Jacinda Ardern: Compassionomics

Source: The Times

March 2019, thousands of students to the streets in New Zealand in protest against climate change – ‘Raise your voice, not the sea level‘.  RNZ reports, “At least 2000 spirited students and their supporters descended on Parliament as students around the country demand urgent action on climate change. The lawn in front of the Beehive was packed with young protesters this morning and chants like, “No more coal, no more oil, keep your carbon in the soil” surely reached the politicians inside.”  As part of the world wide protests, the students organized themselves and took to the streets they “want action to move the country off fossil fuels and on to renewable energy. They accuse the government of not doing enough to stop global warming, and they are taking the day off school to show how worried they are about their future.”

“Based on the latest climate projections for New Zealand, by the end of this century we are likely to experience: higher temperatures; greater increases in the North Island than the South, with the greatest warming in the northeast; the amount of warming in New Zealand is likely to be lower than the global average; rising sea levels; more frequent extreme weather events; droughts (especially in the east of New Zealand); floods; a change in rainfall patterns; increased summer rainfall in the north and east of the North Island; increased winter rainfall in many parts of the South Island.” One of the strike organizers, Year 13 student Molly Doyle said she believes the strike is the best way to create awareness of the situation.  Co-organizer Isla Day said young people could not wait until they were older to take action on climate change.  “We need to take more action on climate change now and a lot of that action is not going to come from trying to use the train rather than driving your car. We need to drive systematic change,” she said.

Now if you were the prime minister what would be your reaction, how would you respond to your future voters, the next generation for which your decision making will affect, how would you answer to their demands?

Wellington students protesting [Source: RNZ/Rebekah Parson-King]
Ardern answered the call of New Zealand’s young people, her government listened to their concerns and made sure that those concerns were reflected in now-presented “well-being” budget that included climate change. The budget is a leap ahead of other Western democracies in that it replaces the gross domestic product (GDP) with a set of well-being measures and six focal areas to justify investment. Transforming the economy and society towards environmental sustainability is one of them .”That is why we have listened to the science and also heard the industry and created a specific target for biogenic methane” and adopted what’s known as a “split gas” approach.  Climate Change Minister and Green co-leader James Shaw said the government had heard the students who went on strike to protest the lack of action on climate change.  New Zealand’s Budget 2019 also highlights major investments in biosecurity. By 2020, this budget will be nearly double the NZ$205 million spent in 2017 (See: NZ Climate)

“Compassionomics” looks at compassion as a value proposition.  It’s estimated that businesses lose well over $200 billion secondary to anxiety and depression, which translate into decreased productivity, creativity, increased healthcare costs and increased human resource costs.   Although compassionomics is mostly discussed in terms of healthcare costs and patient care, it can also stretch across many and any disciplines that can be applied to business, academia (professors, research and administration), education (elementary and highschools, students to faculty), finance (banking and investments), technology (i.e. virtual reality and gaming), the health sector and more.

Wellington students protesting [Source: RNZ/Rebekah Parson-King]
The Youngest

Internationally, the Ardern government is seen as a progressive beacon, yet Ardern’s journey started with modest expectations, with a campaign outreach took on a decidedly different scope once former Labour leader Andrew Little resigned and Jacinda took hold. “We were actually blown away by how successful we were in the end,”  explained her campaign manager Burns. “[For her] to become the deputy leader of the party in March, to becoming the Leader at the start of August, and going on to become the Prime Minister by the end of October—being featured on the world stage alongside Trudeau, Abe, and other world leaders—it’s been absolutely incredible to watch and actually be a part of.” [Nation Builder] Arden meteoric rise to Prime Minister right from the beginning saw her  breaking records,  on a tide of “Jacindamania,” at 38, she is New Zealand’s Labour Party’s youngest female leader, the country’s youngest Prime Minister in 150 years, and its youngest female PM, ever.  During the New Zealand elections, Ardern  had managed to raised $1 million raised; 14 point increase in support winning 46 parliament seats.  As leader of the Labour Party, she promised an “empathetic” government, with ambitious plans to tackle climate change and child poverty.

