Jess Jenkins was awarded an educational grant from McGuinness Institute in 2022. We followed up with Jess after her year studying a Master of Public Policy at the University of Oxford.

Cobblestone lanes, ivy-covered courtyards, and lecture theatres buzzing with voices from around the world – I am profoundly grateful to have spent the past year studying a Master of Public Policy (MPP) at the University of Oxford. This lovely old place, built on learning, where for hundreds of years students have walked, and questioned, and debated, and grown has shaped me in ways I’m sure I’ll be unpacking for years to come. Huge thanks to the McGuinness Institute for the support – my reflections feel clichéd and all too brief against this expansive experience, but I’m nevertheless excited to share them.

Oxford is a global meeting place, and especially the MPP – with 50 countries represented in our class of 140 (including 6 Kiwis). These diverse perspectives have shaped my world view, and I have a new appreciation for the many, complex challenges we collectively face. Thanks to my classmates (now friends) I also have a new appreciation for the passionate, tireless people pushing for solutions – like Min Min pursuing peace in Burma, Rayhan speaking out against Uighur oppression in China, Adam capturing the Palestinian struggle through his camera, and Abeer showing the different stories of female success in Saudi.

It’s easy to get overwhelmed by the scale and complexity of all these challenges – from making headway towards global climate goals to regulating emerging technologies and navigating rocky geopolitical terrain. No one person can understand the dynamic causes and consequences of all of them (and certainly not in a year), but our discussion of the underpinning values and trade-offs required, and different lenses available to understand problems and solutions, has left me better equipped to consider the role and responsibility of governments. Even better, with classmates now scattered around the world, there are people to call to discuss how these trade-offs are playing out in different contexts.

Importantly, I’ve gained fresh perspective on Aotearoa’s own challenges, and its role on the global stage. I have a better sense of the ways we’ve been a leader – like embedding the Waitangi Tribunal process, investing in digital transformation of government, and emphasising broader measures of growth and wellbeing than GDP. I also have a better sense of where we’ve lagged – like our widening inequality gap, ensuring affordable quality housing for all, and investing in the necessary infrastructure for a low carbon economy. We’ve been an agile and progressive voice on the global stage, and opportunities to amplify this reputation are plentiful.

I’m excited to now get some experience in the UK before returning home to Aotearoa. I’m working jointly for Nesta, the UK’s social innovation charity, and the Behavioural Insights Team, a social impact consultancy, where I’m providing quick policy advice on a wide range of issues and learning how organisations can achieve impact on ambitious missions from outside of government.

I know many of the Institute’s readers may be interested in applying for similar programmes – I’d say go for it and feel free to reach out with any questions!