Five of the Kiwibank Local Hero of the Year semi-finalists (Images: Supplied; additional design: Tina Tiller)
Five of the Kiwibank Local Hero of the Year semi-finalists (Images: Supplied; additional design: Tina Tiller)

BusinessJanuary 26, 2022

Meet the local heroes at the heart of Aotearoa’s communities

Five of the Kiwibank Local Hero of the Year semi-finalists (Images: Supplied; additional design: Tina Tiller)
Five of the Kiwibank Local Hero of the Year semi-finalists (Images: Supplied; additional design: Tina Tiller)

The Kiwibank Local Hero of the Year is due to be announced at the end of March. Now, the judges have the hard task of selecting from the pool of individuals creating positive change in their communities. 

The Kiwibank Local Hero of the Year, Te Pou Toko o te Tau, award was established to recognise those putting in the hard yards for their communities and taking extraordinary action to make Aotearoa a better place. These are the people that unite us through their tireless work for others. Individually, they are the people having meaningful impact in their respective communities. Collectively, these outstanding individuals remind us of the true spirit of New Zealand, and reflect the mana of this prestigious award.

These local heroes are the students fighting for equality, the former addicts fighting for sobriety and the mums feeding the kids. 

The awards tautoko the mahi that has kept communities afloat and full of hope during an unprecedented and difficult time in Aotearoa. They are a celebration of the people who keep the lights on, whether in the school hall or the wharekai.

This year’s nominees showcase the richness and breadth of the pockets of selfless community campaigners across Aotearoa. They advocate for food rescue, an end to domestic violence and child poverty, and the economic revival of some of the most marginalised communities in the country. During a tough couple of years for Aotearoa, they have connected people, given them a purpose, and given them hope at a time when those values were in short supply.

Hundreds of amazing individuals were nominated from across the country. From that group the top 100 were recognised as local hero medallists for their contributions. Now, 10 semi finalists have been selected from that group.

The 2021 semi finalists are:

Alice Mander (Wellington)

Alice Mander (Image: Supplied)

As tertiary institutions moved online during the Covid-19 pandemic, law student and activist Alice Mander wondered why remote learning had taken so long. Living with muscular dystrophy, she advocates for accessibility and an end to ableism across Aotearoa’s tertiary institutions. Founder and president of the National Disabled Students’ Association, a national representative body for disabled students, Mander writes with a sharp wit and powerful voice across publications including The Spinoff and Victoria University of Wellington’s Salient magazine on the issues and disparities facing the disabled student community. Following Mander’s campaigning, VUW instituted a pastoral care code for students in 2021. 

Brendon Warne (Auckland)

Brendon Warne (Image: Supplied)

From addiction to activism, Anti-P Ministry founder Brendon Warne’s journey has inspired thousands of former drug users to free themselves from the vice grip of substance abuse. Warne (Ngāi Tahu) founded the ministry to bring people together to share their experiences with addiction, creating a community of almost 7,000 members and a network of walk-in clinics, online support groups and even an app to support recovery. Following increasing demand for face-to-face support, the Anti-P Ministry crowdfunded a mobile clinic and hit the road, supporting whānau one stop – and step – at a time. 

Caroline Herewini MNZM (Porirua)

Caroline Herewini (Image: Supplied)

Caroline Herewini MNZM (Ngāti Kahungunu/Ngāi Tuhoe) is a human rights advocate who works to end all forms of violence against women and children. Kaiwhakahaere of Te Whare Tiaki Wāhine Refuge Charitable Trust for more than two decades, Herewini is a founding member of the Everywoman Treaty Global Coalition and the International Network to End Violence Against Women and Girls. Her advocacy is underpinned by te Tiriti o Waitangi, bringing an indigenous approach to refuge services and providing spaces grounded in aroha and manaakitanga for the victims of domestic violence. Herewini has been a keynote speaker at international conferences from Mexico to the Hague, and remains based in the field in Porirua. 

Dame Areta Koopu DNZM (Auckland)

Dame Areta Koopu (Image: Supplied)

Dame Areta Koopu (Te Aitanga a Hauiti, Ngāti Konohi & Ngāti Kahu) is a former Māori Women’s Welfare League President, Human Rights Commissioner, Waitangi Tribunal member, and mother and grandmother. A veteran social worker and activist, her work in establishing kohanga reo and promoting te reo Māori in schools is esteemed throughout Aotearoa. Koopu has also campaigned for women’s rights and access to health care, particularly cervical cancer screening. A member of the Māori Women’s Development committee, Koopu advocates for Māori women in business, financing and empowering their organisations. Now an octogenarian, Koopu continues to work for the welfare of tangata Māori across Aotearoa. 

