Sir John Kirwan (JK Foundation / Mentemia)

Nominee/entrant details

Sir John Kirwan, All Black legend, mental health advocate, founder of JK Foundation, co-founder of Mentemia

Employer details

JK Foundation / Mentemia

Size: 20-49 staff

Industry: Health Care and Social Assistance

Background on entrant/nominee's employer

JK Foundation aims to build mental health literacy into the education sector so kids learn the tools and techniques to manage wellbeing that stick with them for life. Mentemia is a workplace wellbeing platform, primarily delivered through an app, to help people with their daily mental wellbeing.

Executive summary

Sir John Kirwan has been the face of mental health for 20 years and continues to constructively and innovatively work on solutions for the sector across JK Foundation, Mentemia, his ambassador work for Westpac, and even embracing AI to become a world first digital mental health coach in 2020. His tireless work ethic and drive to help all Kiwis during the pandemic by releasing a free version of the Mentemia app is true testament to the man which has now reached over 135,000 Kiwis and Aussies.

Authenticity and vulnerability

As a mental wellbeing company we have to be a true testament of practice what you preach. Sir John Kirwan as a co-founder at Mentemia lives this every day, checking-in on those in the business, giving them his time and presence, never rushing, reminding us not to eat at our desk. Notably though, a culture in a business is founder/leader down - and JK takes breaks, leaves loudly, goes on proper vacations where he unplugs which is an amazing show to those around him. Additionally especially during the pandemic, in his role and with his public persona there were so many demands that he was regularly over committed and expressed this to the team so we could recalibrate and we made sure there are decent chunks of time blocked out to ensure JK can be at his best. He is a walking example of showing true emotions, and that it's ok to cry. I have been in awe at the day to day leadership and vulnerability he shows, and no wonder he is in so much demand on a public level because it is a gift how he lives and communicates mental wellbeing.

Courage and leadership

Sir John Kirwan shows true leadership everyday simply by showing vulnerability and leading with a wellbeing first culture. He is first to check in on people and never skips that critical part of a meeting, even when others are in a rush. He truly walks his talk every day which is infectious to those around him who he works with. He's also been quick to call things out if they don't feel right and help us adjust to the new normals of the pandemic. He is also incredible at articulating his strengths and weaknesses and feelings in the moment, which helps us reach common understandings and how to better work together. It really rubs off on all of us to ensure we all lift our game around JK as well. No better was his courage and leadership on making the call to release a free version of the Mentemia app. It meant a huge amount of work in just 4 weeks in the background to be ready for a public release, but he had the courage to turn a significant part of a workplace platform into a publicly available piece especially adapted for the NZ and AU public. He knew how hard hitting the pandemic would be and that we'd need to get this into the hands of as many people as possible to help them with feelings of stress and anxiety they may never have felt before. It was incredible vision, passion and conviction to make such a decision and the examples of feedback on is testament here.

Engagement and communication

Walking the talk in particular advocating - if someone is in your heart, call them/connect with them - take time to chill, go for a walk, play the guitar - make check-ins part of your team catchups - regular all team emails about how proud he is of the team and the impact we are having - regularly communicating when he is not ok, as it gives us all permission to understand we don't have to be 'best self' each day as it isn't possible. - regular rituals like breathing exercises before meetings - you never see him rushing with a coffee or drinking from a disposable cup - he follows up to make sure we take those mindful moments and micro breaks in our days. - he realises we are doing leading edge stuff and it's not easy, and he supports that and respects we won't always get it right, but if we prioritise our own wellbeing, for sure it will put us in the best place possible to achieve incredible things.


Hi leadership has seen: - Leading New Zealand and Australian businesses roll out the platform to their entire business - He took the leap to become the world's first digital mental health coach, spending time in LA to create an avatar version of himself. AI is a huge part of the future of mental health and he has shown his openness to adopt new technology to improve mental health outcomes. - His openness to create an app, that enables JK to be in everyone's living room is an amazing example of the scale of what he wants to achieve as his presentations are incredibly important but always had a limited impact. - His commitment to his daily mental health plan ensures every new recruit understands from day 1 how important it is they find what works for them and the 6 pillars of mental wellbeing. - Relentlessly striving and following up to secure interviews with Jacinda Ardern, Ashley Bloomfield and Mick Fanning were great examples across the business of his commitment as he realises how these messages continue to raise awareness about mental wellbeing to the general public but also provide a huge uplift to the employees at Mentemia. - His ability to work on and create constructive solutions to mental wellbeing in key areas such as youth mental health with the JK Foundation, plus Mentemia to reach adults in the place they spend most of their working lives (at work!) - JKs general being means we have a culture of psychological safety. What most business have to work toward and plan for, we are already living day to day because our leader demonstrates it every single moment of every day. That leads to better outcomes and a fantastic business culture where people are proud, and celebrate all the wins and aren't afraid of speaking up or failing.


You only have to listen to JK on his Open Minded podcast to understand how curious and inclusive he is. He is also quick to call out his shortcomings which enables him to keep learning as well when he has conversations with Shantelle Thompson and Poppy Jaman for example. Again he lives this aspect day to day and makes sure to take the time to meet with people who can educate him in these areas.

Innovation and creativity

I think Sir JKs innovation is shown in spades by his openness to become a digital human and world first digital mental health coach. You can view more here. And see the behind the scenes creation here: This may look like it has been for external use to the business but has been a fundamental part of setting the example everyday and showing how innovation can drive toward better outcomes.

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Referee details

Adam Clark, CEO at Mentemia (Mentemia)

0275138097 • [email protected]

Key contact

Ian Bishop, VP Marketing (Mentemia)

021842810 • [email protected]

3 Months
Since posted
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