It’s a challenge modernising an organisation steeped in tradition while remaining true to its soul!
Lois van Waardenberg vividly recalls the first time she encountered Plunket.
She was then 12 and the oldest of seven children. Her mother got hepatitis following the birth of her youngest brother and Plunket helped her mother a great deal at the time.
When she gave birth to her now two adult children, van Waardenberg was then living in London, and thus, did not have the support her mother got from Plunket.
But she is glad that years later, she is able to give back to the organisation that stood by her family at a critical time.
Van Waardenberg joined Plunket in August last year as its first chief information officer. Five months earlier, she left Z Energy as head of business information and technology services at the company.
More than three months ago, she was asked to take on the chief operating officer role. Roy Goldsmith, formerly with Inland Revenue Department and Bank of New Zealand, is now acting CIO.
Plunket, also known as the Royal New Zealand Plunket Society, is the largest provider of free support services for the development, health and wellbeing of children under five and its staff sees more than 90 per cent of newborns in the country each year. The not for profit, supported by government contracts and philanthropic donations was founded in 1907 in Dunedin by child health visionary, Sir Frederic Truby King.
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Van Waardenberg’s current role is a combination of strategic and practical responsibilities.
She smiles when asked what is a typical workday for her.
“There isn’t one, really, every day is very varied.”
What inspires her, she says, is the new vision of the organisation: “In the first 1000 days, we will make the difference of a lifetime in a person.”
“We used to have the vision of ‘the best start for every child’.”
“That is a good thing, but the new vision is much more action focused,” says van Waardenberg. “It supports the scope, the width of what we do. We are not just weighing babies.”
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There are three main strands or goals to this vision, she says.
Healthy tamariki is about making sure every child/tamariki has the opportunity to be as healthy and as well as they can be. Plunket is the main provider of the Ministry of Health’s Well Child/Tamariki Ora (WCTO) service for 0-5 year olds.
The second is confident whānau, or building the confidence and knowledge of whānau and families across New Zealand. It is about confident parenting as families have such an impact on the health and outcomes of the child, explains van Waardenberg.
The third is around connected communities, or making sure no family/whānau is left isolated, disconnected or unable to cope.
Van Waardenberg says Plunket’s internal governance is under review, with the goal of fairer health outcomes across New Zealand. “The question we ask ourselves is – how do we leverage the access, trust, reach and resources of a national organisation whilst being deeply connected within local communities?”
“Our services don’t stand still,” she says. This is an environment that makes them no different from commercial enterprises, whose users demand 24x7 access to their systems.
We run a health service so quality is very critical, she says. “We want to know what the communities really want and need.”
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