Dave Letele (Henderson)

Dave Letele (Image: File)

After losing almost 100kg in a journey to save his own life, Dave Letele (Ngāti Maniapoto) founded the not-for-profit Brown Buttabean Motivation programme in Manukau to change the lives of Māori and Pasifika facing obesity. Today, BBM is a community of thousands of whānau with access to free weight-loss plans, foodbanks, community kitchens and gyms across Auckland. Letele, a former professional boxer, is a community leader, motivational speaker and social media star. 

Deborah Manning (Auckland)

Deborah Manning (Image: Supplied)

In just 10 years, Deborah Manning’s KiwiHarvest has rescued almost seven million kilograms of edible nutritious food destined for the landfill, redistributing it to whānau in need across Aotearoa and preventing 17.5 million kilograms of landfill-based carbon equivalent emissions. A former lawyer turned social entrepreneur, Manning founded the New Zealand Food Network in 2020 to enhance the storage facilities and nationwide infrastructure used by organisations like KiwiHarvest, connecting those with food to donate to those who need it. Together with KiwiHarvest, the NZFN has since redistributed almost four million kilograms of food to iwi, food banks and food rescues countrywide, providing more than 28 million meals since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic. 

Matt Dagger (Wellington)

Matt Dagger (Image: Supplied)

Founder of Kaibosh, New Zealand’s first food rescue agency, Matt Dagger has led food rescue efforts for more than a decade, raising awareness of food waste and fighting food insecurity. Dagger, chair of the Aotearoa Food Rescue Alliance, manages a team of more than 250 volunteers across Wellington and liaises with 25 food rescue charities across Aotearoa to eliminate food waste and poverty. 

Panapa Te Wheru Ehau (Gisborne)

Panapa Ehau (Image: Supplied)

Panapa Te Wheru Ehau (Ngāti Uepohatu/Ngāti Porou) is the co-founder and director of social enterprise Hikurangi Enterprises and pharmaceutical cannabis firm Rua Bioscience. A father of four from Ruatōria, Ehau champions projects that increase the wellbeing of whānau and whenua in the Waiapu Valley and Te Tairawhiti, some of the most marginalised communities in Aotearoa. Ehau is co-founder of Te Mahere Whakauka/The Hope Project, a nationwide network of 40 Māori-led enterprises creating jobs, campaigning for food security for tangata whenua, reestablishing indigenous ngahere and establishing papakāinga.

Sian Neary (Auckland)

Sian Neary (Image: Supplied)

In 2020, the Graeme Dingle Foundation celebrated its 25th year of empowering rangatahi through school-based programmes that build self-confidence via outdoor learning and mentorship. But as Covid spread throughout the country, and tamariki stayed home, the foundation was faced with the challenge of moving their programmes online. And so, as Aotearoa went into lockdown, general manager Sian Neary took the foundation’s approach online, partnering with TVNZ and the Ministry of Education to produce the Tamariki Talks series on Papa Kāinga TV. Aiming to connect tamariki with a learning curriculum at home, Tamariki Talks featured lessons around perseverance, self-discipline and problem solving. 

Te Warahi Kokowai Hetaraka (Whangārei)

Te Warahi Kokowai Hetaraka (Image: Supplied)

Tohunga whakairo Te Warihi Kokowai Hetaraka (Ngāti Wai/Ngā Puhi/Tainui) is a renowned teacher and mentor within Te Tai Tokerau. A cultural leader and artist, Hetaraka is the winner of the Outstanding Individual Contribution to the Arts award and the Creative New Zealand Kingi Ihaka award. A respected expert in whakairo, kapa haka, maramataka and te reo Māori, Herataka spent much of 2021 revitalising Ngāti Wai’s Wai 262 te Tiriti o Waitangi claim. Pou Whakahaere at Te Puni Kōkiri, Herataka’s lifework is sharing matauranga Māori with tamariki and taitamariki. 

Now the panel of judges have the difficult task of distilling the 10 semi finalists down to the three finalists announced in mid February. The winner will be announced at the Kiwibank New Zealander of the Year Awards on 31st March.


Made in partnership with Kiwibank, When the Facts Change is Bernard Hickey’s essential weekly guide to the intersection of economics, politics and business. Listen now on Apple Podcasts, Spotify or your favourite podcast provider.

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Mad Chapman, Editor
Aotearoa continues to adapt to a new reality and The Spinoff is right there, sorting fact from fiction to bring you the latest updates and biggest stories. Help us continue this coverage, and so much more, by supporting The Spinoff Members.Madeleine Chapman, EditorJoin Members

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