Time International - 02.03.2020

(Jacob Rumans) #1
Time March 2–9, 2020

HisTory came fasT aT Jacinda ar­
dern. Just a few years ago, in 2017, hav­
ing been a local Member of Parliament
for a matter of months, she became a Hail
Mary candidate for Prime Minister, a mil­
lennial 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. 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 commit­
ted by a far­right extremist, a suddenly
active and deadly volcano and, most re­
cently, a global virus that originated in her
nation’s most important trading partner.
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, accep­
tance and inclusion. But Ardern’s deft
and quiet ly revolutionary management of
these crises, especially the Christchurch
shootings, got noticed around the globe.
Her gender and youth (she’s 39) were al­
ways going to make her stand out in a
field dominated mainly by old gray men.
Those attributes, however, are just the
wrapping. Ardern’s real gift is her abil­
ity 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 predeces­
sors 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. “Wher­
ever I go,” says the actor Sam Neill, another

of New Zealand’s more globally celebrated
human resources, “people say, ‘You think
we could have Jacinda this week? Could
we just borrow her for a while?’ ”
Now her challenge is to prove this new
style of leadership can get meaningful re­
sults, ahead of general elections in Sep­
tember. In other countries, voters have
been drawn to strongmen and salesmen,
wooed by the promise of simple answers
to complex questions. People have lost
trust in their institutions, whether they
be government, media, organized religion
or the scientific community. When vot­
ers feel powerless and disenfranchised,
Ardern told TIME in an interview in
her modest Auckland electoral office on
Feb. 7, “we can either stoke it with fear
and blame, or we can respond to it by tak­
ing some responsibility and giving some
hope that our democratic institutions,
our politicians, actually can do something
about what they’re feeling.”

By far the Biggest test of Ardern’s
leadership arrived on March 15 last year,
when an Australian gunman shot dead 51
worshippers at two mosques in Christ­
church. As well as killing New Zealand
citizens, the shooter murdered nationals
from Afghanistan, Pakistan, Bangladesh,
Indonesia, India and Egypt among other
places. Ardern was in a van on the way
to a school in the coastal town of New
Plymouth and had just picked up the
local mayor (she likes to carpool). Their
conversation was interrupted when her
press secretary handed her a call from the
Police Minister. The van spun around and
headed for a local police station, where
she—and a PR person on her third day of
work—were stashed in an upper room as
the situation unfolded.
Between calls, Ardern began to scrib­
ble thoughts on scraps of paper. “I just

remember feeling this overwhelming
sense of, here are people who’ve made
New Zealand their home,” she says. “Re­
gardless of whether someone had been in
New Zealand for a generation or whether
or not they moved here a year ago, this was
their home, and they should have been
safe and they should have been able to
worship here, and that was when I wrote
down those words: they are us.”
She called Grant Robertson, her Fi­
nance Minister and one of her closest
advisers, and ran her thinking by him.
After an hour, she went back to her rural
hotel, and the ingredients for a national
broadcast —a large event space, two cam­
eras, a single table with black tablecloth—
were hastily assembled. “I walked into
this big empty room and sat down at this
table and tried to convey a message.”

Ardern made

the case that kindness

was a strength,

compassion was

actionable, and

inclusion was possible




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