Zabeth Zuhlsdorff, 59 years of age, a social worker by profession, has been in the employ of Rand Aid for 16 years, 10 years in her current position of General Manager.
Rand Aid has been serving the community for 113 years – what an achievement! Their first Patron was Lord Milner! When asked to what would Zabeth attribute her organisation’s success and longevity, she focused on two key areas.
The key to success is Rand Aid’s Board of Management. They have experienced and skilled board members, both residents and independent people from the community. Their mix of skills includes medicine, finance, banking, chartered accountants, architecture, care and human resources. About 5 years ago they changed their management structure and brought residents on the board via residents’ committees in each of their villages. Although there was initial concern about the involvement of residents, they realise how much more is achieved through partnership with all stakeholders and increased sharing.
The other reason for Rand Aid’s success is committed, passionate and long-serving staff, people who really care. The most important thing driving their organisation is relationships – between and among staff, and between and among staff and residents. Their open door policy which facilitates these relationships is a huge strength. She acknowledges that succession planning is difficult. It is difficult to have a succession plan for every individual, but for everyone in key positions they ensure that there is someone who can “stand in”. Rand Aid focuses on internal training and support programmes for staff assisting with tertiary studies to help their personnel grow.
Another strength of Rand Aid is their financial stability due to the foresight and strategic planning of the board, even going back to the 1980’s, when they realised they couldn’t be 80% dependent on government subsidies as these would not be sustained. So life rights villages were developed to generate income for their welfare services. Rand Aid is run not as a charity but as a business with a heart. The organisation now has four retirement villages, one rental (to meet the need of the low to middle income group) and three life rights villages. There are 910 cottages and apartments in the 4 villages. Rand Aid also runs a large substance abuse treatment service where they provide in-patient treatment for 160 persons as well as various preventative and after care programmes.
Rand Aid’s biggest challenge is dealing with different levels of government from problems with municipal accounts that have been ongoing for years, and needing special consultants to deal with (so scarce resources go on fees instead of elsewhere for services) to cable theft added to load shedding which has meant problems. Generators, although helpful in the care centres, cost to maintain.
Recently one of their villages and care centres was without water for 5 days.
Very low subsidies for sub economic clients has meant that one of their two subsidised care centres had to change its focus and only admit economic residents; now there is only one to serve the poorest of the poor. 320 frail residents are cared for in these two centres
For Zabeth, her time at Rand Aid has been the happiest and most fulfilling of her career, being in service delivery and making a difference in people’s lives. She wants to continue to grow, and not stagnate, to stay on top in the field in terms of keeping up with trends. Their Eden journey has started; she wants to assist but acknowledges there is a long way to go. She is currently finishing her LLB studies, knowing that in top management in care there are numerous legal issues one is confronted with daily.
Leadership, for Zabeth, means to serve, staff as well as residents; to act with integrity, to be there and willing to listen, to understand the challenges the staff are facing. She believes the best ideas to challenge the organisation, come from the staff who are at the coal face every day, and the residents. Leadership is about enabling the realisation of their dreams and expectations.
Rand Aid tries to be at the forefront of what is happening in the field of care. Reflecting on the broader sector, Zabeth asks where are the leaders? The field of care is not a government or societal priority. Much more advocacy is needed.
The conversation we should be having in the care sector should, she believes, be around the hardship today for older people in our country where poverty is endemic and older people carry the brunt of HIV and unemployment, for their families. We should also be working towards facilitating a life worth living for all older people, attempting to alleviate loneliness, helplessness and depression among older people.
When challenged to consider Rand Aid “shedding its skin” and moving towards being a facilitator rather than focusing on being a provider, she acknowledges they are a provider and always will be, but how they provide their services is what is important. Do they provide them in a paternalistic way or in partnership with their clients? She feels they need to listen more and adapt their approach continually. Rand Aid’s logo is assist alleviate accompany , so they need to be enablers of well-being.
Looking at the care sector in general, Zabeth thinks the “bright lights” come from the openness of organisations to connect and work together, and not see each other as competitors; also meeting together regularly to share ideas, and learn from others so as not to make the same mistakes.
The “shadows” in the care sector are because many organisations are struggling to make ends meet, and find it difficult to focus on quality. Rand Aid is assisting two struggling organisations with their record keeping and financial affairs. The darkness falls when services for those with limited means are cut back because of lack of funding.
Who or what inspires Zabeth? Just to come to work every day is an inspiration. Rand Aid is a happy place. You’re never alone, you can always draw on the insights of others, and we have a very wise and calm CEO. It is inspiring to make a difference in the lives of staff and residents.
Zabeth is an inspiration. Her life beyond aged care sees her as a wife, mother and grandmother. She and her husband love the outdoors and the bush, as well as the sea, and enjoy camping. They are now taking up Ballroom and Latin American dancing. She admits she doesn’t cook because she once tried a loaf of bread and when it turned out to be a brick, her husband said to leave the cooking to him! She loves gardening and also enjoys birding.
Zabeth Zuhlsdorff the South African Care Forum salutes you for being the inspiration and leader you are!