Ardern wins Harvard award for leadership

Ben McKay
·2-min read

Jacinda Ardern has been recognised with an international leadership award by the Harvard Kennedy School but has passed on the $US150,000 prize to Kiwis studying at the prestigious US university.

The New Zealand prime minister has been named the recipient of the Centre for Public Leadership's 2020 Gleitsman International Activist Award.

The award has been won previously by South African revolutionary Nelson Mandela, East Timorese independence leader Jose Ramos-Horta and US civil rights icon John Lewis.

Harvard Kennedy School professor Wendy R. Sherman said she was "thrilled" by Ms Ardern's acceptance.

"The prime minister exemplifies principled, effective and just leadership," Ms Sherman said.

Ms Ardern has requested the prize, worth $A205,000, go towards a scholarship for a New Zealander studying at Harvard Kennedy School.

A spokeswoman said the PM's "normal practice was to decline awards".

"But in this instance we were able to convert it into a scholarship for a New Zealander to go to Harvard," she said.

Ms Ardern will be honoured in a virtual ceremony next month.

While she passed on the prize money, winners also receive a sculpture by renowned artist Maya Lin.

Ms Ardern first rose to international prominence in the aftermath of last year's Christchurch Mosques shooting, when 51 worshippers were killed.

Her pitch-perfect call for compassion while disavowing the racist motivations behind the attack was globally lauded.

The 40-year-old cemented her place as a rock star for the global left by passing the Zero Carbon Act and running a health-first strategy to successfully eliminate COVID-19.

Ms Sherman cited both New Zealand's public health response to the pandemic and Ms Ardern's response to the terror attack as reasons to award the 40-year-old with the prize.

"She has wielded a steady and swift hand, an open mind, and a keen reflection of her entire community in meeting challenges of terror, earthquakes and now COVID-19," Ms Sherman said.

"The prime minister reminds all of us that strength, compassion, science, clear communications, humility and activism go hand in hand to create positive results."