University of Canterbury Young New Zealander of the Year Award – Te Mātātahi o te Tau

The New Zealander of the Year Awards celebrate people who use their passion for New Zealand to make our country a better place.

Congratulations to the 2023 University of Canterbury Young New Zealander of the Year Shaneel Lal.

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. The award will recognise a young person aged 15 to 30 who has great potential to have an impact on the future of Aotearoa, and has been striving during the previous year to improve themselves and their whole community.

Tumu Whakarae | Vice-Chancellor Professor Cheryl de la Rey said, “The University of Canterbury is committed to empowering Young New Zealanders across Aotearoa to make a difference especially now, as the world continues to face complex challenges connected to the pandemic, climate change and wellbeing. UC is pleased to celebrate these young leaders and support their success as they make positive impacts in their communities”


Celebrating 2023 Finalists

Finalists for the 2023 University of Canterbury Young New Zealander of the Year Award - Te Mātātahi o te Tau have been announced. Congratulations to Elliot Jones, Georgia Latu, and Shaneel Lal for being recognised as finalists for this prestigious award.


Elliot Jones, Young New Zealander of the Year finalist

One in ten New Zealanders have dyslexia. Elliot Jones, a 17-year-old school student, is one of
them – and he’s made it his mission to ‘lift the cloak of shame’: transforming the way everyday New
Zealanders see and understand dyslexia. In February 2021, Elliot began to map out his vision for a
documentary that would disrupt assumptions, stigma, and negative narratives around what dyslexia
is, and instead make dyslexic thinking synonymous with entrepreneurship, big thinking, innovation,
creative and business leadership. Through good old-fashioned cold-calling, Elliot enlisted a
powerful cohort of speakers to share their stories. The result, Unlocking Potential, premiered to a
sold out audience, and its message has since reached over 750,000 New Zealanders. In addition,
Elliot himself raised over $60,000 dollars through sponsorship and donations with all money going
directly to the Dyslexia Foundation. The cumulative impacts of his efforts are now considered a
breakthrough for dyslexia in New Zealand.

Georgia Latu, Young New Zealander of the Year finalist

Dunedin-based high school student Georgia Latu (Kāi Tahu, Ngāpuhi) started making poi when she
was just 12 years old. Four years later her business, Pōtiki Poi, is the biggest poi manufacturer in
the world. Committed to keeping her environmental and social values front and centre, Latu uses
second hand materials and biodegrading plastic where possible to make her poi, employing a staff
of whānau and friends from the Dunedin hāpori – all paid the living wage. During Covid-19, Latu
and her Mum kept busy working on a book, Ngā Mihi, which speaks to the whakapapa of poi. In
2022, Pōtiki Poi secured a supply contract for the Rugby World Cup, taking over the women's final
with thousands of twirling poi.

Shaneel Lal, Young New Zealander of the Year finalist

Shaneel Lal is many things – an LGBTQIA+ activist, a writer and journalist, a political commentator
and a University student. Through it all, they have been a consistent and courageous voice for
thousands of people across Aotearoa, calling out injustice and empowering others to stand up for
what they believe in. As a survivor of conversion therapy, Lal founded the Conversion Therapy
Action Group. Lal spearheaded the movement to end conversion therapy in Aotearoa New
Zealand, successfully passing legislation in 2022 after a five-year campaign. Lal is advocating to
protect queer people under hate speech laws and change the blood donation policies to ease the
process for gay and bisexual men to donate blood. Lal has served as an executive board member
of Rainbow Youth and Auckland Pride Festival and is a trustee of Adhikaar Aotearoa. In the face of
racism, criticism and bigotry, Shaneel has continued to raise their voice for queer and indigenous
communities across Aotearoa.

Ruby Tui, New Zealander of the Year finalist

Congratulations also to UC alumni Ruby Tui for being nominated a finalist in the Kiwibank New Zealander of the Year Award. Ruby graduated with a Bachelor of Arts and a Major in Media and Communication and English from UC.

Moments after the Black Ferns celebrated their incredible success at the 2022 Rugby World Cup, Ruby Tui led the 42,000-strong-crowd (the largest to have ever attended a women’s sports event in New Zealand) in a rousing version of Tūtira Mai Ngā Iwi. The moment encapsulated so much of what New Zealanders have come to know and love about Tui: her energy, her heart, and her passion for Women’s Rugby. Shortly after their nail-biting win, Tui was named the 15s breakthrough player of the year at the 2022 World Rugby Awards in Monaco. No stranger to success, Tui won an Olympic Silver medal in 2016 and a Rugby World Cup Sevens title in 2018, going onto win Gold at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. However, her impact goes well beyond international awards – inspiring young players across the world, and fundamentally changing the way New Zealanders think about Women’s Rugby.