Zealand.
In the outstanding field of finalists in the Social Enterprise category the judges could not separate joint winners Jo-Anne Wilkinson and Anne Miles who are both making extraordinary contributions to the youth of New Zealand.
Jo-Anne provided leadership to Foundation for Youth Development until recently stepping down as Executive Director. The organisation has grown to reach 18,000 young people a year through its programmes and national network of licensees. She continues as a Board Member for the Foundation along with other roles making a direct contribution to youth and families in NZ.
Anne was honoured for her hands-on and practical contribution to the academic achievement of young Maori and Pacifica women. As Principal of McAuley High School for more than a decade she has led a dramatic rise in achievement for her students. She also shares her experience through industry bodies and advice to the Ministry of Education.
Kerry Prendergast was selected as winner of the Local and Regional category, with the judges remarking on her sustained influence on Wellington City and its region through her 24 years as a Councillor, Deputy Mayor and Mayor.
Professor Margaret Brimble was recognised as an international influence in science and chosen as the MasterCard Innovation and Science category winner. The judges commended her for her extensive involvement and leadership in Medicinal Chemistry, with a widely acclaimed international reputation for innovative research, drug development, but still finding time for teaching and giving back to the sector.
The Westpac Hotpoints Emerging Leader category was taken out by young lawyer Althea Carbon. Judge Jamie Fitzgerald said Althea’s commitment to not just her own impressive personal achievements, but also to the performance of others is very hard to match – by anyone at any age.
A new category in 2014, Arts, was won by co-founder of the New Zealand Dance Company Shona McCullagh. The judges said Shona’s name was synonymous with contemporary Arts in New Zealand and her leadership was critical to the Arts community.
Publishing matriarch Dame Wendy Pye was recognised as the winner of the AUT Business School Business Entrepreneur category. Judge Peter Tennent said “Dame Wendy is an absolute inspiration. Her educational products are now sold in over 20 countries, with sales of over 218 million copies. Every day this woman of influence reminds us all what is possible.”
For more about the finalists and category winners, click here.