Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington honours outstanding alumni

Six alumni of the University have been selected as Distinguished Alumni Award winners for 2021.

Six alumni of Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington have been selected as Distinguished Alumni Award winners for 2021, recognising their valuable contributions to fields ranging from justice and climate change activism, to Māori business, philanthropy and international diplomacy. 

The recipients of the Distinguished Alumni Awards 2021 are entrepreneur and philanthropist Chris Parkin; leading lawyer and change advocate Stacey Shortall; business leader Rachel Taulelei; Chief District Court Judge His Honour Judge Heemi Taumaunu, and former Aotearoa New Zealand diplomat Sir Maarten Wevers. Climate change advocate Lisa McLaren will be awarded the Young Alumni Award.

Chancellor Neil Paviour-Smith said the award recipients had made positive impacts in their communities and beyond, and their achievements were outstanding examples of what graduates from Victoria University of Wellington could aspire towards.

“These alumni have each made a difference to their chosen fields and our world and are highly respected,” says Mr Neil Paviour-Smith. “They demonstrate the best of our University’s values and the calibre of some of our finest alumni. We are delighted to recognise their achievements through these awards. We also look forward to charting the future successes of our Young Alumni Award winner Lisa McLaren.”

The Distinguished Alumni Awards will be presented at a function in Wellington during the University’s December 2021 graduation week from 29 November–2 December. The alumni will appear as guest speakers at graduation ceremonies.


Lisa McLaren (BA 2010, BSc 2010, MES 2014)

Lisa McLaren is one of the leading advocates for a carbon-zero Aotearoa.

Lisa was instrumental in developing the Zero Carbon Bill, a clear, ambitious, and achievable climate law, which was adopted by government and passed unopposed by Parliament into law in November 2019.

In 2020, she was awarded a Queen’s Service Medal for services to climate change advocacy. She is currently completing her PhD where her research aims to analyse how a combination of citizen-led science and climate activism can be used to build community resilience to the climate crisis.

Chris Parkin (BSc 1972, BCA 1974, MSc (Hons) 1976)

Chris Parkin is an entrepreneur, philanthropist, and prominent supporter of the arts.

He is perhaps best-known for moving the old Museum Hotel, purchasing it to save it from demolition and moving it 150m on railway tracks from its old site where Te Papa is today—a bold feat of engineering.

The driving force behind many projects that benefit the wider community, Chris has consistently served the arts community through sponsorship of many arts, film, and theatre organisations, as well as serving on the boards of Te Papa, Hannah Playhouse Trust, and St James Theatre.

His long history of involvement in numerous arts and culture initiatives has played a significant role in the development of Wellington as the cultural capital of New Zealand.

Stacey Shortall (BCA 1994, LLB 1995)

Stacey Shortall is a highly regarded lawyer and a strong advocate for a more equitable Aotearoa New Zealand.

Stacey is a partner at MinterEllisonRuddWatts and founder of the Who Did You Help Today Charitable Trust, which helps to tackle entrenched issues in New Zealand through innovative grassroots solutions.

She has a long history of active community involvement. In recognition of her efforts to champion and raise awareness of these social issues, she has been acknowledged with several awards, including Women of Influence and Kiwibank Local Hero awards, together with twice being named as a semi-finalist for Kiwibank New Zealander of the Year.

Rachel Taulelei (Ngāti Raukawa ki te Tonga, Ngāti Rarua) (LLB 1998)

Rachel Taulelei is a prominent business leader and a strong advocate for the Māori economy and sustainability in the food and beverage sector.

Her commitment to kaitiakitanga has been evident throughout her career as founder of sustainable seafood company Yellow Brick Road in 2006, and in her current role as chief executive officer of Māori-owned food and beverage company Kono. It will be a cornerstone value as she builds her start-up business design and brand strategy firm Oho.

She has held a number of governance roles, with a particular expertise in primary industries. She presently chairs the APEC Business Advisory Council and the Wellington Regional Stadium Trust, serves as a member on the boards of the Warehouse Group, Young Enterprise Trust and Queen Margaret College, and acts an advisor to venture capital firm Movac.

His Honour Judge Heemi Taumaunu (Ngāti Pōrou, Ngāti Konohi, Ngāi Tahu) (LLB 1993)

Judge Heemi Taumaunu was appointed chief district court judge in September 2019 after 15 years on the bench. He is the first Māori to be appointed chief judge and is a fluent te reo Māori speaker.

He was appointed a district court judge in 2004 after a decade practising law, mainly in Gisborne, in the criminal, youth, and family jurisdictions. Before that, he had a career in the New Zealand Army.

Judge Taumaunu has encouraged a wider appreciation of the value of culturally responsive justice and is recognised internationally for leading the development of Ngā Kōti Rangatahi o Aotearoa, New Zealand’s marae-based rangatahi courts.

Sir Maarten Wevers, KNZM (BSc 1973, BA(Hons) 1976)

Sir Maarten Wevers is a former diplomat with a distinguished career as a public servant.

After graduating from Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington, Sir Maarten joined the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and over the course of his career, held several diplomatic postings including High Commissioner to Papua New Guinea and Ambassador to Japan. He also served as Private Secretary to the Rt. Hon. David Lange.

Sir Maarten was Chief Executive of the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet for eight years, during which time he chaired the Better Public Services Advisory Group and led the implementation of the review conducted into New Zealand’s intelligence and security agencies.

In 2012, he was knighted for his services for the state, and in 2020, in recognition of his outstanding contributions to New Zealand’s bilateral relationship with Japan, was awarded the Order of the Rising Sun, Gold and Silver Star by the Government of Japan.