Who would have thought the soy fields of Africa could yield benefits in a seniors’ home across the globe
by Linda Whitmore
At first blush, you might wonder what a Canadian organization of seven long-term care homes could learn from women soy farmers in Ghana that they could apply back home. But learn, they did, and the experiences of a dozen peopleCare staff who visited MEDA's Greater Rural Opportunities for Women (GROW) project in 2014 have been incorporated into its culture and practices.
Forty-five years ago, peopleCare's founders were pioneers of social entrepreneurship, imbuing their family of homes with the theme of social responsibility before the term existed. That has carried forward to the third generation and today's owner, Brent Gingerich.
The trip to Ghana sprang from a strategic initiative called Beyond Ourselves – moving the theme from paper to action.
"We have a commitment to care and to helping those who need assistance with daily living," says Elaine Shantz, peopleCare's president and COO. "Seniors are entrusted to us, many at a vulnerable time in their life; we have a responsibility to enhance their quality of life.”
"Our people – our 900 employees – are key. When we value them we know they will in turn treat our 900 residents well. We believe people need opportunities to grow – to look beyond our four walls – to experiences they can gain.
"Beyond Ourselves sprang from that thinking. We encourage everyone – employees, residents, their families, the local community – to ask how we can engage and develop people. We can get entrenched in our day-to-day work, but when our team of visitors met the women farmers in a soy field in Ghana, they realized people are the same – we face the same challenges.
"Our commitment to people permeates peopleCare. We ask ourselves how do we do our very best for the world around us. Our vision is to change the world of senior living. We need to do that with our people, by developing them as leaders. And part of that is by offering opportunities for growth beyond our organization."
Personally, Elaine says she has found great support at peopleCare in her eight years with the organization. "We have the freedom to embrace opportunity and try new things for individual growth. Brent allows us to be innovative in our thinking. In a highly regulated sector, we choose to go beyond the regulations and funding restrictions, but still operate efficiently. Because our employees have opportunities to grow, residents have caregivers who are full of passion and commitment."
Four years ago when Beyond Ourselves was initiated, peopleCare invited several non-profit organizations to attend their strategic planning sessions. As a company that employs a lot of women, they saw a natural fit with GROW, which aims to bring new economic opportunities to 20,000 women farmers over six years. A new partnership was born, as were plans for a peopleCare trip to Ghana.
The family of homes began to mobilize to meet a fundraising target of $25,000, each home organizing its own money-raising activities – barbeques, bake sales, silent auctions and even a gala evening – eventually far outstripping the original goal, and raising $40,000 for GROW’s women farmers. Although each employee paid for their own trip, peopleCare provided time off with pay.
The team of 12, including Brent, saw how the women in Ghana were learning to farm, to process soy into paste and milk, improving family nutrition. These women were developing leadership skills and empowering themselves to make a difference in their families and villages. They were proud to share their achievements with their visitors.
“The peopleCare team saw first-hand that monumental change is possible through creating business solutions to poverty,” says Elaine. “And they realized that leadership strategies are the same whether standing in a soybean field or beside a resident in a peopleCare home.”
Upon their return, the group shared seven lessons of engagement:
1. Develop relationships
2. Work toward a common goal
3. Build trust
4. Seek out and recognize leaders
5. Shared success for all
6. Sustainability, and
7. Beyond Ourselves
peopleCare has been recognized three times as one of Delloitte’s 50 Best Managed Companies in Canada, an award that honors outstanding business performance and innovative management practices.
But the organization is not content to rest on its laurels: Elaine is leading a 900-km trek of the Bruce Trail this summer aimed at raising $100,000 for GROW, accompanied by Miriam Turnbull of ProResp, a provider of home oxygen and respiratory care.
“Through the trek,” says Elaine, “as we share with other long-term care organizations, we’ll talk about our vision to change the world, our opportunity to make a difference. Personally, I’ve had lots of other people give me opportunities. I want to share that with others – that’s my passion, why this opportunity resonates with me.
“Like the women in Ghana, I have had opportunities way beyond what I had expected. Milo Shantz was my first mentor at age 21 when I became manager of the Stone Crock Restaurant. Thirteen years later, I joined the credit union (now Kindred), where I worked with Cliff Schott. Today Brent Gingerich continues to provide those opportunities. I’ve been very fortunate to have three lives, and three very different careers.”