Apr 26

What’s in a name.

The change-makers I know always have these traits in common: confidence, passion, innovation, expertise, and resilience to overcome adversity because the road to transformation is never easy. They have an ardent desire to transform the status quo for the betterment of humanity whether that’s based on society, health, or planet sustainability.

It took all those ingredients to begin to enable self-care as a solution for a sustainable healthcare system of the future. The policy fundamentals existed – i.e., health promotion/education and over-the-counter medicines. However, perhaps not taken seriously enough to demonstrate that when done effectively it saves lives. White Ribbon Alliance (WRA), an NGO based in Washington, DC, which focuses on reproductive, maternal, and newborn rights, was the perfect partner to help demonstrate the impact of self-care and that it also saves lives. When you look at the statistics, the main causes of maternal deaths during pregnancy and during labor are preventable if families have access to information such as nutrition, health, and hygiene, plus improved healthcare access when needed. Collaborating with experts, WRA drafted a policy position on self-care in the context of the objectives of WRA, and then implemented 3 pilot programs in high-need communities in Zimbabwe, Bolivia, and Bangladesh, each with their own challenges, but in common in Zimbabwe and Bangladesh was high maternal mortality rate. WRA focused with partners from government, medical professionals, and local leaders on providing information on nutrition, health, and hygiene to the community, maternal sessions for new mothers, and also ensuring cultural gatekeepers were involved too. The results were remarkable and went beyond health alone. For example, the community began building better roads so care could be sought faster when they needed it, improving the facilities that they did have and ensuring through advocacy they gained access to more. The most compelling statistic was zero maternal deaths in the Zimbabwe community where the self-care programs were being run. In seeing the resulting impact, the programs continued to expand but this outcome also transported self-care on to the agenda of the G20, the United Nations Every Woman Every Child program, and the World Health Organization through the voices of the women involved in the programs. Self-care puts less pressure on the healthcare system, saves lives, and has the potential to drive a generational shift in health as what has been learnt can’t be unlearnt. It was a program of change-making innovation, policy, alliance-building, social engagement, advocacy, and transformation.

It was also a labor of love as these are passion areas, and I feel the need to do more.

I knew that I always wanted to do something healthcare and science-related but I wasn’t interested in the traditional paths. In my final year of school, I was introduced to nutritional sciences and found out it could be a career. I loved to cook; I was a foodie; and I was interested in food’s cultural history and how it impacted our health. So that was it, I decided to be a nutritionist! During my four degrees, I worked in research at Australia’s top science agency and gained scholarships that allowed me to study in the US and Italy. In understanding how research was funded and who often drove innovation, I felt that by working for a healthcare company, I could access more money for healthcare projects and channel it to do a lot more good at pace. Fortunately, I landed in three of the world’s best healthcare companies – Wyeth, Pfizer, and Bayer – where they allowed me to pursue children’s nutrition, women’s health, self-care, and sustainable healthcare systems as part of my various and escalating in responsibility roles. Plus, I resolved the odd issue for them along the way too, especially in my years at Wyeth when they would often throw me in the deep end of a crisis or challenge and let me work to resolve them with stakeholders. I discovered policymaking and building alliances during these years, I appreciated and respected the power it had as a driver of change.

Mars have always been trailblazers in branding and sustainability, and I wanted to learn. So, I went to the biggest petcare company in the world – Mars. The sincerity and mutuality of their efforts I still find inspiring, such as their work to regenerate coral. Mars does the walking and less of the talking on their sustainability work, and I continue to admire them for that. When they strategically speak, they have something to say. For anyone wanting to build their reputation or needing to turn it around, it’s a fine example – walk first, then talk.

All of this led to my most recent experience at Upfield with fellow Upfielders, launching the world’s largest plant-based food company. During that time, it was the David and Goliath moment of the small plant-based food alliance we co-founded overcoming the powerful EU dairy lobby that lit my fire again for more transformational change. It also hallmarked a time for me where social justice was increasingly on my agenda. A conversation with Diane Von Furstenberg years earlier in her NYC lounge room as she launched her “#InCharge” movement also replayed in my mind. As a senior businessperson that had worked on women’s health and access topics for much of my career, I became acutely aware of my responsibilities for championing inclusivity and social justice in all areas, including policy, in business and in media. There is more that needs to be done.

What I learned from those experiences was the need to, and how to give, the grassroots a voice.

What I loved was enabling those who were impacted by the topic or issue to use their voice at the highest level of government, media, or multilateral organizations, such as the United Nations, G20, COP, or WHO. What I got energy from was building those alliances to create just change that enabled individuals, communities, and societies to thrive in the future. Amplification of strategic communications from proactive strategies, built with alliances, drives change: We need to do more of it in areas of passion and embolden other change-making leaders to drive transformation too. From that passion and practice, Confident Strategy Group was born.

Why Confident Strategy Group name? I was sitting in Riverside Park on a summer’s evening with some New York friends. One gave this advice – pick a name for your company that describes you, as it will hold your values and be what people expect from your brand. I immediately smiled while reminiscing, as there was one comment I distinctly remember receiving from a peer that was meant as a criticism, but I quite liked it: “Jeanette, you are annoying because you are just so…confident.” I have been so fortunate to have had courageous, visionary, and smart leaders in my life that encouraged opinion, debate, and discussion; who also mentored me in the practices I use today and inspired me to work on my passion areas. They have given me confidence.

The root of the word confidence/confident comes from alliance and trust – two pillars of driving transformation – and we are going to need at least both, plus more change-making leaders to create the change humanity needs for a better society, health, planet – and save lives too!