By Susan Biggs, CEO, The ISIS Foundation
Last week I had the honour of being a finalist for the Telstra NSW Women’s Business Awards. It was very gratifying to be named alongside amazing, impressive women and it was a real testament to the great work done by the team at ISIS.
Ever since my beautiful mother flew the flag for women in the 1970s, I have known that I belong to a powerful sisterhood in Australia. With the continued commitment of women like the Telstra finalists, we can make a substantial difference to the role of women in this country and globally.
Being nominated gave me the opportunity to reflect on my career and the wonderful work I get to do as CEO of the ISIS Foundation. What struck me was just how fortunate I have been with the work I have done over 40 years, culminating in my work now with ISIS.
We are lucky to be born at all, let alone here in Australia. If you were born in Uganda and managed to survive the first five years, your life expectancy would be just 54 years.
And we are incredibly lucky if we are brought up by a family that encourages us to gain an education. If your family didn’t value education, you’re still lucky, (as Tim Minchin says), “that you have the sort of DNA that made the sort of brain that pursued education”.
The pursuit of education is 100 times easier if you have access to schools and universities. If you are born in remote Humla, in Nepal, and you are female, you are likely to be one of the two out of three women who cannot read or write.
In general, I don’t think women are good at taking credit for what we do. But I don’t think we should take credit at the expense of acknowledging our luck.
I am a very fortunate person. Apart from being lucky with my parents and my country of birth, I have also had the great support of friends and my wonderful partner, who was the primary carer for our boys. I have been privileged to have done the most wonderful work with amazing teams of people throughout the world. I am incredibly grateful for all this.
As I reflect on my good fortune, I feel strongly it is our responsibility – the lucky ones – to do what we can for the vast majority of people on the planet who are not so lucky. We must use this good fortune to be a voice for those who cannot speak, particularly for women across the globe who suffer daily discrimination and hardship purely because of their gender.
It has been a privilege to have worked in community and government jobs where I can raise my voice — including in my own business Families at Work, as Deputy Director of the Equal Opportunity for Women in the Workplace Agency, and as the Strategic Policy Manager of the New Zealand Human Rights Commission.
At The ISIS Foundation, we work hand-in-hand with communities in Nepal and Uganda to improve health and education. I work with the most dedicated people who want to make this world a better place. Some of the fantastic Sydney team joined me at the Telstra award ceremony and I want to thank them for their wonderful global support for our project teams.
At ISIS we are continually being inspired by the communities we partner with — these are the real heroes of our work. One of the most amazing stories is that of Sister Christine Otai.
Sister Christine’s determination, strength and sacrifice are encapsulated by an incident during the Ugandan civil war. A village elder was being held at gunpoint, just moments from execution. Christine, still a young woman, put herself between the loaded gun and the elder, refusing to allow another senseless death. Her fearlessness was enough to deter the executioner, and the elder was spared. This same courage permeates her daily work with infants and mothers at Kiwoko Hospital.
Sister Christine is the director of the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) and maternity departments at Kiwoko Hospital, a remote hospital in the Nakaseke district of central Uganda. She has worked at Kiwoko since 1989, when it was merely a health centre with a handful of maternity beds. Compare that to today, where annually the NICU treats over 600 premature and malnourished infants, and the maternity ward delivers over 1,500 babies, all of whom receive the highest quality rural healthcare available in East Africa.
Sister Christine is one of the hardest workers I know, selflessly dedicated to her patients. For the last 24 years, she has been at work or on call 24 hours a day, seven days a week. She knows every baby in the NICU, their family and their needs. With limited resources, she ensures they all receive the best care possible. She fights for every baby in the NICU, and her work has saved thousands of lives.
Sister Christine, and many other brave, caring women, were in my mind at the Telstra Women’s Business Awards. I want to thank Telstra, the Commonwealth Bank and News Corp for making the awards possible and for providing an opportunity to celebrate the success and power of women in NSW. Being a finalist is recognition that our wonderful teams in Nepal, Uganda, Australia, the USA, and Bermuda are all making a real difference in this world.
We can have the greatest impact when we work together. We are always stronger as a team!