Professor Cindy Kiro is an intensely curious person who is passionate about standing up for those who have been disempowered.
It is what has driven the Whangārei-born academic to dedicate her work to improving life outcomes for children and young people - particularly those who experience social marginalisation or exclusion.
Now, she has been made a Dame Companion of the New Zealand Order of Merit for services to child wellbeing and education in the 2021 New Year Honours.
"I'm feeling honoured and humbled. It's a recognition of a long career and the best thing for me is I feel the work is being valued, and that there is recognition of the importance of the work that needs to be done still," she said.
"More importantly, I'm also very aware that all of this work has resulted from work I've done with groups of other people, almost all of whom are absolutely amazing."
It's hard to sum up Kiro's work and achievements.
For the past two years she has worked as pro vice-chancellor Māori at the University of Auckland where she has led the development of a formal te reo Māori policy, and committed the university to a Te Tiriti o Waitangi policy.
She was also the first Māori, first female, and the youngest Children's Commissioner.
During her time in this role, from 2003 to 2009, she instigated several inquiries into child deaths resulting from serious abuse and neglect. As a result the Child Death Mortality and Family Violence Death Review committees were established.
Kiro also helped establish the Taskforce for Action on Violence within Families, the largest response to family violence in New Zealand.
And she has four boys - including two stepsons - and two grandsons who are her "heart".
When asked what motivated her, Kiro said she is intensely curious.
"That curiosity has really driven my whole career, and also the passion to stand up - particularly for those who have been disempowered.
"I know that sounds very tripe, but the little ones who come from poor households, the little ones who have experienced things they shouldn't have to. How do we stop that from happening and how do we heal what's happened?"
Kiro - who is Ngāpuhi-nui-tonu, Ngāti Hine and Ngāti Kahu - said her desire to improve the lives of children and young people, started from a young age.
She went to Rutherford College at a time when Dame June Mariu and Sir Pita Sharples were there. They had manu taki, leadership, and it was a close community in West Auckland.
She recalled the mahi they did working with young kids who could have easily gone off the rails. They held weekly socials with movies and cheap lollies.
"Every Saturday you'd know that the kids would have somewhere to go, something to do and they wouldn't be hanging around the streets, they'd all be together," she said.
"So even from high school I recognised there is value in taking care of those that otherwise get up to no good or would otherwise be left alone."
Kiro is not yet done with her mahi either.
In March she will start a new role as chief executive of the Royal Society New Zealand Te Apārangi where she will be the first Māori and second female in the position.
Her ultimate goal?
"I want to ensure every child born in this country is loved, cared for and reaches their potential. And we do that using high quality knowledge, expertise and good judgement."