11 September 2023

For Jacob McGregor, it's important to keep things simple, be kind, and to follow your heart and wairua.

Jacob McGregor (Ngā Rauru, Ngāti Raukawa, Te Whānau a Apanui) cites both his mum and his dad as influences in his career.

“I grew up in a church, my mum was a pastor, and she would talk about the concept of servant-leadership, of being humble, and putting the needs of others before your own. To do that, you have to understand what those needs are.

“And Dad talked about whaikōrero (oration during pōhiri), and that if you talk and no one understands you, it’s a waste of time.”

Jacob’s career in the Public Service started in 2017 with an internship at Te Puni Kōkiri after finishing his BA in politics and international relations.

A fluent speaker of te reo Māori, he was drawn to Te Puni Kōkiri as a workplace where he could use his reo everyday, both in writing and in speaking.

His work involved visiting Māori, interviewing them, and writing their stories.

“Coming from humble beginnings it was awesome to see families like my own receive support through Te Puni Kōkiri.

“I fell in love with the job, with writing, with the people, and interacting with different people right across the agency.”

At the end of the internship Jacob moved into a full-time communications role, and in 2018 was appointed Senior Communications Advisor – a rapid career progression.

He was involved in a number of projects such as the launch of the Maihi Karauna, the Crown’s Māori language revitalisation strategy, and the Māori media sector shift.

He loved digital communications and social media, and he ended up leading the development of the channels strategy for Te Puni Kōkiri.

“I also had a manager who taught me to be led by my heart, be led by my intuition as a Māori, by my wairua.”

When Covid struck Jacob was seconded to Manatū Hauora Ministry of Health as Principal Māori Communications Advisor for the Ministry's COVID-19 response.

As an essential worker, he was based in the Ministry building as part of a core team tasked with communicating vital information to the public.

Specifically, Jacob’s job was turning official messaging into engaging content for Māori – a huge and high-pressure responsibility.

The formula was simple: make sure the content featured Māori voices, Māori faces, and Māori messages, and where possible, create it in partnership with Māori.

Jacob worked with creative agency Mahi Tahi to deliver the highly successful Golden Rules campaign – a fun and relatable video series which became the Ministry’s most successful communication campaign targeted towards Māori and youth audiences.

But it was also a very intense and extremely uncertain time, and one that Jacob navigated by seeking advice from a range of people – former managers, mentors, family – and by sharing with them how he felt about the challenges. He would then bring all that advice and knowledge together in his decision-making, which often led to better outcomes precisely because the solution wasn’t created in isolation.

Being the only Māori person on the team could also be intense, Jacob says.

“People talk of a ‘cultural tax’, and you feel that. As well as doing your own work you’re expected to be the Tiriti expert, the equity expert, the tikanga expert, the language expert. It can be a lot of responsibility.”

Jacob is now a Principal Engagement Advisor at Manatū Hauora Ministry of Health. Projects have included Ao Mai te Rā: the Anti-Racism Kaupapa, developing Pae Tū: Hauora Māori Strategy, and supporting the wider health system to make sure Māori understand the recent national health reforms.

Being a Māori public servant can be complex, says Jacob, with the occasional accusation of being a kūpapa, or traitor, but he is clear about the difference he makes in his work.

“I bring everything that I am, and everything that my people are, to a space where we’re a minority, which is important.

“The fact that I’m here and present, I think that in itself makes a difference.

“What I do is to make sure that the way we think and feel as Māori is reflected in the way that government speaks to and engages with whānau Māori.”

In 2021, Jacob 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 his citation he was praised for demonstrating a commitment to strengthening te reo and tikanga Māori, supporting Māori communities to ensure their needs are met, and supporting the crown to deliver its obligations under Te Tiriti o Waitangi.

When it comes to leadership, Jacob’s philosophy is simple.

“You can complicate things with all sorts of frameworks and systems, but the main thing for me is to be a good person. How I make people feel is the most important thing to me.”