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25 Foundation Grantees

Ashalyna Noa


Canterbury University PhD student Ashalyna Noa’s fascination with foreign aid and soft power in the Pacific stems from what she terms “The complexities of my own cultural identity”.

Ashalyna’s great grandfather was one of the first 12 Chinese men to settle in Samoa. Her grandmother is Samoan/German/American, and her grandfather Samoan/Chinese.

That’s just her maternal side. Her paternal grandfather is Samoan/Tongan, born and raised in Papua New Guinea, and her grandmother Samoan/English.

Drawing on her family history, Ashalyna’s Masters research focused on early Chinese entrepreneurship in Samoa and the indentured labour scheme. Her current PhD research has widened to explore New Zealand and Chinese foreign aid in the Pacific.


Views on Chinese  aid vary, as Ashalyna found when she visited Samoa in 2017 with the support of a “tremendously helpful” Foundation postgraduate research grant. “When I talked to locals many were sceptical about China and the growing Chinese presence,” she said. “Whereas many in positions of authority were openly supportive of China.” 

That initial grant and membership of the Foundation’s Leadership Network have opened many doors for Ashalyna. Importantly, the Foundation’s support has given her confidence to enter the “whole new world” that is Track II informal diplomacy. In 2018 Ashalyna attended the Asia Pacific Roundtable in Kuala Lumpur and through those connections has since been able to share her research findings at other events.

What comes next? Ashalyna is not sure – further research is just one option.  She’s enjoying her work on the university’s Pacific Development team and volunteers on a Pacific women’s group encouraging young women to engage in leadership. In 2019 she and the Foundation’s senior research adviser James To ran a Track II event for Pacific students.

“Not many students look at Asia in the Pacific, but it’s such a huge topic. I hope more Pacific students will now engage in the discussion,” Ashalyna said.