“Everyone knows that I have just accepted, with short notice, the worst job in politics.” ~ Jacinda Ardern

Winston Peters shakes hands with Jacinda Ardern after they sign a coalition agreement. [Source: ABC.com]
The Baby

As soon as Ardern took office, she continued to break records, of being one of the firsts, by announcing her pregnancy just three months into her term as Prime Minister, making her the second world leader to give birth in office, behind Benazir Bhutto 28 years earlier.  Setting new norms for female leaders in office  by having an attentive and supportive partner, Gayford, willing to be a stay-at-home dad, Ardern took just six weeks maternity and she was back to work.

AUCKLAND, NEW ZEALAND – JUNE 24: New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and partner Clarke Gayford pose for a photo with their new baby girl. [Source: Spin Off]

“I am not the first woman to multi-task. I am not the first woman to work and have a baby – there are many women who have done this before.” ~ Jacinda Ardern

All eyes are on Ardern looking to see how she is using her platform to “create a path for other women” to follow in her footsteps. “As if becoming a mother and prime minister were not challenging enough, Ardern found herself hailed as a standard bearer for women everywhere. “She’s not just leading a country,” gushed Facebook’s Sheryl Sandberg last year. “She’s changing the game.  And women and girls around the world will be the better for it.” [Guardian] Again, Ardern and Gayford made history when they brought their three-month-old daughter to the United Nations assembly hall during the Nelson Mandela Peace Summit in September.

[Source: M. Nichols on Twitter]
This would be the first time in the UN General Assembly’s history to welcome a little baby among it’s ranks.   It’s not as if Arden could leave her 3 month old newly born child at home.  Still dependent on her mother baby Neve is always close to Ardern, while Gayford is the primary caretaker caring for Neve while answers her duties giving speeches and attending committee meetings as Prime Minister.  A spokes person for the UN said that they were delighted by baby Neve’s visit.  They even provided a mock security badge for the little one, while her visit has left the UN to ponder about the fact that 5% of the world’s leaders are women and in order to encourage more female leadership they would need to take steps to make their spaces more accommodating and welcoming for the needs of women.

“Because everyone on twitter’s been asking to see Neve’s UN id, staff here whipped one up. I wish I could have captured the startled look on a Japanese delegation inside UN yesterday who walked into a meeting room in the middle of a nappy change. Great yarn for her 21st.” [Source: Clark Gayford on Twitter]
However, Ardern said Gayford’s tickets to New York and expenses would be paid for out of her own pocket, because there were few official spousal engagements Gayford would be required to attend, and most of his time would be taken up caring for Neve.  “There is no spousal programme for this, so we just made a judgment call that we would cover his travel for this trip. He will be going to some things, but he’s primarily travelling to care for Neve,” Ardern told the New Zealand Herald.  Ardern said they had not committed to taking their daughter to any official events, and they were “playing it by ear” depending on how she was affected by the travel.

“I have a partner who can be there alongside me, who’s taking up a huge part of that joint responsibility, because he’s a parent, too – he’s not a babysitter.” ~ Jacinda Ardern

“There is no set plan, it’s just whether or not she’s getting enough sleep, where I am for feeds. They might be with us a lot, they might just be in the hotel.  “It depends what the jet lag does to them both. She’s a good sleeper and we don’t know whether that will mean she ends up sleeping a lot in the day rather than the night.”  While this may still be an oddity to have a baby while ruling or even present during UN sessions Ardent believes that “one day it will be normal”.

[Source: M. Nichols on Twitter]

“It is a woman’s decision about when they choose to have children, and it should not predetermine whether or not they are given a job or have job opportunities.” ~ Jacinda Ardern


In March 2019 a lone gunman entered Christchurch mosque and opened fire on its congregants, killing 51 individuals and injuring 49, while filming the incident on live-stream on FaceBook live.  A 28-year old Australian white supremacist with extreme alt right views was apprehended where he plead not guilt to murder and  terrorism attacks.   He plead not guilty to all charges.  Ardern described the incident as “one of New Zealand’s darkest days” which are the deadliest mass shootings in modern New Zealand history and moved to established a royal commission of inquiry into its security agencies in the wake of the attacks.

PM moves on pledge to act against weapons threat as families wait for bodies of mosque shooting victims [Source: thenational.ae]
In Arden’s response to the attack, however, was swift and stern for the attacker, “empathetic” and “compassionate” for those who lost and suffered from the incident.  Ardern reminded her people that for all the diversity that they have there is nothing to fear that there is no real threat and that they “are a proud nation of more than 200 ethnicities, 160 languages, and among our diversity we share common values  and the one currency we place our values on right now, tonight, is that one of compassion.” Ardern continued to state that she will never say the shooters name since he was seeking notoriety and would prefer to name those who had suffered from the attack.  Her response, in fact, was so honest, measured and humane that nations around the world took notice and applauded her ability to lead her country through tragedy.

