Top Samoan wins Women of Influence Lifetime Achievement Award

A well respected member of the Samoan community, Luamanuvao Dame Winne Laban, has won a lifetime achievement award at the 2020 Women of Influence Awards in New Zealand.

The award was presented on Tuesday night. Luamanuvao, who was New Zealand’s first female and Pacific Member of Parliament, and became a Dame Companion of the New Zealand Order of Merit in 2018, told local media her award is “about the collective.”

“They have a saying in Samoan, 'o le ala ile pule o le tautua' - your road to authority or power is serving,” she said.

Her award was in honour of service of Pacific women and to the education sector in her decade’s long career in the public service, which ramped up in 1999 when she first became a Member of Parliament. 

“For me, it's always been about the collective,” she said about her work.

“You think about women in your family and in your community - it was a true honour, but like I said, it honours those women who weren't there that also work tirelessly for the wellbeing of our peoples and our communities.”

Luamanuvao served four consecutive terms in Parliament, representing the Mana Electorate, before resigning in 2010 to become an Assistant Vice Chancellor at Victoria University of Wellington.

She is chair of the Public Services Commission Public Service Pacific Fale Governance Group; patron of the Wellington Pasifika Business Network and the Cancer Society Relay for Life; a Creative New Zealand Arts Council board member; and a member of the New Zealand Institute of Directors and the Council of the National University of Samoa.

Vice Chancellor of N.U.S. Professor Alec Ekeroma said it is a fantastic honour to have been awarded. 

“This is a fantastic award not only for herself and her achievements throughout, not only in Parliament, in community but also as an academic in Victoria University.

“She has achieved a lot and we are very fortunate to have someone of her calibre on our council.”

Professor Ekeroma said Luamanuvao was responsible for the universities programme to develop the academic side of the school of nursing, and her support and opinions are often sought by the other members of the N.U.S. council.

“She has got huge governance experience and of course contributes a lot of that experience and skills in governance to the N.U.S. Council.

“Her views are very much sought by other members, especially the ones based in Samoa. We refer back to her for her wisdom and experience when there are some issues.

“Especially last year when N.U.S. went through a turbulent time, she was very instrumental in getting N.U.S. to safer waters.”

Luamanuvao was born in Wellington to Samoan parents Ta'atofa Kenneth Laban and Emi Tunupopo. 

She has roots in Falefa, Faleaseela Lefaga, Vaiala, Falelatai and Safune.

When she became a Dame in 2018, she immediately thought of her parents, and her parents generation who left their island homes to seek opportunities for their children.

“Like many immigrants they had dreams for their children and they came here for education and opportunity,” she told Stuff at the time. 

“For me, I think of that generation of Pacific people who came to New Zealand and other immigrants who have come to our country and gone through similar journeys and had similar dreams.”

The 2020 Women of Influence Awards Supreme Winner was Dr. Siouxsie Wiles, who is an award-winning microbiologist and science communicator, who has become a household name this year for her work explaining the COVID-19 pandemic to the public.

She also won the Innovation, Science and Health award.

The Arts and Culture award went to Samoan New Zealander Parris Goebel, who is a choreographer and creative director and among the most sought after in her field. She has worked with Rihanna, Janet Jackson, and Jennifer Lopez, among other big names, and directed the New York Fashion Week Savage X Fenty show, which has been nominated for a 2020 Emmy Award.

She also established a dance academy, and charitable trust for Maori and Pacific teenagers.

Tupe Solomon-Tanoa’i won the Diversity Award, for her work as one of very few non-Pakeha diplomats, who in her career negotiated the economic cooperation agreement with Taiwan and even organized a Matariki festival there.

She is the brains behind the web series Misadventures of a Pacific Professional, nominated for Best Show at the 2019 New Zealand Web Fest and Best International Drama at the Melbourne Web Fest. Her chat show, Talanoa with Tupe, aims to showcase successful Pasifika, especially women.

Aigagalefili Fepulea'i Tapua'I, the head girl at Aorere College won the Young Leader Award for her activism and leadership around the environment and climate change, socioeconomic conditions for South Auckland youth, among other areas.

Read the full list of winners here.

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