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Other Life: Volunteering as a willing sounding board

By Lisa Calautti


Volunteering for less fortunate people is important to Barbara Brown, the general manager of people and culture at St.Lukes Health Insurance.

An IML ANZ Corporate Member, Brown has dedicated much of her life to volunteering, offering a helping hand to various organisations including menopause clinics, cancer support services and youth mentoring programs. As a result of her husband’s encouragement and his belief that her compassionate nature would benefit clients at Missiondale Recovery Centre, Brown has most recently pushed herself out of her comfort zone to come alongside drug and alcohol rehabilitation patients.

“I knew from volunteering in the past that most people just want someone to listen to them, and in that environment, people are there because they have already made the decision to change and are quite happy to talk about where they are and where they want to get to,” she explains. “The basis of anything I put my hand up for is looking beyond myself and my circumstances and seeing what I can do to help someone else.

“It’s always about what word of encouragement can I share, what cup of tea can I get? What hug can I give to make a person feel better about what they are going through? The motivation is never about me and I say to my family it’s about what you can do for others.”

Helping those less fortunate has given Brown an innate ability as a manager to relate to people and be more tolerant of their circumstances. Most of all, it has taught her not to take people at face value. “You realise there is a story behind every person. I absolutely believe that everyone has some sort of shadow. It is different for every single person,” she explains.

Helping people from all walks of life has helped Brown read and understand people’s behaviour. It has given her the ability to step back and have a ‘helicopter view’ of a situation rather than jump right into the problem. “It can just be having the wisdom to direct people in the right way, influencing them or helping them to be confident,” she says.

Trust is something inherent to Brown’s volunteering work and this has translated through to her role as a manager by building trust with staff through listening and allowing them to be free to explore their own ideas and express themselves. “Everyone wants to be heard, that’s what I have found. Everyone wants to have a voice,” she says. For Brown, the person she is as a leader and volunteer are consistent. “Whatever I am in my outside life, I am exactly that at work. I think it’s just about being real and not pretending to be something that you are not,” she reflects.

This article originally appeared in the June 2019 edition of Leadership Matters, IML ANZ’s quarterly magazine. For editorial suggestions and enquiries, please contact

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