Becoming Chief Executive of Housing First Auckland provider Lifewise during Level 4 lockdown in a global pandemic was a return to ‘normal’ for Jo Denvir.
After working in senior management roles across the for-profit and not-for-profit sectors in New Zealand and Australia, Jo stepped down from her position as chief executive for Lifeline, which she held for six and a half years, to care for both her (then) 10 year-old-son and husband and to run their building maintenance company.
Three years on, while the world is amid a health crisis, Jo’s family’s health is under-control allowing her to “get back to me” and her passion for making a difference through her work.
For Jo, her family’s health and her career are intrinsically linked.
Starting her life on a farm in Marlborough then moving with her family to Napier, Jo says she was “lucky not to have had things go wrong.”
As a high school graduate, she moved from the Hawke’s Bay to Auckland to study a Bachelor of Business on cadetship from New Zealand Forest Products Pulp and Paper.
Her cadetship not only paid for her studies but also offered her secure employment kickstarting her marketing career. She moved from there to NZ concrete pipes and precast concrete products manufacturing company Humes, moving through the company at speed, becoming the first woman on their Senior Leadership Team as National Sales and Marketing Manager. A job she loved.
“Then I met my husband. And then his kidneys failed,” Jo said.
“Once you have some personal experiences about how tough it can be when things go wrong, I think it puts more pressure on you to do something good with your life. The first time my husband’s kidneys failed he had to dialyse in the unit at the hospital. You hear the stories from other families. They are just so sad.”
“People lose their jobs and homes. We were lucky. But that happens to lots of people. Life can change just like that. The inequity in health is quite distressing, but there are lots of ways we can work together as human beings to ensure that there is more equity and more social justice.”
This experience with her husband’s health led Jo to make a successful application for the position as State Manager of the Kidney Foundation in Queensland, which saw her career move from for-profit to not-for-profit.
“That’s how I got into [the not-for-profit sector]. It was a personal thing and I loved it. It was where my passion was,” she said.
“Going through hard times changes your focus, changes your life plan. I thought I was going to be the corporate girl and make lots of money. But life changed that, and I am happy about the way it changed. Not happy about the health issues, but how it turned out career-wise.”
Jo’s passion for health and equity saw her move from working in kidney health into the position of Chief Executive for Open Minds, the largest provider of support services to people with mental illness, disability or acquired brain injury in Queensland.
“I think when you have worked in any role where you are supporting people with mental health and brain injuries it becomes really quickly apparent people can’t be well without accommodation,” Jo said.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, when Jo left Open Minds her next role was contracting to Brisbane community housing provider BHC Creating Liveable Communities for two years before becoming Chief Executive for Mackay Regional Housing Company – a not-for-profit that supports people who have high and complex needs to gain and maintain safe, affordable and long-term housing.
“I am really keen that any organisation I work for has a housing component. Housing makes such a big difference. It is so nice when you see people become so much more independent, happy and well because of what we do,” she said, echoing what we here at Housing First Auckland also witness firsthand.
Jo’s knowledge and experience as a senior manager in the Australian housing sector will support her as Chief Executive of Lifewise, one of five organisations that form the Housing First Auckland collective.
“I think because I have a different housing background with different models it may give me the ability to approach things with fresh eyes,” she said.
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