Kiwis in New York celebrate in World Class style with Taika Waititi

New Zealand’s undeniable man of the moment and internationally acclaimed director Taika Waititi was awarded the very first World Class New Zealand Award outside of New Zealand at a gala event in New York last week.

The event, hosted by Kea andAuckland University of Technology (AUT), was held at the Water Club in Manhattan and hosted some of New Zealand’s most successful expats in the United States including Sean Marks, GM of Brooklyn Nets, Craig Nevill-Manning, Head of Engineering of Sidewalk Labs, Kirsty Graham, VP of Pfizer, and Dr Maia Nuku, Curator at the Met Museum.

The World Class New Zealand Awards celebrate globally influential Kiwis who are making an impact on the world stage and contribute strongly to New Zealand’s prosperity and social, cultural and economic development. The World Class New Zealand Celebration in New York specifically acknowledged these factors for Kiwis and friends of New Zealand in the United States, while raising funds for AUT’s Internz programme which provides scholarships for Kiwi students to complete internships in the US.

The first World Class New Zealand Award to be presented outside of New Zealand, Taika received the Award in honour of his achievements in film and his commitment to New Zealand culture.


Taika said he was was very privileged to be in the industry, and he’s passionate about giving back to his communities.

“When I was young, becoming involved in the film industry was not a thing. What I am most proud of is being a role model for kids in my area and the Northland of New Zealand where there are not a lot of job opportunities. What really makes me feel proud is that little kids come up to me now and say ‘I want to be a filmmaker, I want to be a storyteller, I want to do these things’.”

Global Chair of Kea Phil Veal said the judges were immensely proud of Taika’s unique storytelling and representation of New Zealand, and all of Aotearoa should be as well.

“Taika manages to connect people from around the world with New Zealand and our identity, shining a positive light on Māori culture. Kea’s mission is to create a borderless nation connecting global Kiwis and Friends of NZ with one another and with home for the benefit of Aotearoa. Our Award-winners are symbols of what can be achieved when Kiwis take on the world.”

Taika’s latest film Thor: Ragnarok has quickly become one of Marvel Studio’s biggest commercial and critical successes.

Another award recipient on the night was Nancy Gilbert, Founder of the Wahine Toa project, which showcases women in leadership working to better their communities.

“I knew the moment we had our first powhiri, that NZ was incredibly special, of all the places we’ve been in the world my heart felt full,” Nancy said.

“I knew the power of it was mostly held by these incredible Māori women in Aotearoa. Helping showcase the incredible work they were already doing in their businesses and communities, and helping make international connections for them, it changed my life, and I am incredibly honored to be a lifelong Friend of New Zealand.”

AUT alumnus Toiroa Williams also received an award following his internship with the Sundance Institute in Los Angeles, where he introduced a Māori holistic health and wellness philosophy to the strategic plan for Sundance’s Native American and Indigenous Program.

“The AUT Internz scholarship changed my life,” Toiroa said. “It literally opened up a whole new world and has opened my eyes to what is possible. Having people like Taika who come from a small town like me but can achieve incredible global success, has helped pave the way for us to dream big, and go places we never imagined.”

Kea and AUT’s World Class New Zealand Celebration in New York, at a glance:

  • 170 guests including Award winners Taika Waititi and Nancy Gilbert; Sarah Robb O’Hagan; Former United States Ambassador to New Zealand and Samoa Mark Gilbert; GM of Brooklyn Nets Sean Marks; Head of Engineering of Sidewalk Labs Craig Nevill-Manning; VP of Pfizer Kirsty Graham; and Curator at the Met Museum Dr Maia Nuku

  • Menu designed by Kiwi celebrity chef Anthony Hoy Fong

  • Entertainment by Marie Te Hapuku, Soprano at the Metropolitan Opera

  • Tens of thousands of dollars raised for AUT Internz scholarships to the US

  • Profits will be used to grow AUT Internz, which provides cultural exchange scholarships to North America for outstanding New Zealand graduates