THE EXECUTIVE WING OF NEW ZEAland’s parliament is nicknamed the Beehive, and there has been a new buzz about it since Oct. 26, when Jacinda Ardern, 37, became the world’s youngest female leader. On the shelves of her Cabinet room, a 19th century edition of William M. Thayer’s Women Who Win is proudly displayed. Ardern knows something about that. She tells TIME of her desire to “give [women] a sense of hope that there is a path, that you can find yourself in these wonderful situations.”
That Ardern’s path took her to the prime ministership vindicates the power of that kind of hope. What comes next is hard, as this center-left leader manages a fragile alliance with her country’s far right—a balancing act that could provide lessons for the rest of a politically polarized world. More pressing will be the needs of the 4.7 million people of New Zealand, a country seen from the outside as an Eden—it was the filming location of The Lord of the Rings—but one grappling with harrowing problems.
For the haves, the quality of life is superb, but not for the have-nots. New Zealand has the worst homelessness in the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development, shocking levels of child abuse and a heavily polluting agricultural industry. Such problems would test a veteran, never mind a neophyte. But New Zealand’s bountiful image, Ardern says, is one “I want to restore. We’r