UNESCO New Zealand comprises a Chair, and a team of five National Commissioners and a Special Advisor for Youth, each of whom is a specialist in one area of UNESCO’s mandate and leads and advises on that area of our work.
The Secretariat – a small, specialised team based within the Ministry of Education’s International Division, in Wellington – maintains the formal UNESCO-New Zealand relationship and implements the decisions of the National Commission.
Current Chair and Commissioners
Chair – Robyn Baker
Robyn Baker’s career has been in the field of education where she has contributed as a teacher, researcher, curriculum developer, teacher educator and leader. She was the Director and CEO of the New Zealand Council for Educational Research from 2000 to 2014. As a science educator Robyn has been involved in many national developments, including science curriculum and environmental education initiatives. She was a member of the Royal Society Council 1997-2002 and more recently chaired its Education Committee.
Robyn led the management of the Teaching and Learning Research Initiative (2003-2014). Currently, she chairs the selection and monitoring panels for the Teacher-led Innovation Fund. This fund is one aspect of the government’s Investing in Educational Success policy and provides funds for teachers to investigate new and innovative practices that have the potential to improve student learning.
Robyn has considerable experience of governance, as a senior manager working to a board and as a governor. Currently she is the Deputy Chair of the Board of the Australian Council for Education Research (ACER), a global research organisation with significant operations in a number of countries, including India, South America and Africa.
Robyn is an Officer of the New Zealand Order of Merit for services to education (2015) and in 2002 was awarded the Royal Society of New Zealand Silver Science and Technology medal.
Education Commissioner – Dr Carol Mutch
Dr Carol Mutch brings a strong education research perspective that is closely aligned to UNESCO’s work in nations experiencing rapid change, conflict and trauma. Dr Mutch is Professor in Critical Studies in Education at the University of Auckland.
Social Sciences Commissioner – Professor Tagaloatele Peggy Fairbairn-Dunlop
Emeritus Professor Tagaloatele Peggy Fairbairn-Dunlop has considerable expertise and mana within the social sciences field, including experience on UNESCO’s Social Sciences Sub-Commission and other agencies of the United Nations. She is Auckland University of Technology’s inaugural Professor of Pacific Studies.
Natural Sciences Commissioner – Dr Geoff Hicks
Dr Geoff Hicks has recently retired from the role of Chief Scientist at the Department of Conservation. He is Emeritus Research Associate at Landcare Research, co-chairs the End-User Advisory Panel of the Biological Heritage National Science Challenge and is a member of the Interdisciplinary Committee of the World Cultural Council.
Culture Commissioner – Dan Hikuroa
Dr Dan Hikuroa (Ngāti Maniapoto, Waikato-Tainui, Pākehā) has a PhD in Geology and is currently Senior Lecturer, Te Wānanga o Waipapa, Māori Studies, at the University of Auckland, where he has also lectured in Anthropology and Geology. Dan’s expertise is in the areas of Earth Systems, Mātauranga Māori (Māori knowledge and ways of knowing), climate change, natural hazards and rivers. He has driven community and participatory projects that have included: marine spatial planning; environmental management plans; natural resource use and management; natural hazards, disaster risk reduction, resilience; and industrial waste-site rehabilitation. He uses Kaupapa Māori methods in his work with Māori communities to realise dreams and to problem solve.
Communication and Information Commissioner – Vanisa Dhiru
Vanisa Dhiru has an extensive background within the NGO and voluntary sector. During her career she has been in Chief Executive roles including CEO of Volunteering New Zealand, and Executive Director of the 20/20 Trust (focusing on supporting digital inclusion for all New Zealanders). She has held governance roles with groups including the National Council of Women New Zealand, Inspiring Stories, the YWCA and Trade Aid. She sits on Victoria University of Wellington’s School of Business and Government Advisory Board and is on the National Library of New Zealand’s He Tohu Advisory Board.
Special Advisor Youth – Shahin Najak
Shahin is a student at the University of Auckland, currently studying a conjoint degree of science and commerce. In science, she is pursuing a double major in biological sciences and environmental science. Her major in commerce is economics.
Shahin became a UNESCO Aotearoa Youth Leader in 2019 and has since represented the National Commission at various engagements, both nationally and internationally, including the UNESCO Mahatma Gandhi Institute of Education for Peace and Sustainable Development (MGIEP) #KindnessMatters Launch in New Delhi. Shahin has taken on a wide range of leadership positions, beginning with the Sir Peter Blake Trust in 2015 as a young enviro-leader. In 2016 she travelled to the Auckland Islands in the Sub Antarctic with the Sir Peter Blake Trust and the Royal New Zealand Navy, working with a team of scientists to conduct fundamental research for Blake Station. She was one of only 14 young adults to be chosen to complete this expedition and the youngest at the age of 16. Since then she has been working closely with Auckland Council to improve the Auckland region, focusing on New Zealand Mistletoe restoration and numerous beach clean ups at Manakau Domain. Shahin is a Shia Imami Ismaili Muslim and helps coordinate outreach events throughout Auckland to give back to the community through key areas of development. She also volunteers regularly with Auckland City mission.
Secretary General – Vicki Soanes
Vicki Soanes has a decade of experience working in the NGO sector in Zambia, the UK, France and the USA. Immediately prior to returning to New Zealand in 2009, she spent four and a half years representing International Movement ATD Fourth World, an INGO focused on extreme poverty and human rights, at the United Nations in New York.
After a year as Advocacy Manager – International for UNICEF NZ, she joined the Secretariat of the New Zealand National Commission for UNESCO in 2010, as Education Programme Officer with additional responsibility for the youth programme. She led the Looking Beyond Disaster UNESCO Youth programme, which began in 2011. Vicki became Acting Secretary General in January 2016, and was appointed to the Secretary General role in November 2016.
Advisor – Gracielli Ghizzi-Hall
Portfolios: Global Citizenship Education, UNESCO Aotearoa Youth Leaders
Gracielli has a background in teaching and experience working as a policy analyst in the education sector. She was also a programme coordinator and Council Member for the United Nations Association of New Zealand for four years. She has a BA in Cultural Anthropology and a Masters with Distinction in International Relations, both from Victoria University of Wellington.
Senior Advisor – Zuleika Chang
Portfolios: Indigenous Knowledge, Oceans
Zuleika has previously worked for a range of government agencies, most recently as a senior policy advisor on the Migrant Exploitation Review. While working at the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment, she worked in a range of policy roles including in the
immigration and international strategy teams. She was also the Sciences Programme Officer for the Secretariat for the New Zealand National Commission for UNESCO between 2008 and 2010.
UNESCO Aotearoa Youth Leaders
Shahin Najak (Chair)