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Business leaders and champions for Kiwi innovation, Brian and Matthew Monahan, were named as the 2018 Kea Friends of New Zealand, at the World Class New Zealand Awards gala dinner held last Thursday at Auckland’s Viaduct Events Centre. 

The black-tie event saw the US-born brothers celebrated for their significant contribution to New Zealand’s entrepreneurial and innovation landscape – including the establishment of Wellington-based organisation, Kiwi Connect, and their ongoing work with the Edmund Hillary Fellowship. 

The brothers also played a critical role in the development of the Global Impact Visa – a world first designed to attract innovation and entrepreneurial talent from around the globe which fosters Aotearoa’s innovation-based start-up sector.

Kea Global CEO, Craig Donaldson, says the Awards, which are now in their 15th year, recognise the outstanding Kiwis and friends of New Zealand who are helping to define our reputation on the world stage. 

“For nearly a decade Brian and Matthew have dedicated their lives to fostering innovation and entrepreneurial endeavours in New Zealand. The various initiatives and organisations they’ve founded have helped connect Kiwi innovators with the rest of the world, as well as attract some of the best international talent to our shores. They’re the epitome of what it means to be a Friend of New Zealand and it’s our pleasure to honour their work in this manner,” says Donaldson. 

Brian Monahan says, “Innovation is about finding better ways to solve problems; and unfortunately, our world faces serious environmental, social, and economic challenges. Aotearoa has a very creative society and we are happy to do our bit to help connect Kiwi innovators with global networks. With luck, our nation can help lead the way, by example, through the challenges of today into a beautiful tomorrow.”

In addition to the Monahans, last night’s ceremony also celebrated joint recipients for its Supreme Award – leading Kiwi philanthropists, Neal and Annette Plowman. The pair were celebrated for their tremendous charitable contribution to New Zealand, most recently through the NEXT Foundation which they established four years ago, with $100 million to be gifted over 10 years on transformational initiatives in education and the environment. 

Other World Class New Zealanders recognised were innovator and engineer Peter Beck; AI trailblazer Dr. Mark Sagar; award-winning actor and producer Cliff Curtis; prominent Earth scientist Dr. Delwyn Moller; technology business leader Mitchell Pham; and art world powerhouse Jennifer Flay.

Each World Class New Zealand Award winner received a Kea Tall Poppy statuette, designed by Weta Workshop co-founder and 2009 Supreme winner, Sir Richard Taylor. 

For more information about the Kea WCNZ Award winners, see below: 

Neal and Annette Plowman:

• Successfully grew family-founded business New Zealand Towel Supply to be listed on the New Zealand Stock Exchange, before privatising in 1986, and selling the company to US firm ALSCO in 1998. 

• Founded and sold New Zealand multiplex cinema chain, Hoyts.

• Neal Plowman was inducted into the Business Hall of Fame in 2007. 

• Major supporters of The University of Auckland (UoA) and UoA Business School from 2003 – including towards the establishment of a Chair in Entrepreneurship. 

• Major supporters of The Salvation Army for over 30 years. Negotiated a 99-year lease of Rotoroa Island from The Salvation Army in 2007 – the island having previously been used as a drug and rehabilitation centre until 2004 – creating a conservation park and enabling public access to the island for the first time in over 100 years. 

• Key funders since 2011 of Teach First NZ – an innovative not-for-profit organisation that places carefully selected teachers and inspirational leaders into lower decile schools to help improve educational outcomes. 

• Formed a partnership with the Department of Conservation in 2012 for a 30 year project to restore and conserve the native ecology of Abel Tasman National Park. 

• In 2014 founded the NEXT Foundation to administer a 10 year, NZ$100 million programme of strategic philanthropy. NEXT invests in transformational initiatives in the environment and education. It currently supports 16 initiatives focusing on some of New Zealand’s most challenging issues including a predator free New Zealand, equity in education and the first 1000 days of life. These include initiatives such as:

o Zero Invasive Predators (ZIP) – a partnership with the Department of Conservation to develop innovative tools and techniques to eradicate rats, stoats and possums from the New Zealand mainland;

o Springboard Trust – which brings together business leaders and school principals to enhance strategic leadership in schools;

o Manaiakalani Outreach – taking the successful, digitally enabled model of advanced teacher practice and accelerated learning pioneered in Tamaki, Auckland to other low decile communities across New Zealand;

o Talking Matters – a community based initiative promoting rich language interaction between parents and babies; and

o Taranaki Mounga – a collaboration between Government, iwi, business and philanthropy to restore the ecology of Egmont National Park.

Brian & Matthew Monahan:

• Co-founded and launched Wellington-based support organisation, Kiwi Connect, with a goal of building networks between New Zealand’s innovation community and other global technology hubs. 

• Via their work with Kiwi Connect, helped to catalyse the Global Impact Visa – a world first, giving budding entrepreneurs and investors the opportunity to launch and run innovation-based start-ups from New Zealand. 

• Established the New Frontiers initiative as an annual gathering of global changemakers with a focus on eco innovation. 

• Established the Edmund Hilary Fellowship in partnership with the Hilary Institute – designed to build the community of Global Impact Visa recipients, coupled with local Kiwi entrepreneurs and enable New Zealand’s start-up community to access exceptional entrepreneurial talent from around the globe. 

