31 August 2023

At every step of her career, Jacs Bell has put people at the heart of what she does.

“I just love working with people,” says Jacqueline Bell (Ngāti Maniapoto and Irish descent).

The Auckland-based Kāinga Ora Manager has had plenty of opportunity to engage with and help people over her Public Service career.

She started out in 2013 as a Passport Officer at the Department of Internal Affairs, but the lure of working more closely with people meant Jacs soon moved into the customer service team. There she processed counter requests for births, deaths and marriage certificates, citizenship applications, and passports.

Part of the attraction of the role was getting to become a marriage registrar, which meant she could legally marry couples. Jacs says she could officiate up to 50 marriages in a week.

“The feeling you got was amazing. It made you happy, the look on people’s faces when you declared them legally married.”

There were also extremely sad moments, when people with terminal illness would come to marry before they died.

Jacs says a highlight in her time there was processing New Zealand’s first-ever same-sex marriage licence.

“I really enjoyed that job. It was fast-paced, you worked with a lot of people, and there was a real variety of work.”

Wanting to progress her career and eventually lead a team, Jacs moved in 2016 to Housing New Zealand (now Kāinga Ora), where she has worked ever since.

In that time she has progressed from Administrator, to Tenancy Manager, Senior Tenancy Manager (2IC), Area Manager, and now Manager – Regional Placement for Auckland’s northwest.

Her role in a nutshell is this: “Our team works to house the most vulnerable whānau and individuals from the Ministry of Social Development’s housing register, and to find more suitable homes for current Kāinga Ora customers where their circumstances have changed or where we are redeveloping land to enable more housing for future customers.”

Included in the vulnerable are the homeless, displaced, victims of family harm, “and people who just need help”.

“Some people are at a time in their lives where they just need a place to call home. We help them do that.”

Learning to lead was a challenge Jacs embraced – giving structure, communicating, setting goals. But looking after the wellbeing of her team is the most important part for her.

“It’s about acknowledging that there is a job to do, yes. But there’s also people doing that job and they need to be supported, often in very different ways.”

In terms of her leadership approach, Jacs says she has been lucky to have had some great managers to guide her, and was also influenced by her Nana, who encouraged her to challenge the status quo, and respect people’s differences.

Jacs adds to that a natural love of experimentation, testing ideas with the people around her, being available, and doing what’s right.

A proud moment in her leadership came when told recently by members of her team that she made a positive difference to their wellbeing at work.

“I get emotional just thinking about it,” she says. “I want people to want to come to work. I want people to feel safe and respected at work.”

In 2021, Jacs was a finalist in the Spirit of Service Awards, which recognise public servants and initiatives that exemplify the spirit of service and demonstrate an outstanding commitment to New Zealand.

In her citation she was praised for her commitment to doing her best every day to make a difference in her community.

Jacs says there can be a stigma around working for the government or being a public servant.

“That’s something I have always tried to challenge and change people’s perspectives on.

“Not by trying to explain it to people, but by showing them that you do what you say you will, proving that you can be trusted by doing a good job and being helpful.

“I’ve worked hard to challenge that negativity.”

Ultimately success comes down to listening to people, connecting, understanding their needs, and then delivering great results, Jacs says.

“Knowing that we’ve put a whānau in a good home, where they can get settled and put down roots, where they can thrive in their community – that’s a really good feeling.”