The Ban

March 2019 more than a thousand people had handed in weapons banned since the terrorist attack at two Christchurch mosques which left 50 people dead.  Assault rifles and military style semi-automatics have been made illegal in sweeping and immediate gun law changes in New Zealand in the wake of the attack.

Meanwhile, the gunman’s “manifesto” – a 72-page document posted on the internet and sent to politicians, including the prime minister, minutes before the attack – has been banned by the country’s censor.  While Chief censor David Shanks said “There is an important distinction to be made between ‘hate speech’, which may be rejected by many right-thinking people, but which is legal to express, and this type of publication, which is deliberately constructed to inspire further murder and terrorism.”He urged anyone in possession of a copy of the document to destroy it, and said it “crosses the line”, by promoting murder and violence against a specific group of people. [Independent]

The New Zealand government had also created a gun buyback scheme for those who already own the newly illegal weapons.  Ardern said “fair and reasonable compensation” would be paid. The New Zealand government estimated that it will cost $100m-$200m.  There are thought to be around 1.2 million to 1.5 million guns in the country of 5 million people.  Government officials have said they have “no idea” how many assault rifles are in circulation but estimate there are roughly 13,500 military-style semi-automatic weapons held by the public.  Once again Arden swift action to implementing gun laws, as did Australia after its terror attack years prior, was applaud from nations around the world who in turn compared what she had accomplished to larger nations such as the United States who are yet to install satisfactory gun laws.

“We each hold the power, in our words and in our actions, in our daily acts of kindness… The answer lies in our humanity.” – Jacinda Ardern, Prime Minister, New Zealand [Source: Women’s Campaign Fund]
The Hijab

Ardern continued with her campaign to bring comfort and peace to those who were directly affected by the shooting.  She won widespread praise for her continued sensitivity to those who were suffering  by donning a black headscarf when meeting members of the Muslim community who were victimized by the shooting . I suspect this sensitivity is something that is second nature to Ardern and she did this thoughtful act without a second thought.  However, other women caught on and campaigned to do the same.  The response had people divided in their opinions over whether the solidarity gesture was a help or a hindrance. Which sparked another debate.

Jacinda Ardern, after Christchurch. [The Spinoff]
Women’s rights advocates said it was a sensitive issue for many women campaigning globally against the obligatory wearing of headscarves and other clothing in a fight against oppression.  “When we see non-Muslim women wear the hijab in solidarity of Muslim women it is very ironic and contradictory because our experience with the hijab is not empowering or uplifting in the political sense,” said Maryam Lee, a Muslim women’s rights advocate and author in Malaysia who chooses to not wear a hijab.

The idea caught on and women across New Zealand donned headscarves as part of a Head Scarf for Harmony campaign started by a doctor who heard about a woman too scared to go out as she felt her headscarf would make her a target for terrorism.  “Why is hijab a ‘show of solidarity’ symbol for New Zealand terror attack victims,” wrote Twitter user @RamaNewDelhi. “A key part of my feminism is to question shackles that religion imposes selectively on women.”

Masih Alinejad, an Iranian activist and journalist who hosts the website My Stealthy Freedom was also conflicted with the mixed message, while she understood and appreciated the compassionate gesture Alinejad also pointed out that Ardern and the rest of the women were…

Dupatta-wearing New Zealand PM Jacinda Ardern hailed for expressing solidarity with Muslims | World – Geo.tv

 “…using one of the most visible symbols of oppression for Muslim women in many countries for solidarity, and it also broke my heart.  That is why I call on them to show their sisterhood and solidarity with us, who are being beaten up, imprisoned and punished for fighting against compulsory hijab as well.  So the female politicians who go and visit Iran, the tourists, athletes, actresses – all of them, when they go to my beautiful country they say that this is a cultural issue, we wear it out of respect to the culture of Iran.  Let me be clear with you: calling a discriminatory law a part of our culture – this is an insult to a nation.”

Spectator USA took a similar stance claiming that being “a self-professed feminist” made Ardern wearing a headscarf even worse.

