My first attendance at an international conference was an International Federation on Aging (IFA) meeting in Durban way back in 1997. Back then boards in the aged care sector in South Africa were so busy on their treadmills, heads down, keeping their organisations going. It was considered a “waste” of resources to pay the price of attendance at international conferences – after all, we were so different and couldn’t stand up and be counted alongside wealthy well-resourced first world organisations. Back then our aged care sector was very isolated. Many of our service providers were not involved in networks and we were struggling to grow our aged care associations. Service providers did not prioritise networking because they did not understand the value of it. Few organisations sent representatives to our meetings.
When I attended the IFA Conference in Durban, my eyes were opened wide! I attended a session led by a Canadian from One Voice – a seniors’ organisation focusing on elder abuse education and advocacy. I stayed behind and chatted with the presenter, asking heaps of questions, looking at her amazing material, and, by the end of our conversation, she gave me the entire crate of amazing training material to share with our sector. I took the materials back to my organisation and used it through the South African Association of Homes for the Aged, enabling others to have access to it. I kept email contact with my new found Canadian friend and, two years later (1999), we did a joint presentation together at the IFA in Montreal on how the Canadian material had been used in 3rd world South Africa! That began my journey in becoming involved in global ageing networks.
My first connection with IAHSA came in 2005 when I discovered IAHSA’s website and submitted an abstract for their Trondheim conference in Norway. I was invited to speak at the conference and also attended the Workforce Forum. I met people there with whom I have developed in depth relationships over the years that have followed. The experience inspired me to get involved in global networks and my life and my work has been enriched.
What has been most exciting has been the opportunity to share the value of global connections with others, and to be given a platform through which to share stories and facilitate partnerships across the globe. Through this, many organisations in South Africa have been afforded the opportunity to forge cross global links which have benefitted their organisations, but they have also been given an opportunity to contribute to global discussions. As a connector, you need to make connections for others, and connect through others’ networks – for every person you connect with is engaged in networks of their own – thus, connecting has a multiplier effect. It’s like a value chain, an upward spiral of connection and assistance that augments value and lifts everyone. For me, adding value to others is key to my connecting. The value we receive in connecting is, I believe, a by-product of the value we help create.
What do you think drives a culture of collaboration and connection? Some people see their people connections as a business strategy. For me, it’s who I am – and generosity is the key to success. It is important to lead and connect with generosity. Having been an active member of IAHSA, I have found that you do not join an organisation to be a passenger and simply add it to your CV–you join to make a contribution.
I was asked to join the IAHSA Board of Directors in 2009. I have attended the biennial conferences, regularly making a contribution. I have greatly valued the opportunity to learn from my colleagues on the board, to be challenged and to challenge others. And, in serving as an office bearer, it afforded me the opportunity to grow my leadership skills. Serving as Board Secretary and then experiencing the honour of chairing the IAHSA Board has been a wonderful learning experience for which I am deeply grateful. I also contribute by serving on the Board of Directors of CommonAge (focusing on Commonwealth countries – a sub group of IAHSA’s membership) and facilitate the South African Care Forum as their founding Chair. I have had the opportunity to speak at many international conferences around the world, visit aged care centres around the world, and meet the most amazing, passionate people from whom I have learned so much.
To be a connector, is more than just knowing a lot of people. It’s about building authentic relationships, person to person, not person to score. Connection feeds my soul. To me, there is always an intersecting of personal and professional networks. My network is always on and I’ve learned to keep it charged!
Brené Brown says that connections give purpose and meaning to our lives. I’ve found that to be so true. I’ve also seen that good things happen to good networkers and those whose lives they touch, because of what they put into relationships. Building, nurturing and maintaining those relationships through ongoing attention and value, is what turns us into better people, who then have the potential to create better communities and ultimately a better world.
Connections that last and are sustainable are connections of the heart. They take time and passion to nurture.
So be encouraged–allow your passion to ignite others. You will not only impact your own organisation but you will impact the greater good. Think about the connections you need to make in order to leverage the networks you are involved in. Connectors have a special gift of bringing the world together. You’ll find that it is your connections that make your business or organisation–and your life–truly abundant, successful and significant. Continually reinvest your social capital. Connect for a reason – connect with purpose and for the long-term and bring value to yourself and others through the powerful currency of relationships.
IAHSA is the perfect vehicle through which to make this happen. Get involved today – your contribution is needed and will be greatly valued.