Jacinda Ardern promotes consensus in leadership as she accepts $215k Harvard award

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has today been recognised for her leadership with an international award from Harvard Kennedy School.  

In November, Ardern joined names like Pakistani education activist Malala Yousafzai and South African revolutionary Nelson Mandela as a recipient of the Centre for Public Leadership's 2020 Gleitsman International Activist Award.

The award came with a US$150,000 (NZ$215,000) prize, which Ardern had passed on to Kiwis studying at Harvard Kennedy School, the public policy school of Harvard University.

“When I was first approached about this award, I did express some hesitancy,” she said at the virtual ceremony for the award this morning. 

“For anyone who knows New Zealand, you’ll know that, by nature, we’re reluctant to place much stock on individual actions, let alone individual acknowledgments.”

Ardern told the thousands who tuned into the livestream from around the world that when the school accepted her proposal to turn the prize money into a scholarship, it was only then that she knew she would accept the award. 

She told the story of her Mormon upbringing in Waikato, and how she became a reluctant politician and then Prime Minister. 

Ardern said she wanted to see more young people in politics, and diversity in leadership styles and leaders.  

Even she questioned at first whether she'd survive in politics, she said.

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“If we do not see ourselves in the role models and leaders in front of us, how can we possibly imagine we could do that too?” 

She added: "You do not have to have personal ambition to be the leader. You do not have to be the loudest person in the room. 

"You can believe in consensus more than you believe in conflict."

She was asked what the US could learn from New Zealand's handling of the pandemic.

"Because we put people first, and because our view was that the best chance of our economy thriving was our people thriving, we immediately pivoted our strategy. We said we need to move to elimination," Ardern said in response.

Harvard Kennedy School director of the Center for Public Leadership Wendy Sherman said Ardern exemplified the values of social activism and public service.  

“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. 

“The Prime Minister reminds all of us that strength, compassion, science, clear communications, humility and activism go hand in hand to create positive results.”