Executive Director Blog: Just Do It

Nicole Chammartin is the Executive Director of Klinic and SERC. The work of these organizations focuses on health, community development, mental health, sexuality, equity, and social justice. In this blog Nicole writes about the important work of these organizations, leadership, and the larger world of community and sexual health.
I promise this blog is not about workout clothes, though I will say I appreciate that Nike’s new mannequin appears to be wearing my size of sports bra; props to body diversity representation in the name of increased sales. More seriously, on the eve of hosting my fifth AGM in my role with Klinic and SERC, I have been reflecting a great deal on what my hopes are for these two great organizations, and myself personally.  Though we are in a time of monumental change in the healthcare system in Manitoba, the optimist in me truly believes in the value of change, of challenging what has become comfortable, and always searching for opportunity as it presents itself. As is often the case, we are driven by what we have experienced, and I would suggest, what we seek to understand about ourselves. This includes the abundance of shame and stigma in our society.
I have always been drawn to work that challenges us to confront bias and stigma and to talk about the unspoken things that impact how many are perceived and treated.  What we believe is the basis of our reality: it is critical that we challenge the deeply entrenched insidious beliefs that suggest that any of us are not worthy of support, necessities, respect, compassion, and love.  What I hope for is a society built on compassion. I believe that this could come from open and honest dialogue about the hardest things.  It is in these moments that we have the capacity to develop compassion and empathy. I have no doubt that, like many others, I have not practised it with perfection, and that there will always be work to do. This is likely why I have found a compatible home in community health.  Working with Klinic and SERC and our local partners through MACH, along with partners from all over Canada through CACHC, has given me the gift of being able to see what can be possible when we create spaces that offer care based on equity and social justice.  Nowhere is this more noticeable to me than when I am able to attend The Ontario Alliance Annual Conference for community health, which CACHC had the honour to co-host last week.
Check out the Climate Change Toolkit for Health Professional- It has been designed as a tool for health professionals and students in the health care and public health sectors who want to engage more directly on the issue of climate change as educators with their patients, peers and communities, and/or as advocates for the policies, programs and practices needed to mitigate climate change and/or prepare for climate change in their workplaces and communities.
Here are some of the lessons I took away:
  • Climate change is a health and social justice issue. As community health, we need to take more leadership in giving voice to this. I encourage you to look up The Right to be Cold by Sheila Watt-Cloutier who shared with us her perspectives on the impact of climate change on her community and the Inuit people.
  • Political environments can change rapidly and we are all struggling with the weight of working in, what appears to be, a rapidly shifting landscape and increased polarization. We need to find ways to support our communities to engage in advocacy at the grassroots, and to also recognize that, as organizations, we must be responsive to changing needs and environments. We have a great deal that we can learn from our friends south of the border, who are working hard to keep the values of community health on the agenda with initiatives such as the Advocacy Centre of Excellence.
  • We all need someone who challenges us to be better. For me, this continues to be Lynne Raskin, Executive Director of South Riverdale in Toronto, who is a leader that sets the standard for what we should aspire to be. I had the honour of being there as Lynne was presented with the Joe Leonard Leadership Award from our Ontario partners.  Working with Lynne these past three years on the Board of Directors of CACHC, has been an honour (I previously wrote about her advocacy work on supervised consumption sites here).  There were so many things that Lynne said that inspired me, but the moment that sticks with me is earlier in the day in her last CACHC board meeting. My colleagues from across Canada were sharing their concerns about the largely political barriers to setting up supervised consumption sites, which we know ultimately save system time, resources and, much more importantly, save lives.  As we discussed the topic I heard in the background Lynne’s quiet and insistent voice: “Just Do It” she repeated with a low intensity that grounded and reminded me, we cannot simply lament. We have to lead.

When I took on this role almost five years ago, I could not have predicted all of the ways it would influence my life. It has challenged me in ways I would have never guessed, and it has been both deeply satisfying and, at times, very difficult. I have no doubt that this is true for many people doing this work, whatever part of it you may be involved in.

For the upcoming year, with support from our Boards of Directors and management teams, I have made the decision to reduce my hours to four days a week in order to participate in the Values-Based Leadership Program at Royal Roads University.  I made this decision for several reasons:  I have heard incredible feedback from colleagues who have attended; I want to develop better strategies to communicate how our shared values are reflected in changes and I want to reflect on and grow from the experiences I have had over the last 12 years as a leader.

Ultimately, I hope to develop more tools to support compassionate, values-driven dialogue both inside and outside our organizations. I am confident that this is the key to creating positive future changes, and is’ the why’ in why so many of us do this work. It is time to just do it, as Lynne would so eloquently say.

I look forward to sharing my experiences with you over the next year.