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Young and Inspirational

13 Mar 2023
We find out the creative minds being honoured as finalists for this year's Young New Zealander of the Year award.

There’s a lot of incredible people across the country who are doing incredible work who deserve some attention. 

Today we shine the spotlight on the creativity of the three finalists of 2023 University of Canterbury Young New Zealander of the Year Te Mātātahi o te Tau Finalists, Elliot Jones, Georgia Latu and Shaneel Lal. 

Ahead of the Awards on 30 March - Courtney Rose Brown found out what makes these young creative minds tick.


Elliot Jones has dyslexia. Just like one in ten New Zealanders. While still at school, he decided that things needed to change around the stigma, assumptions and what was currently synonymous with the term.

 Wanting to show his perspective, and highlight the strengths of others who have dyslexia, he got started on his documentary Unlocking Potential, raising over $60,000 for the Dyslexia Foundation in the process.

Jones told The Big Idea “I definitely identify as being a creative person.

“Being dyslexic means that you think differently. It’s one of our key strengths (that) I talk about in my documentary.”

“Creativity is at the heart of most of the work that I do. Every idea and thought that I have which I go on to bring into action, that stems from an idea that was creative. Because all of my ideas are quite different, and offbeat compared to everyone else.

“It’s reasonably crazy to have some random 17-year-old kid down at the bottom of the world to try and call up all of these famous dyslexic people to try and get them to talk in a documentary.”

While humbled to among this year’s finalists – Jones isn’t resting on his laurels. As well as continuing to talk to schools about his documentary, he is taking his kaupapa to the halls of power at the Beehive.

“I’m working with a couple of other dyslexia advocates in NZ - who launched a petition last year which has led to them being invited to address the parliamentary select committee later on this year. So I’m going to go along and talk about dyslexia and how the education system, justice system, all the different aspects in NZ and what we recommend to do to change some of that. 

“I’m also working with the Young Neurodiversity Champions, who are advocating the different political parties going into the next election cycle about how forefront these different neurodiversities are, and how prevalent they need to be in the upcoming election in their policy.”

Jones has great hope for the other young creatives minds beating their own path. 

“There are obviously a lot of people across NZ who deserve to have a light shined on them, with the flood recovery with those assisting with lots of different things across NZ.

“When I was reading through the other semi-finalists when they were first released there are all these incredible people doing these incredible things all across New Zealand across all of the areas that you can imagine. I think it’s part of the NZ culture, this driven need to help the community and others.”


Georgia Latu (Kāi Tahu, Ngāpuhi) is the co-founder and CEO of the largest poi manufacturer in the world, Pōtiki Poi - at just 16 years old. 

Named after her ancestor Tahu Pōtiki that lead her people to the South Island. Pōtiki also means, youngest child. Her youngest brother was born with Trisomy 21 and she wants to ensure that her business will some day support him and others like him in our community. Pōtiki Poi is eco-friendly, hires those with diverse abilities, pays living wage, and took over the 2022 Women's Rugby World Cup Final with 30,000 poi.

Latu says that her creativity stems from her “upbringing in kohanga reo, through kaupapa Māori and being emersed in my ao Māori”. 

She’s been making poi since she was a little girl and was taught by her aunties. Her mum and her would often make poi for birthday presents, and “it wasn’t until we had the fundraiser that we thought, wow, we can really do something with this taonga and give back to our community as well as our whānau through the process. And that’s how Pōtiki Poi came to be.”

As someone so young who has already accomplished so much, she lives by the phrase “surround yourself with people who help you grow.” She gives thanks to her whānau and each person’s mātauranga, particularly her mum who is her biggest supporter.

[Mum] is actually one of the biggest pillars of keeping Pōtiki Poi up and running. She’s the background person, she’s the hardest worker I’ve ever known. I love her and think she needs a huge shout-out.”

Latu is currently in Year 12 and hopes to continue working creatively and see what ways Pōtiki Poi can grow.


Shaneel Lal (they/ them) does incredible work making sure to raise awareness and incite change where there is injustice, empowering others to do the same. 

A writer and advocate, Lal is a consistent and courageous voice in our country and as a survivor of conversion therapy, they founded the Conversion Therapy Action Group. This led to the successful passing of legislation in 2022 after a five-year campaign. They also advocate to protect queer people under hate speech laws and change the blood donation policies to ease the process for gay and bisexual men to donate blood. 

Lal was at the height of their work for the movement to ban conversion therapy when we went into Lockdown, meaning that the entirety of the movement was conducted online. 

“We felt the pressure of creating content to keep people engaged and active”, and as they’re someone who encounters creative burnouts quite frequently, Lal says it was an exhausting process, but the results were definitely worth it!

They stress that “the ability to communicate how people are feeling, or an idea clearly is often underestimated. But we saw how important clear communication is during the COVID-19 pandemic. Jacinda Ardern’s clear communication to New Zealanders kept most of us sane, and calm. 

"Being able to articulate my views in an accessible but humorous manner has allowed me to convince people to support the work I do. It also engaged people who wouldn’t ordinarily read large chunks of text. 

"People who aim to create social change are under an obligation to bring everyone on the journey, and ensure no one is left behind. Good writers make that happen.”   

Lal has a literary project in the works, that we can look forward to seeing in the next few months, but that’s not it for them. “The fire will keep burning. The work never stops. I consider finding myself a part of that work.” They’d also like to draw attention to their friend Danni Duncan who creates content to empower people who choose to be child-free.