Distinguished Alumni Awards 2023

Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington celebrated the achievements of four remarkable alumni at the Distinguished Alumni Awards 2023.

Image of four people
Pictured are Arama Kukutai (top left), Una Jagose KC (top right), Tusiata Avia (bottom left), and Wendy Allison (bottom right)

2023 recipients

Una Jagose KC, LLB 1990 (Otago), LLM 1995

Una Jagose KC is the Solicitor-General of New Zealand, one of the most influential and important legal positions in the country. In 2016, she became New Zealand’s first woman Solicitor-General since the role’s establishment in 1867. Prior to taking up this role Una was acting director of the Government Communications Security Bureau (GCSB) and has had a distinguished and significant career as a public sector lawyer. In 2020, Una won the Public Policy category of the New Zealand Women of Influence Awards. She is often praised for her sound legal judgement, leadership qualities, and influential contributions to the New Zealand public service.

Tusiata Avia, BA 1988 (Cant), MA 2003

Tusiata Avia is a New Zealand-Samoan poet, performer, playwright, and author known for her dynamic performance style. Her poetry stage show, ‘Wild Dogs Under My Skirt’ is a multi-award-winning ensemble theatre production, garnering many awards in Aotearoa and in 2020, Outstanding Production of the Year at Off-Broadway theatre, Soho Playhouse. Tusiata has published four collections of poetry: ‘Wild Dogs Under My Skirt’, ‘Bloodclot’, ‘Fale Aitu | Spirit House’, and ‘The Savage Coloniser Book’, which won the prestigious Ockham Award for Best Book of Poetry in 2021. Tusiata also writes children’s books, film scripts, and has published in many literary publications. Since 2003, she has taught creative writing and performance for a range of communities, arts organisations, schools, tertiary institutions, and justice facilities. In 2020, Tusiata was appointed an Arts Foundation Laureate and a Member of the New Zealand Order of Merit for services to poetry and the arts.

Arama Kukutai, BCA 1989, LLB 1994

Arama Kukutai is a global leader in the agritech industry, with more than 20 years’ experience across the sector. He is of Ngāti Tipa, Waikato, Ngāti Maniapoto, Te Aupōuri, and Parihaka descent, and started his career in finance at a time when Māori organisations were beginning to actively develop forestry, farming, and fishing assets as Chair of PKW Farms in the dairy sector. Arama later served as the Regional Director for NZ Trade & Enterprise in North America. Arama is chief executive officer at Plenty, an indoor vertical farming technology company that has raised $1B and is rewriting the rules of agriculture. He is also a co-founding partner at Finistere Ventures, a pioneering venture capital firm focused on the food and agriculture sector. In 2022, Arama was recognised with a Kea World Class New Zealand award, and in 2023 he received Ngā Tohu Matariki o te Tau award for his contribution to business and innovation. While Arama has lived in the United States for the past 20 years, he remains connected to Aotearoa. He is committed to supporting Kiwi tech entrepreneurs and providing Māori with opportunities to pursue careers in agritech through the non-profit Te Ara Potiki.

Wendy Allison, BA 2013

Wendy Allison founded KnowYourStuffNZ, a community-based service for drug checking, with the goals of helping the community and starting a national conversation about harm reduction. KnowYourStuffNZ has grown to become a nationwide volunteer organisation that provides harm reduction services at events and public clinics across New Zealand. Thanks in part to Wendy’s determined advocacy, evidence collecting, and relationship building, drug checking legislation in New Zealand was amended in 2020. This law change led to New Zealand becoming the first country in the world to explicitly legalise drug checking services. Wendy’s work has contributed significantly to international research and practise on drug harm reduction, and most importantly has undoubtedly saved lives of young New Zealanders. In 2023, Wendy was appointed a Member of the New Zealand Order of Merit for services to drug harm reduction.