Volunteers enhancing healthcare

Barwon Health’s Volunteers Services Director sees volunteers as community advocates who enhance the healthcare experience of consumers. Recognised at the 2014 NAB Women’s Agenda Leadership Awards, Zoe Waters is now taking her message to a wider audience.

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Zoe Waters discusses the importantance and benefits of volunteers in her organisation and the community.

As Barwon Health’s Volunteers Services Director, Zoe Waters works closely with the community to enhance the healthcare experience of consumers.

“We have a network of 1,000 volunteers and 55 consumer representatives who do everything from supporting the maternity ward through to end-of-life care in our palliative care unit,” she says. “They also have an input into our decision making at an executive level. My role is to facilitate that relationship, ensuring that Barwon Health hears the community’s voice.”

Her achievements were recognised at the 2014 NAB Women’s Agenda Leadership Awards where she was named Regional/Rural Entrepreneur or Manager of the Year.

“I felt honoured just to be going to the awards and was looking forward to hearing about other leaders’ experiences,” she says. “It just hadn’t occurred to me that a volunteer leader could win such a prestigious title.”

Redefining volunteerism

Waters is frustrated by the commonly-held view that volunteering is limited to occupying people who have time on their hands. “I believe that volunteering is very much more than the word ‘volunteer’ implies,” she says. “People tend to see it as a project or a task, but volunteers are community advocates. They donate their time and expertise and they also sell the message and the vision of the organisations they’re volunteering for. I think we need to change the language to reflect that. Volunteers change the world, and we need a leader to sell that message and help make that change.”

Waters led the 2013 relaunch of Barwon Health’s volunteer program with the aim of attracting a wider range of volunteers. “Instead of relying on the traditional methods, such as advertising in the local newspaper, we decided to take a much more active approach,” she says. “We started engaging communities through focus groups, forums and talks, and we also put a lot of information online. Today our youngest volunteer is six years old and our oldest is 96.”

Top-down support

Geelong is a relatively small community with a strong community presence. “We see a lot of active citizenship, which is why our volunteer program has been so successful,” says Waters. “Barwon Health has a very engaged and supportive board and executive group who understand the true meaning, and the true value, of volunteerism. It’s uncommon for volunteering to appear on the corporate agenda across large-scale organisations. However, at Barwon Health, it’s an integral part of the organisation that’s seen as a top priority across all departments.”

Since taking home the award in March, many new opportunities have opened up for Waters to share her message to a wider audience.

“Before I won the award I wasn’t on the radar as a speaker,” she says. “Now I’ve given a keynote speech at a palliative care conference and I’ve been asked to do three presentations on leadership. I had no idea it would bring so many benefits, both personally and professionally, and I feel very privileged to have been recognised in this way.”

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