• Founded the Namaste Foundation to support non-profit projects spanning a variety of environmental and social causes. 

• Founded and ran a successful genealogy business, which was sold to in 2012 for US$100 million. 

• Founded Silicon Valley-based technology company, Inflection, designed to help build online trust. 

Peter Beck

• Founder and CEO of Rocket Lab, an orbital launch company revolutionising access to space for small satellites

• Peter led a team of engineers to develop the ĀTEA-1 rocket in 2009, a launch that saw Rocket Lab become the first private company in the Southern Hemisphere to reach space

• In 2013 Peter established the Electron orbital launch programme to develop the world’s first fully carbon-composite launch vehicle, powered by the world’s first 3D printed, electric turbopump-fed rocket engine

• Oversaw the development of the first and only private orbital launch range on the globe, located on New Zealand’s Mahia Peninsula

• First successful orbital launch completed in January 2018

Mark Sagar

• Double Academy Award winner via his previous role as the Special Projects Supervisor at Weta Digital and Sony Pictures Imageworks and developed technology for the characters in blockbusters such as Avatar, King Kong, and Spiderman-2

• CEO/co-founder of Soul Machines which aims to humanise artificial intelligence

• Led the development of virtual infant BabyX, brought to life by computational models of the brain and nervous system, which has gained worldwide attention for its pioneering biologically based approach to artificial intelligence

• Director of the Laboratory for Animate Technologies at the Auckland Bioengineering Institute

• Mark has a Ph.D. in Engineering from the University of Auckland 

• Was a post-doctoral fellow at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology 

• His pioneering work in computer-generated faces was awarded Scientific and Engineering Oscars in 2010 and 2011

Cliff Curtis

• Four-time NZ Film and Television award-winning actor

• Formed Maori film production company Whenua Films with cousin Ainsley Gardiner – 2004: The pair produced Taika Waititi’s WWII short film Tama Tū (2005), debut feature, geek comedy Eagle vs Shark (2007), and Boy (2010)

• Founded Arama Pictures (2013): which has produced feature The Dark Horse and short film Ahi Ka, and television series This is Piki

• Has over 50 credits to date for producing and acting in TV, theatre and film

• Starred in movies alongside Hollywood legends such as Morgan Freeman, Denzel Washington, Eddie Murphy, Al Pacino, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Anthony Hopkins and George Clooney

• Starred in AMC’s Fear the Walking Dead alongside Kim Dickens

• A cast member of the four Avatar sequels written and directed by James Cameron which are due for release starting in 2020

Dr Delwyn Moller

• Director of Research and the Centre for Space Science Technology, Alexandra, NZ

• Principal Systems Engineer at Remote Sensing Solutions, Inc. (RSS)

• Joined NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) where she worked on radar technology, primarily with a focus on Earth science

• She has won multiple JPL and NASA awards and was a co-recipient of the prestigious NASA Space Act award for planetary landing radar design

• Ph.D. degree in Electrical Engineering from the University of Massachusetts-Amherst

• M.E degree (Distinction) and B.E. degree (Honors) from the University of Auckland 

Mitchell Pham

• Director of the Augen Software Group in New Zealand and Vietnam

• Co-founder of the Kiwi Connection Tech Hub – a platform for NZ technology businesses to accelerate presence and engagement in South East Asia

• Recognised as an Asia 21 Fellow by the Asia Society, and a Young Global Leader by the World Economic Forum

• Chair of the NZ Technology Industry Association (NZTech)

• Chair of the NZ Financial Innovation & Technology Association (FinTechNZ)

• Co-founder of the NZ Health IT Cluster (NZHIT)

• Co founder of the Global InsurTech Alliance (GITA)

• Advisor at the Asia New Zealand Foundation

• New Zealand Trade & Enterprise (NZTE) Beachheads Advisor in technology business for South East Asia

• Trustee of the Auckland Refugee Family Trust (ARFT) and of the Foundation for Social Responsibility NZ (FOStR-NZ)

• Awarded Asia 21 Fellow by the Asia Society

• Awarded Young Global Leader by the World Economic Forum (WEF)

• Member of the Ethnic People in Commerce (EPICNZ) network, NZ Asian Leader (NZAL) forum and the NZ Superdiversity Council

• Member of the Strategic Alliance Vietnamese Ventures International (SAVVi) network, and an executive of the global Vietnamese diaspora business network (BAOOV)

Jennifer Flay

• General Director of FIAC, 2010 – present

• Artistic Director of FIAC, 2003 – 2010

• Opened Galerie Jennifer Flay, 1990 – 2003

• Participated actively in two travelling exhibitions by Christian Boltanski, alongside American curators Lynn Gumpert and Mary Jane Jacobs, and European curators Catherine Lampert, Jan Debbaut and Serge Lemoine.

• Author of authoritative publication: Christian Boltanski, Catalogue – Books, Printed Matter, Ephemera – 1966-1991

• Member of the Board of Administrators of the Palais de Tokyo art centre (Paris) and the Ecole Nationale Superieure de Beaux Arts (National School of Arts, Paris)

• Member of the artistic and scientific council of the Manufacture de Sevres (Paris)

Photo: Brian Monahan and Andrew Ferrier (Chair NZTE Board)

Glenn Baker

Glenn is a professional writer/editor with 50-plus years’ experience across radio, television and magazine publishing.


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