Top row, left to right: Alannah Wesche, Denise Astill, Annika Andresen. Second row: Dr Robbie Francis, Rebecca Magdalinos, Jane Henley. Third row: Debbie Sorensen, Khylee Quince, Kudzai Zvenyika. Bottom row: Jennifer Ward-Lealand-Te Atamira, Gill Gatfield, Pam Ford. Portraits by Vicki Leopold

From young women supporting education for girls in Nepal and fundraising to protect the oceans to a Pasifika peoples health leader and icon of the theatre world, these women are leading the way in New Zealand and abroad.

Alannah Wesche

Director of GEE Nepal Charitable Trust, Student. Women of Influence Finalist - Young Leader

At just 21 years old, Alannah Wesche is the director of  GEE Nepal Charitable Trust. In her last year of school, Alannah heard about the work of Firefly Children’s Home in Nepal where NZ woman Amanda McKay established a home for children rescued from prisons. After initially offering to volunteer at the home that summer, Alannah was asked to re-establish a girls’ education programme previously known as GEN. Three years later, GEE Nepal now sponsors 70 young girls’ education in three regions of Nepal. The charity has eight staff in Nepal and a team of fundraisers and awareness-raisers in New Zealand. Alannah juggles the work of running the trust with studies and work. As her nominator for Women of Influence said: “Alannah Wesche is what I envision a modern leader and social influencer should be. She is the woman you want your daughter to aspire to be like.”

Denise Astill

Founder and CEO FACSNZ. Women of Influence Finalist - Innovation and Science

Denise Astill was on epilepsy medication when she became pregnant with her twin girls. She was advised to keep taking the drugs as there were no known side effects for unborn babies. But as the girls grew up, Denise recognised they displayed many difficulties, including global development impairments, and eventually they were diagnosed with Foetal Valproate Syndrome – a rare condition leading to physical and developmental delays occurring from an unborn baby being exposed to valproic acid. Denise’s girls were the first cases to be accepted by ACC in 2008 under ACC Treatment Injury and in 2015 Denise founded Foetal Anti-Convulsant Syndrome New Zealand - FACSNZ. Since then, FACSNZ has educated health professionals and consumers including getting warnings on medication packaging, getting an ACC FACS Prevention Team formed, and presenting to the World Health Organization.

Annika Andresen

Dive instructor, Marine educator. Women of Influence Finalist - Young Leader

As an educator for Blake – the new incarnation of the Sir Peter Blake Trust - Annika Andresen travels around schools and has educated over 20,000 children about the marine environment using cutting edge virtual reality technology. In her role as a diving guide, she has guided over 600 divers opening their eyes to the beauty and fragility of the marine ecosystem. In 2016, Annika was on a team that travelled to Antarctica to do conservation work on Sir Edmund Hillary’s hut and in 2017 as part of the Red Socks Challenge she raised over $1,600 for environmental education. “I want to nominate Annika for this award, as I strongly believe she is a catalyst for change, and has immense potential to influence this - and the next - generation’s awareness of the importance of the marine world - and to seek solutions.”

Dr Robbie Francis

Human rights researcher, Disability rights advocate, Founder The Lucy Foundation. Women of Influence Finalist - Global

Born with phocomelia syndrome, Roberta Francis learned to walk using an artificial limb called 'Lucy Leg'. With a background in Israeli-Palestinian peacebuilding, Robbie is an advocate for disability rights who has worked with disabled people in Bangladesh, India, France, and Ecuador. She has documented abuse of disabled women in Latin America, worked with landmine victims in Colombia and she is now Senior Human Rights Researcher at the Donald Beasley Institute where she leads the Disabled Person-Led Monitoring of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities in New Zealand. In her spare time she runs The Lucy Foundation. The Lucy Foundation works with coffee farmers in the Oaxaca region of Mexico who engage with Robbie's team to sustainably grow Pluma coffee which is then exported to New Zealand. In Mexico, processing the coffee provides paid work to disabled people, many of whom have never before been part of a workforce.

Rebecca Magdalinos

Engineer, RNZAF, Officer in Charge - School to Skies, Programme Lead – Operation Tangata Kanorau. Women of Influence Finalist - Innovation and Science

With a passion for bringing young people and diversity into the Air Force and into STEM subjects (Aviation Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics), Rebecca Magdalinos – “George” -  leads both the RNZAF’s School to Skies programme and Operation Tangata Kanorau. School to Skies is a Tech and Aviation residential camp for Year 13 girls helping  young women navigate the post-year-13 transition and find their ‘fit’ in the Air Force. To date it has graduated 134 students. Operation Tangata Kanorau is an engagement and outreach programme in which Air Force personnel talk to students aiming to bring science alive, provide context to careers, identify pathways, foster curiosity and build confidence in STEM. To date is has engaged 27,000 school students. As well as a devotion to education, George was a founding member of the NZDF LGBTI+ support network, OverWatch.

Jane Henley

Global Operations Manager, Green Building, World Bank Group. Women of Influence Finalist - Global

With the building and construction industry responsible for 33 percent of carbon emissions and 30 to 40 percent of energy consumption worldwide, Jane Henley’s work is a key solution to stimulating the response needed to address climate change. Jane has been at the forefront of systemic change in the building and construction industry internationally for the past 10 years. This has involved working with governments on policies and incentives for sustainable building, as well as providing industry with the standards, knowledge and motivation to embrace this as a new way of delivering their products and services. Her role at the World Bank was focused on enabling Financial Institutions to use Sustainable Banking Products to de-risk their portfolios. In Janes role as global operations manager of green building for the World Bank’s private sector arm, the International Finance Corporation (IFC), Jane managed a USD$21 million portfolio of advisory projects in seven rapidly urbanizing countries, to pave the way for $500 million in investments to numerous banks - to stimulate new sustainable banking products.

