As Assistant Vice-Chancellor (Pasifika), Dame Winnie provides strategic direction and support for Pasifika students and staff. She also drives our Pasifika identity, and encourages and sponsors research into Pasifika issues within the New Zealand and Pacific region. She was responsible for the foundation of the Pasifika Student Success Team, which has seen growth in the numbers of Pasifika students coming to Te Herenga Waka.
The Honorary Doctorate from NUS recognises Dame Winnie for her significant contribution to the welfare of Pacific Islanders and in particular Samoan people in Aotearoa New Zealand, as well as acknowledging her 10 years from 2012–2021 on the Council of NUS.
“We are very fortunate to have Dame Winnie providing strategic guidance for the University’s Pasifika staff and students of the University. Her relationship skills and deep knowledge of Pasifika peoples are invaluable in our outreach and diversity initiatives, and she is a constant cheerleader for her cohort,” says Provost, Professor Wendy Larner.
“Congratulations, Dame Winnie, on this well-deserved honour from the National University of Samoa.”
Dame Winnie’s mother Emi Anealaise Tunupopo and father Ta’atofa Kenneth Laban migrated to Aotearoa in 1954. Dame Winnie graduated from Victoria University of Wellington with a degree in social work before working as a public servant, community worker, probation officer, and school counsellor. In 1992, she was bestowed the Samoan chiefly title of Luamanuvao from her mother’s village.
In 1999 she became the first Pacific Island woman elected to the New Zealand Parliament, where she served the Mana Electorate. During her time in Parliament, she served as Minister of Pacific Island Affairs, Minister for the Community and Voluntary Sector, and Associate Minister of Social Development, Economic Development and Trade, leading trade missions to Pacific Island nations.
Dame Winnie recieved a Companion of the Queens’s Service Order for public and community services in 2011, and in 2018, she was honoured with the awards of Dame Companion of the New Zealand Order of Merit (DNZM) for her services to Education and the Pacific Island Community.
“I have always been passionate about the power of education to help our Pasifika peoples succeed. I am delighted to recieve this honour, and I am enjoying seeing NUS going from strength to strength,” says Dame Winnie.
Dame Winnie is currently Chair, Patron, Trustee or Member of a wide range of public service, academic, and community organisations in New Zealand, including the Cancer Society of New Zealand and the Fale Malae Trust.