Making healthcare more accessible in the world's poorest communities is probably not at the top of every 18-year-old Kiwi's list of priorities.

But then Yang Fan Yun is definitely not every 18-year-old Kiwi.

The Aucklander took out the Prime Minister's Award this year, as the highest achiever among the country's school scholarship students.

This followed a range of top achievements at Macleans College and getting the Top in the World A Level Geography award at the Cambridge Outstanding Learner Awards Ceremony in February.


His future is sure to be incredibly bright, but what does the talented young Kiwi want to do with it all? Tackle socioeconomic inequality.

For Yun, who says he himself had an upbringing full of educational encouragement and opportunity, the unfairness of our world is stark.

"I don't think anyone deserves to lose on the starting line. It is not fair if there are children who are willing, talented and motivated, but who lack the resources or opportunities."

Yun has always had a thirst for learning. When he was four his parents bought him a multiplications poster.

He shut himself in a room until he learned them all, and then wanted more.

"I was just so fascinated by how it all worked."

When he was in year 7 he taught himself calculus via YouTube.

But his sense of social justice evolved more recently, hammered home during a research trip with the Biology Olympiad Team to Tanzania and Malawi last year.


"We visited a village, and learned if people contracted HIV there it was a death sentence, because they didn't have access to the right medication, like in New Zealand."

Prime Minister's Award winner Yang Fan Yun. Photo / Dean Purcell
Prime Minister's Award winner Yang Fan Yun. Photo / Dean Purcell

Closer to home it was New Zealand's shocking rates of rheumatic fever that fuelled him with a passion to make a difference.

"We are one of the only countries in the world that still has rheumatic fever.

"If you catch it as a child it can really impact on the opportunities you have, and your future."

There are few topics that don't interest Yun, but for the moment he is focusing his energy into economics, biology and chemistry, with a dream to improve access to affordable healthcare.

"My mum and my grandfather have always encouraged me to be a good person and to give back to society.

"It's a mix of my love for economics, biology and the life sciences – knowing how to make things cost-effective and being at the cutting edge of medical research. That's what I want to do."

After turning down places at top universities like Yale and Cambridge, Yung opted for Stanford University in California, where he will study towards a four-year liberal arts bachelor's degree.

Stanford offered a broad undergraduate programme, and was close to Silicon Valley, full of entrepreneurs and some of the world's most innovative thinkers.

Yun was particularly inspired by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and its work to improve access to healthcare.

Growing up in East Auckland, Yung said he was "always full of questions".

"And my family were really encouraging of my curiosity. I just wanted to understand the world around me, and use that knowledge in an applicable way."

He chose to study at Macleans College where they offered the Cambridge International assessment option.

With the focus on external exams - rather than internals scattered through the year with NCEA - Yun could better manage his extracurricular activities, which included playing cello and debating.

He also found the self-directed learning style suited him better, allowing him to study topics outside the curriculum.

"I like being able to work in my own time, and if you have a thirst for knowledge, you can bring it into your academics."

Outside of academia Yun is a keen hiker and volunteers in a Trade Aid store.

Despite all of his achievements, like most 18-year-old Kiwis, Yun is still a little uncertain of exactly what his future holds.

"I am not sure exactly what I will end up doing. All I know is that I want to make a difference."