Jacinda Ardern Has the World’s Attention
History came fast at Jacinda Ardern. Just a few years ago, in 2017, having been a local Member of Parliament for a matter of months, she became a Hail Mary candidate for Prime Minister, a millennial woman thrown into an election at the last minute to resurrect the fortunes of her slumping party in a Pacific Island nation of 4.8 million people. And now, Ardern has made it on to the cover of Time magazine. Belinda Luscombe reports.
With a mere seven weeks left in the campaign, she put together enough votes and allies to form a government. She officially became her country’s leader around the same time she learned she was pregnant with her first child. In the past year, she has been confronted with a mass shooting committed by a far-right extremist, a suddenly active and deadly volcano and, most recently, a global virus that originated in her nation’s most important trading partner, Luscombe reports.
Nearly any of those would have been enough to capsize an experienced captain with a crack crew of advisers, let alone a rookie with an untested team whose platform was built on kindness, acceptance and inclusion. But Ardern’s deft and quietly revolutionary management of these crises, especially the Christchurch shootings, got noticed around the globe. Her gender and youth (she’s 39) were always going to make her stand out in a field dominated mainly by old grey men. Those attributes, however, are just the wrapping. Ardern’s real gift is her ability to articulate a form of leadership that embodies strength and sanity, while also pushing an agenda of compassion and community–or, as she would put it, “pragmatic idealism.”
Her response to the events of the past 12 months has propelled her to the kind of global prominence none of her predecessors enjoyed while in office. She has been named one of the most powerful women internationally, mentioned in connection with a Nobel Peace Prize and profiled in glossy media around the world.
New Zealand isn’t the first country to have a mass shooting, or even a mass shooting that goes viral. But Ardern was the first to move enough chess pieces among the public, governments and industry to offer the beginnings of a coherent international response to a problem against which traditional power structures have proved ineffective.
Her view of the current global political climate is driven by her view of inclusion. She believes the upsurge in populism and extremism is a reaction to the same forces to which she is responding. “If I look around the world at what has given rise to some of those movements, and these leaders that we may not have expected to find power, I don’t think we should be cynical about the origins of that,” she says. “People are feeling either disenfranchised or like they are just struggling to survive and that their democracies haven’t heard that.”
Original article by Belinda Luscombe, Time, February 20, 2020
Photo by Djeneba Aduayom.