Sacha McMeeking

Academic, consultant, social entrepreneur

Sacha McMeeking hunts ideas, old and new, to help iwi and other organisations successfully manage change. Her collaborative approach is right on track.

Now head of the Māori Department at the University of Canterbury, the social entrepreneur, strategist and solution builder also runs boutique consultancy Catalytic, which has established a reputation for specialising in government relations and iwi engagement.

Sacha was previously Te Runanga o Ngāi Tahu’s general manager strategy and influence. After graduating with a Masters in Laws with First Class Honours, and lecturing at the University of Canterbury, she became New Zealand’s inaugural Fulbright Harkness Fellow for emerging and established leaders in 2010. She is a trustee of the Hilary Institute of International Leadership, an organisation which develops exceptional mid-career leaders. Sacha spoke at the TEDx Reimagining Christchurch event in 2011.

She says the unifying principles in her work are innovation and change.

“I love the opportunity to hunt ideas that already exist and repurpose them for my community. I think that’s my favourite thing. So I might take what’s happening internationally with social enterprise, add some of the processes used by start-ups and remix them in to a kaupapa Māori framework.”

She says working with a range of people with different approaches is vital.

“If we always dance with the people who look like us we don’t create any change. I really enjoy being able to reach out and find points of serendipity with people who don’t fit my status quo. Some may call it dancing with the devil – well I’m up for that!

“Change can be incremental and slow or it can leapfrog stages and when we collaborate with partners that are unlike us, it creates the opportunity to leap ahead.”

Sacha, whose mother is Scottish and father Ngāi Tahu, grew up in Christchurch in a home with a strong social justice focus.

“I was taught the world was a long way from perfect and grew up expecting to contribute to change.”

She went to law school with the goal of working internationally in indigenous human rights, and had the opportunity as a Fulbright fellow.

“But I learned that being an advocate is not necessarily a fast or effective route to creating change. Since then my career has been about supporting other ways of creating change.”

She says leadership roles are on offer for women, and hard work and developing an authentic style is the way to get there.

“Leadership roles are out there, and you get them through hard yards and doing the grind until you earn the right to have a voice.

“My style’s not standing up the front and proclaiming. I have a whole bunch of professional skills that can help the community create a vision, but the community has its own leaders and it’s about asking them what they want and aspire to and then creating tools and approaches that fit.”

Sacha says there is much to be learned from the dynamic, passionate democracy of the traditional Māori decision making process.

“Post-settlement, we have moved into a more facilitative nature of leadership where there are people in complementary roles in a number of different places who can collaborate together to weave the many parts to a solution.

“That’s what we need nowadays. For change to work, there has to be consensus. People have to genuinely believe in it and to do that they need to have somehow contributed to the nature and direction of change.

“Collaboration is the only way to build consensus and support at scale for significant change.”