Who we are

GL7177BD WEBUNESCO 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

GL7194 WEBRobyn 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 Cheryl Stephens

GL7248 WEBEducation specialist, Cheryl Stephens, is of Te Arawa and Taranaki descent. She has more than 35 years’ experience in the education sector in primary school, teacher education and tertiary teaching. During this time she has assumed a large number of executive management, leadership and governance roles, including as Director - National Institute of Māori Education, Te Whare Wānanga o Awanuiārangi; Board member of the New Zealand Council for Educational Research; and Council member of the New Zealand Association for Research in Education. Cheryl brings a strong background in Māori education and research.  


Social Sciences Commissioner – Materoa Dodd

GL7219 WEBSocial Sciences specialist, Materoa Dodd, is an indigenous educator. She has been a Senior Lecturer specialising in international social trends and governance. She pioneered action research partnerships between iwi, universities and the Harvard Project on Indian Economic development. She has been appointed to Te Whare Wānanga o Awanuiārangi and has served on tribal, educational, community development and Māori women’s organisations for the past 30 years. 



Natural Sciences Commissioner – Dr Geoff Hicks

GL7284 WEBGeoff 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 – Dr Arapata Hakiwai

GL7270 WEBCulture specialist, Mr Arapata Hakiwai is of Ngāti Kahungunu, Rongowhakaata, Ngāti Porou, and Ngāi Tahu descent. A recognised authority on taonga Māori, he is currently Kaihautū at the Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa.





Communication and Information Commissioner – Trish Carter

GL7231 WEBTrish Carter was the Asia Pacific establishment editor and bureau chief for Al Jazeera. She has held senior news and current affairs management positions in New Zealand broadcasting over a career spanning 30 years. She has particular expertise in establishing and managing complex media projects and has specialised knowledge in legal, cultural and ethical issues, competitive news formats and team management.




Special Advisor Youth – Danielle Newton

GL7294 WEBDanielle Newton is a University of Auckland scholarship recipient and mentor, currently undertaking her third year of study in a Bachelor of Arts/Bachelor of Science Conjoint, double majoring in Politics and Sociology and Environmental Science and Geography. Alongside her studies, Danielle is involved in a range of social justice organisations and youth networks. She was the winner of the District 16 (National) and International Recipient of the Zonta Young Women in Public Affairs Award in 2014, and facilitated the Social Development Focus Group in 2015 and Environment Focus Groups at the 2016 Aotearoa Youth Declaration Conference. 


Current Secretariat

Secretary General – Vicki Soanes

GL7251 WEBVicki 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. 

Communications Manager (part-time) – Tania Guenter

UNESCO Aotearoa Youth Leaders

Danielle Newton (Chair)

Shaymaa Arif

Injy Johnstone

Raven Maeder

Peter McKenzie

Ashlee Peacock

Nola Smart

Charlotte Steel

Teina Wells-Smith