In her Herald on Sunday column, Heather du Plessis-Allan addressed the rights and wrongs surrounding the issue of wearing a headscarf.  Du Plessis-Allan wrote that a Muslim women’s rights advocate in Malaysia suggested that the reason Ardern wore hijab was because she didn’t understand the implications. “She is not a Muslim and not from a Muslim majority country,” the advocate said in an interview.  Du Plessis-Allan wrote that despite the criticism the PM was right to wear a headscarf.  Putting on the headscarf was the simplest and most compelling way of the Prime Minister telling the Muslim community that they are us and they have our support.  Supporting all Muslims was more important than being a feminist in the days immediately following the attack.” [emphasis added]

While understanding both sides of the story I fail to see those who are critics to provide another option to show their solidarity without insulting their culture or their fight from oppression.  Is there another article of clothing they could wear? a piece of jewelry – a pin, something – don’t leave it up to the foreigners to decide how to show solidarity especially in times of tragedy.  I’ve heard this argument many times before yet I fail to hear some sort of alternative option and for that I fault those who complain about this issue.  Don’t present a problem without offering a solution.

The Cloak

While we are on the topic of wardrobe, I have to voice my admiration for the many times I’ve seen Ardern wearing a traditional Māori cloak.  She wears it everywhere! Even when she met the Queen! In England! It’s part of her formal states-womanly regalia and it’s something that I admire for when we look to see the many indigenous cultures we have here in Canada I have not seen not one leader do the same.

[Source: BBC]

“When New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern wore a traditional Maori cloak to meet the Queen, it had quite a few people scratching their heads – and most New Zealanders glowing with pride. It’s a korowai, a garment woven with feathers and steeped in history, tradition and cultural significance. Worn by Maori on special occasions, it surprised some when it turned up in London at the Commonwealth Summit. But it’s not that unusual. The Queen also wears one whenever she visits New Zealand.”

The photos of Ms Ardern wearing the korowai have generated a wave of pride, enthusiasm and support online, with people praising it as “stunning” and “beautiful”, while New Zealanders have been filled with pride and respect. “Korowai are a very special form of cloak,” explains Vini Olsen-Reeder, a lecturer in Maori studies at Victoria University. “There are lots of different kinds of cloaks, but the korowai is the one with the highest prestige.” Traditionally, it would be awarded only to people from the upper echelons of Maori society, or given as a gift to people from outside the community if they were thought to be of equally high standing. In this case the korowai was given to Ms Ardern by a Maori group in London, for her to wear at the Commonwealth Summit. [BBC]

Ardern speaks about her country with ownership she’s a part of the country just as every other citizen, she speaks the language of the Maori which show inclusivity and also a sign of ownership and respect.  I think this is another example that we and Canadian politicians can learn from Ardern.  Wear a traditional – I don’t know, something – when you meet to negotiate land treaties, access to their land or sharing of their natural resources, even on state dinners when you are acting as a representative on behalf of Canada, within our country and abroad wear or add something that shows the inclusive nature that we are striving for with our First Nations and Indigenous population.   And I mean learning to speak more of their language than just simply saying “Meegwitch”.

For example, Liberal Marc Millar learned Mohawk and stood in Parliament and spoke in their language – he was great!  These are some of the simple gestures we can do – it’s not expected – but a sign of solidarity, compassion and respect for our First Nations and indigenous communities whether they are in the room or not, because they represent a significant component our country that we don’t do nearly enough to recognize.

“Well-Being” Budget and Climate

In May 2019, Ardern unveiled New Zealand’s inaugural “well-being” budget in a move set to cement Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern’s reputation for “compassionate” leadership in the wake of the Christchurch mosque massacre.

Ardern has earned a reputation as a frugal leader who recently froze MPs salaries for a year and makes her ministers carpool to events.  As such, she is quoted as say that she still drives her car, she does her own shopping when she can and tries to maintain the normalcy of everyday life trying to balance her career and her private life.

Ardern’s May budget was dubbed the “Well-Being” “for promising to foster economic growth but not at the expense of people’s well-being.  Budget process needs to change,” Ardern told a business audience in Auckland “the traditional cost-benefit analysis is often short term.”  While praising the country’s solid rates of GDP growth she questioned the “quality of economic activity and how it had been shared.” she described as a world-first attempt to change the way economic progress is measured. Ardern’s administration unveiled a far-reaching budget that provides billions in new funding for mental health resources and domestic violence prevention.

