New Zealand Woman of the Biennium Award by Zonta International: Mai Chen Honoured
On Saturday 23rd September at the 14th Zonta International District 16 New Zealand (Zonta) conference held in
Christchurch, one of New Zealand’s top constitutional and administrative law experts, Mai Chen, accepted the prestigious
Zonta New Zealand Woman of the Biennium award.
This Biennial Award recognises an outstanding New Zealand woman, whose contribution to the lives of women and girls in
the New Zealand community epitomises the values and aspirations of Zonta International.
Nominated by the Zonta Club of Rotorua, Mai is described as “a thought leader, a direction setter, and a futures
thinker” by the referees who supported the application. Mai Chen’s journey to “Super Woman”, as she is described by her
referees, is inspirational. Mai arrived in New Zealand in 1970 with her parents as the youngest of four girls to settle
in Dunedin. She didn’t speak English, she looked different, dressed differently, ate differently and her family were not
well off, which didn’t make it easy to settle into a new school and community. These early experiences have driven her
to excel in so many ways.
Mai has excelled in her chosen field of law, with First Class Honours from Otago University and a Master’s degree in Law
from Harvard. She is the Managing Partner of Chen Palmer Public and Employment Law Specialists, and Adjunct Professor at
the University of Auckland - School of Law. She is one of NZ’s top constitutional and administrative law experts,
specialising in central and local Government policy and legislation, especially as it applies to business and litigating
major public law cases.
Mai wrote The Public Law Toolbox to help kiwis and migrants to come to grips in simple terms with the Government, law
and policy making systems in New Zealand, to help them navigate their way around the complexities that she knew from
experience were confusing for people that are new to it.
She also launched willtolive.co.nz (rebranded as www.my-bucketlist.co.nz
) a site which allows the making of wills to be easy. With the proceeds of its recent sale, Mai donated 1000 ($10,000)
of the Sir Ray Avery pods for neonatal care.
She helped set up and was the inaugural chair for Global Women, a collaboration of New Zealand's most influential women leaders promoting inclusion and diversity for improved
societal and economic growth.
Mai founded and is the inaugural Chair of SUPERdiverse WOMEN, a new organisation dedicated to championing the rights and
achievements of women from indigenous and migrant backgrounds.
Mai also founded, and is the inaugural Chair of NZ Asian Leaders, connecting top Asian NZ CEOs and emerging leaders with
New Zealand companies doing business in Asia, to enhance their success to help NZ Inc.
She also founded, and is the inaugural Chair of the Superdiversity Centre, which helps organisations and leaders build
cultural capability, and provides a CQ Tick audit and certification. The Centre also provides training in building CQ,
Asia capability and subconscious bias.
In accepting this award Mai said that “reading the citation she felt very humbled”. She spoke about some of the
experiences and challenges she has faced and acknowledged the bravery of her parents in moving to New Zealand. Mai said
“I have always tried to give back, drawing on the experiences I have had and am grateful that I have had people around
me who were prepared to support me in what I wanted to do.” Mai described herself as “a pioneer” and undertook to
continue to do the best that she can. In thanking Zonta for this award Mai said she “would use the encouragement it
gives me to do good things.”
Zonta District 16 Governor Janet Hope (QSM) said “it is a privilege to acknowledge Mai with this award. She has made a
significant personal contribution to empowering women through her leadership, community involvement and advocacy on a
range of issues. Mai is a role model for women and girls. She inspires, empowers, mentors and encourages other women,
and fights for equality, including working to close the gender pay gap.”
Zonta is a global organisation of executives and professionals working together to empower women through service and
advocacy. For more information please visit www.zonta.org.nz
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