Say hello to New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern. Her name has been making the rounds on social media this week after she topped Fortune’s list of the world’s greatest leaders. Let’s get to know her:
Where it started
In her teenage years, Ardern did campaign work for New Plymouth MP Harry Duynhoven from the Labour Party during his re-election campaign in 1999. She joined Young Labour and became a senior figure within the movement. Her passion for politics continued into her education, with Ardern receiving a Bachelor of Communication Studies in politics and public relations.
After moving and working in the UK Cabinet Office for former Prime Minister Tony Blair, Ardern returned to New Zealand in 2008 where she became an elected Member of Parliament (MP) for the Labour Party (centre-left wing). Her time as an MP focused on eradicating child poverty and supporting gay rights. She held a variety of roles while in Parliament and eventually worked her way up to becoming Leader of the Opposition.
Ardern took her role as Leader of the Opposition just seven weeks before the 2017 general election, which she eventually won. That election story and her win are quite interesting, read more here.
There have been some defining moments in her leadership as Prime Minister. Commentators widely praised Ardern’s strong, yet empathetic approach when comforting family and friends of victims of the Christchurch terrorist attack in 2019. “You may have chosen us, but we utterly reject and condemn you”, she said to the attacker in an address hours after the attack. She also introduced gun restrictions soon after the attack.
Ardern has also been commended for her leadership throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, making fast yet difficult decisions. After implementing self-isolation, lockdowns and border restrictions during the earlier part of the pandemic, it left New Zealand almost COVID-19 free. Ardern’s use of Instagram Live during this period was celebrated by younger populations. Critics of the PM pointed to the effects of these lockdowns on the economy, however.
While Ardern is sometimes seen as a bit of a celebrity (especially on social media), it’s important to note her overseas popularity is not always reflected domestically. She has been criticised for not delivering on some of the promises made during the 2017 election. She also received criticism from conservatives on her progressive policies, including the decision to ban offshore oil exploration. In 2020, New Zealand had a general election, and prior to the pandemic, polls indicated that the race was close. However, Ardern’s response to the pandemic was received positively, ultimately leading her to win in a landslide later that year.
Although growing up Mormon, she now identifies as agnostic. Ardern has described herself as a progressive and social democrat as well as a feminist. These values play an important role in her leadership and politics, and the issues she supports. Some (there’s many more of course) of her values, beliefs, and stance on issues include:
- Supports same-sex marriage
- Lower rates of immigration but increase in refugee intake
- Supports decriminalising abortion
- Ardern is a republican, meaning she supports New Zealand’s system of government changing from a constitutional monarchy to a republic