“Today we have laid the foundation for not just one well-being budget, but a different approach for government decision-making altogether.” ~ Jacinda Ardern

Ardern’s announcement of the  budget was “the biggest single investment ever” by a government to address such issues as public priorities.  She was relating to her people when she empathized “Almost all of us have lost friends or family members. Ensuring that New Zealanders can now just show up to their GP or health center and get expert mental health support is a critical first step,” she said, according to The Guardian.

[Source: Getty Images via The Hill]
In her speech Arden stated that “prioritizing economic growth is an unnecessary evil rather than focusing on productivity and economic growth, therefore she deprioritizing it in her budget.  In a Capitalist society -We prioritize it over our personal health, we prioritize it over the health of the planet and we prioritize it over our happiness.  The budget, therefore, puts people before economic indicators.”

The Times reports that the prioritization of New Zealand’s budget will require any new government spending to fit at least one of five public priorities: battling child poverty, improving mental health services, addressing the needs of native Maori and Pacific Islanders, transitioning the nation to a low-emission energy grid and “thriving in the digital age.” [The Hill]

“Ultimately, I do want us to be a transformative government. I want, when we’ve left, for people to say we’re not just clean-green anymore: we’re carbon neutral, or we’re striving to be.” ~ Jacinda Arden

Aljezeera reports “On the economic front, it predicts a surplus of 3.5 billion New Zealand dollars ($2.3bn) in 2018-19, rising to 6.1 billion New Zealand dollars ($4bn) by 2022-23.  It optimistically forecasts economic growth will average 2.7 percent over the same period, with inflation hovering around two percent and unemployment slightly over four percent.  Well-being factors, such as life expectancy, education levels, air quality and “a sense of belonging” were also factored into budget decisions.”

In July 2019 she will announced welfare reforms including a weekly stipend for new parents and an increase in paid parental leave from 18 to 22 weeks.   She also highlighted recent reforms to help disadvantaged Māori, to lift children out of poverty, most notably in the form of a “families package” that boosted assistance to low- and middle-income families. “We have more to do,” she said, words she would repeat throughout the day.

Jacinda Ardern joins refugees going to plant a tree of remembrance at the Māngere resettlement centre. Photo / Getty Images [Source: NZ Herald]

“I am an optimist. I was born one and politics has not beaten it out of me yet. “~ Jacinda Ardern

Yet criticism of Arden’s budget was quick and sharp.  “New Zealanders won’t benefit from a government that is ignoring the slowing economy and focusing instead on branding,” Amy Adams of the National Party said in a statement obtained by the Times. “We’re facing significant economic risks over coming years, but this government is focusing on a marketing campaign.” [The Hill]

“If the budget succeeds in delivering for New Zealand’s environment, it will be by spending wisely to reverse past under-investment in specific areas and ensuring that degradation stops and reverses in the relevant areas of environmental well-being. Success can only come through the latter, if groups like the climate change commission and freshwater task force forge clear paths through the political constraints that will guide investment in future budgets.” [Conversation]


Businesses even politicians are catching on to the value of “empathy” and “compassion” where empathy based research is the new buzz word, for example, in product development.  It’s another way of saying “end-users feelings will be considered”; and expect “compassion slogans” during the campaigning for our upcoming federal election. Columbia, for example, is calling for the adoption of a progressive capitalism conducive to individual “well-being” as a remedy for inequalities and injustice rising form neo-liberal politics.  Last month Andrew Scheer was quoted saying: “As Prime Minister my government will restore fairness, order and “compassion” to the immigration system.”   Skip over to Canada’s New Democratic Party (NDP) website to read their commitments under their recently release platform, you’ll find it’s drenched with “compassonomics” and dripping with empathy, as it always had, starting with Singh’s personal slogan “love and courage” (and Jack Layton’s “Love is Better”), “reconciliation is at the heart of what we do”, “taking better care of each other,” “the courage to do what’s right”  and so on.

“One of the criticisms I’ve faced over the years is that I’m not aggressive enough or assertive enough, or maybe somehow, because I’m empathetic, it means I’m weak. I totally rebel against that. I refuse to believe that you cannot be both compassionate and strong.” ~ Jacinda Ardern



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