Last week, New Zealand’s Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern took out the top spot on Fortune Magazine’s annual list of the world’s greatest leaders.
Fortune Magazine has been ranking top 50 great world leader lists every year since 2014. This year is the first time Ardern has ranked number one (although she has featured on the list in previous years).
Fortune magazine states that while Ardern had already sealed her position as a great leader prior to the pandemic — her response to a deadly terror attack and a volcanic eruption are examples — through the difficulties of 2020 and into 2021, her leadership skills have truly been on display for the world to see.
Fortune said the list focused on leaders who, in truly unprecedented times, stepped up to make the world better, and inspired others to do the same. Other names on the list included Dolly Parton, Tom Brady, Malala Yousafzai and Naomi Osaka.
Here are the five reasons Ardern topped the list.
World-leading response to COVID-19
When COVID-19 began to take hold around the globe in the early months of 2020, Jacinda Ardern decided not just to suppress the virus in New Zealand, but to put in policies that would work towards elimination.
While there have been a few, small COVID-19 scares in the New Zealand community, Ardern’s collaboration with health experts and subsequent strategy has proved largely successful. New Zealand, with nearly five million people, has had fewer than 2,700 cases of the virus and only 26 deaths.
Taking a 20 per cent pay cut during the pandemic
In 2020, Jacinda Ardern and her parliamentary cabinet took a 20 per cent pay cut in solidarity with New Zealanders who had lost their jobs and livelihoods as a result of the pandemic. The pay cut reduced Ardern’s personal salary by around $47,000.
At the time, she said: “If there was ever a time to close the gap between groups of people across New Zealand in different positions, it is now.”
“I am responsible for the executive branch and this is where we can take action … it is about showing solidarity in New Zealand’s time of need.”
Leading with empathy after Christchurch attack & White Island Volcano eruption
A year before the pandemic hit, in March 2019, New Zealand was shattered when a far-right extremist committed a mass shooting at two Christchurch mosques, killing 49 people. It was the worst massacre in the history of the New Zealand.
Her compassion and words in response to the targeted terror attack on the Muslim community struck a chord all around the world.
“They are us,” she said, as her speech focused on rebuilding peace and unity, as well as a staunch rejection the extremist, racist ideology behind the attack.
“Even the ugliest of viruses can exist in places they are not welcome. Racism exists, but it is not welcome here. An assault on the freedom of any one of us who practices their faith or religion, is not welcome here. Violence, and extremism in all its forms, is not welcome here.”
Later that year, New Zealand faced another disaster, when the White Island Volcano erupted, killing more than 20 people and injuring many others. Again, Ardern led first with empathy as images of her hugging and offering comfort to first responders spread across the world.
Climate action policies
In March 2021, New Zealand became the first country to require that banks, investment managers and insurers disclose the effects of climate change on their businesses. It comes after Ardern declared a climate emergency in New Zealand in December 2020, calling climate change “one of the greatest challenges of our time”.
Prior to this, Ardern’s government passed landmark climate legislation in 2019 with historic cross-party support, committing the country to net zero emission by 2050. Countries like Australia are still yet to commit to any similar legislation on climate action.
Gender Equity Policies
Ardern currently leads the most diverse government in New Zealand’s history. There are more women, people of colour and LGBTQI MPs than ever before.
In 2020, Adern’s government made it easier for women to negotiate with their employers for equal pay, when the parliament passed the Equal Pay Amendment Bill. It ensures workers will not be paid less because of their gender and ensures women in historically underpaid, female dominated industries receive the same remuneration as men in different, but equal-value work.
“The bill delivers on our promise to create a more equitable Aotearoa (New Zealand) by making it easier for employees to raise a pay equity claim, and by encouraging collaborative mediation before issues are escalated to the courts. To everyone who got us to this point, for all the years of hard work, thank you,” she wrote at the time.