Three Bay of Plenty people from quite different walks of life are amongst some of the most influential women in the country.
One is making science fascinating for Kiwi kids, there’s a humanitarian and a woman driving an overseas charity.
These dynamic women are quietly putting in the mahi, making grassroots and systemic change on regional, national and international levels.
Chris Duggan, Chloe Wright and Denise Arnold are all finalists for the 2019 Women of Influence Awards.
Chris is nominated for the Innovation, Science and Health category. She founded the House of Science in 2013, a charitable trust raising the bar for science in schools across New Zealand.
Both Chloe and Denise are nominated for the Community Hero category.
Chloe is pouring millions of dollars and hundreds of hours each year into services that benefit New Zealand children, families and communities.
All of this work is done through the Wright Family Foundation.
Denise is the director of the Cambodia Charitable Trust. She is helping transform the Cambodian education system, with the ultimate goal of lifting children out of poverty and trafficking.
All three women say they were shocked, overwhelmed and quite humbled when they found out they were selected as finalists.
The House of Science
Chris can’t quite get her head around the idea of being considered ‘influential’.
“A mind shift has been required on my part to think of myself as being an influential person. But I have had to embrace that because the organisation needs recognition for what it’s doing.”
Why did Chris start the House of Science? She puts it simply.
“I was working as a science teacher in Tauranga and was really concerned about the lack of science knowledge kids had coming into high school.
“In 2013 I decided someone needed to do something about it. So I quit my job and did something about it.”
The charitable trust is all about getting ‘quality science resources’ into the hands of teachers regularly, helping normalise the important subject.
Chris says the initiative now reaches more than 10,000 students a week.
“In the past, nearly three-quarters of New Zealand primary schools didn’t teach science. We are changing that statistic and empowering teachers to deliver really good science lessons.
“Kids are now coming to school engaged and keen to learn about science. This has gotten bigger in size and depth than I ever dreamed of.”
A love of helping
Chloe is the co-founder and chief executive of the Wright Family Foundation.
She is currently working seven days a week, supporting about 50 organisations throughout New Zealand.
“I feel grateful we have been able to enable organisations and individual groups to extend their reach.
"Knowing that lives will be richer in all of these different communities, how do you not work seven days a week?"
Chole says she is driven by her love for helping people from all walks of life.
"I am driven by the realisation that we desperately need to change things in our country with our suicide rate, mental illness escalation, with our separation among people.
"Communities are the answer, I am just a spoke in the wheel."
Chloe is particularly passionate about enhancing women’s birthing experiences and music and literacy programmes that help children in at-risk situations.
"These programmes allow children to emote. My concern is when they lead hard lives and they get to be 16 or 17, they start acting out because of repressed hurt.
“Music and literacy can open a child’s mind, and it turns out if you touch a child’s life then families start to feel hope as well.”
The road to education
Similar to Chris and Chloe, Denise thinks access to quality education is the key to empowering children.
She set up the Cambodian Charitable Trust in 2008 after reading about young children being rented out of brothels on a weekly basis.
Denise has made it her goal to rebuild the education system in Cambodia from the ground up after it was torn down by the Pol Pot regime.
She believes education is the ultimate destination for children who are victims of poverty.
“It’s about the potential to give children a future they are entitled to. Kids should be able to be safe, healthy, go to school and have choices about how they want to live.”
CCT is now sponsoring 23 schools throughout Cambodia supporting infrastructure and providing teaching materials.
They are also working with the Ministry of Education in Cambodia to revamp teacher training.
“We are on the grassroots, sponsoring children who are too poor to go to school, and we are right up the top talking to the ministry about their strategic goals. Our programme runs very deep.”
Denise describes her work in Cambodia as sweaty, dusty and basic.
"But this is just what I need to do. It's my job to help lead these children out of poverty.
"I have to be careful I don't lose it in Cambodia, the stories you hear are heart-wrenching."
The Tauranga finalists hope the awards will motivate other women to step up and help out where they can.
"It's so important to recognise people who aren't so naturally in the spotlight. I hope this will be a turning point for other women to follow their passion," says Chris.
Chloe reckons it’s just only a matter of making it happen.
"You can't just sit on your hands and talk about it at dinner parties. It's a doing thing, and there is always something you can do to help.”
The Women of Influence 2019 winners will be announced on Thursday, October 24 at the Awards Dinner at SKYCITY in Auckland.
For more information, visit: www.womenofinfluence.co.nz
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