Debbie Sorensen

CEO Pasifika Futures. Women of Influence Finalist - Public Policy

Debbie Sorensen is a Pacific health leader in New Zealand and the region. Debbie led the development of the Pasifika Medical Association and the Whānau Ora Commissioning agency, Pasifika Futures Limited. To date, Pasifika Futures has engaged 27% of the Pacific population in New Zealand and supported over 81,000 Pacific people and over 15,000 Pacific families to achieve their goals across health, education, economics, culture and leadership. Debbie established the Otahuhu College Health Science Academy, the Moana Pacific Women’s Network and set up the Pasifika Medical Association Education Fund providing 10 scholarships to young Pacific men and women to pursue their dreams in medicine, nursing and health science. Debbie’s voluntary work includes Fred Hollows Foundation, Make a Wish Pacific and numerous community organisations. She also provides voluntary health advice and services to the Kingdom of Tonga and the Cook Islands government. She was invested by His Majesty King Tupou VI as a Commander Royal Crown of Tonga for Services to the people of Tonga.

Khylee Quince

Associate Professor, Associate Head of Law School, Auckland University of Technology. Women of Influence Finalist - Public Policy

Khylee Quince is a law lecturer of 22 years, a proud Māori woman who “speaks up and out, on behalf of Māori  and Pasifika”. Khylee has worked with Chief Justice Dame Helen Winkelmann to embed diversity into professional development for judges. In 2015, following reports of a series of incidents involving summer clerks at law firm Russell McVeagh, Khylee exposed a long history of similar incidents. Her whistleblowing led to media coverage and eventually a review conducted by Dame Margaret Bazely. "Khylee Quince found the extraordinary courage to confront this situation and hold this business to account for its actions. Her courage, commitment and purpose can only be admired."

Kudzai Zvenyika

Chiropractor and Founder of Spine Health Africa. Women of Influence Finalist - Young Leader

Kudzai Zvenyika is the founder of Spine Health Africa. She was inspired by the health system in New Zealand where basic health needs are met and she wanted to create the same opportunities for those in rural African communities who are not as privileged. Kudzai is a chiropractor and with the support of other volunteer chiropractors, she was able to successfully treat hundreds of people in Zimbabwe’s Gutu District on a trip in 2018. Kudzai and a new team of chiropractors and physiotherapists will be making this a yearly mission in which they will provide pro bono services to rural African communities where there is a lack of basic health care, especially of musculoskeletal diseases. "Kudzai has influenced many with her passion and love for what she does, she has shown others around her that what you have is enough to make a difference."

Jennifer Ward-Lealand – Te Atamira  

Actor, Director, Patron, Teacher, Intimacy Coordinator. Women of Influence Finalist - Arts and Culture

Jennifer Ward-Lealand is a stalwart of the performing arts community of Aotearoa.  Along with her professional work as an actor and director, she is also President of Equity New Zealand, co-founder of Watershed Theatre, a co-founder of The Actors’ Program, a trust board member of The Actors Benevolent Fund, 2018 SPADA/Data Book Industry Champion, Patron of The Auckland Performing Arts Centre (since its inception in 2000), and Patron of Q Theatre (since its inception in 2011).  She was part of the group that influenced council to create Q after The Watershed Theatre was closed down in 1996.   A recent role for Jennifer is as intimacy coordinator for stage and screen where she is one of the pioneers of this important emerging field.  As a mentor and teacher, she inspires through her involvement in screen and theatre work and as a direct mentor to emerging actors, filmmakers and writers.  She also has an unparalleled commitment and passion for tikanga and te reo Māori and was gifted the name Te Atamira (The Stage) by Sir Timoti Karetu and the late Dr Te Wharehuia Milroy for her championing of te reo throughout the performing arts community.  For her services to theatre, film and television she has been awarded an ONZM and a CNZM.

Gill Gatfield

Sculptor, Lawyer, Author, Human Rights Advocate. Women of Influence Finalist - Arts and Culture, Diversity

Gill Gatfield is a world-leading sculptor who makes monumental and beautiful works carrying powerful messages about women’s rights, diversity and humanity. She was sole juror of the 18th International Open 2015 in Chicago, an open competition for women artists worldwide, and was artist in residence at the Women's Museum Denmark. Gill exhibited at the Venice Architecture Biennale in 2018 and was the 2019 Sculpture Fellow at Vermont Studio Centre USA. Before becoming a sculptor, Gill worked in law reform at the NZ Law Society and the Ministry for Women developing policy in pornography law reform, child support tax, employment equity, and women in combat. She is the author of a landmark book on women in the law titled Without Prejudice.

Pam Ford

General Manager, Economic Development, Auckland Tourism, Events and Economic Development (ATEED). Women of Influence Finalist - Public Policy

One of New Zealand’s foremost economic development leaders, Pam is committed to using her knowledge, experience, intuition and influence to build inclusive prosperity. As GM of Economic Development at ATEED, the region’s economic development agency, she leads international business and investment attraction, innovation, business growth, and sector and skills development. She is also the newly-appointed chair of the national professional body, Economic Development New Zealand (EDNZ). A skilled, influential and authentic networker, Pam is one of those people who seems to know everyone, and is universally respected. She is a strong advocate of inclusive economic development and champions New Zealand's cultural diversity as one of our best features as a region and a nation.