With a name that means "helper of the vision", it was perhaps destined that Awhina Kanohi would end up leading a life in service of her community and people.
Born and raised in Murupara, Awhina considers herself fortunate to have been raised by grandparents who taught her the importance of respect for others and self, manaakitanga and the importance of education.
"Even at a fairly young age I had a determination that I didn't want to end up on the DPB [domestic purposes benefit] like women I saw in my community. And when one of my aunties offered me the opportunity to study at Hamilton Girls High, I grabbed it.
"I was one of the few Māori that stayed on till seventh form in a school that was very European. I was quite socially inept and didn't find many people that I had much in common with. I'd often get challenged about my identity and people often thought I was Samoan."
Awhina says it wasn't until university that she felt connected to like-minded Māori who were focused on achievement and a better future.
"I used to think it was uncool to be Māori. They were over-represented in all the negative statistics. They dropped out from school, they were on the DPB."
Awhina recalls a moment while studying a Bachelor of Arts in Japanese, Māori and Psychology at Waikato University which would be a turning point in her life.
"We were waiting to get into a Tiriti o Waitangi lecture and a non-Māori student made a really racist remark. A Māori guy about my age spoke up against it. Until that point, I had never seen someone stand up for being Māori. I hadn't really seen a young, intelligent Māori saying we didn't need to justify who we are."
Since graduating with that first degree, Awhina has leveraged her education and culture to empower and develop Māori to be in a better position – economically, culturally, socially and academically.
She credits her Christian faith and being part of a large, predominantly Māori and Pacific church, as a grounding factor in her life, which helped her identify her purpose more clearly.
"I just want to help my people. And in whatever role I’ve had, I’ve thought about how I can get Māori into a better position."
In an extremely varied career journey, Awhina has worked in hospitality both in New Zealand and Japan, worked as a flight attendant, in recruitment and did temping roles for a year while studying towards a Post Graduate Diploma in Business (Māori Development).
More recently she has supported the growth of Māori and Pacific students at NZMA; as an Information Advisor at Te Puni Kōkiri; Careers and Employment Advisor at Ngāti Whātua Ōrakei Whai Maia; and just prior to joining Tuputoa, as Senior Executive Advisor to the Independent Māori Statutory Board (IMSB) for Auckland Council.
Awhina joined TupuToa in July 2019 and says she loves the opportunity to be "the architect" - creating, designing and implementing something from the start to the end, and where TupuToa alumni are empowered as being decision makers in the process.
"I want to see our alumni in an empowered position. Our people are over represented in negative statistics. I want to shed a light on the positive stories that give our people hope for the better and brighter future they deserve.
"My role is really about setting up the stage, so the spotlight on our matariki can shine even brighter."