Public health covers many different areas that are crucial to address. Equally crucial are the partners involved. In this episode, Kristy Kerr, the Executive Director of BCCDC Foundation for Public Health shares how the foundation, BCCDC, upholds to serve the community through disease surveillance, detection, treatment, prevention, and consultation. Strengthening the hallmarks of a strong and inclusive community and workforce is crucial in this sector. So how did the foundation fortify these hallmarks to serve the community better and protect the country’s asset, the public’s health? Tune in to this episode with Kristy Kerr to hear more from her!
Listen to the podcast here
Opportunity Spotlight: BCCDC Foundation for Public Health With Kristy Kerr
This episode is the second of our very special and popular Opportunity Spotlight episodes, hosted by my colleague and friend, Christoph Clodius, the Vice President of Research here in Discovery Group. In this episode, he speaks with Kristy Kerr, the Executive Director of the BC Center for Disease Control Foundation.
Welcome, Kristy. It’s great to chat with you again.
It’s nice to chat with you. Thanks for having me.
It’s our pleasure. Let’s start with a bit of context. Tell me a bit about the foundation. What exactly does the foundation do?
The foundation is a registered charity. We work to support public health in the province of British Columbia. We are a small organization, but quite unique. There’s no other organization like ours in British Columbia or Canada. We are small, but we are growing. It’s a very exciting place for us to be. We work in partnership with the BC Centre for Disease Control and the public health sector more broadly and the public health community as well. We are an independent and arms’ length organization. It’s very much a partnership that we bring in working with the BCCDC and public health, and bringing our expertise from all the organizations to a shared goal of improving population and health outcomes for BC.
I love how you described the public health space and public health work for that matter too. Tell me more about that and your career trajectory. I hope that’s okay that I call it the public health space for that matter. You’ve been in the sector for many years, including the past several years leading the foundation. Why did you join the foundation initially? What keeps you there ultimately?
It’s a bit of a long story as to how I ended up with the foundation several years ago. I’ll give you a little bit of a CliffsNotes version. I was working in global health and doing health promotion work. I came back to Vancouver and took a short-term contract at the BCCDC. At that time, the board of the foundation was in a passive or quiet state. The timing aligned, and they were in a place where they were looking at how to expand and grow the foundation.
I started having conversations with them. I was offered an opportunity that I couldn’t resist that this idea of building a charity that was grounded in public health because that didn’t exist before in this way with an organization that has the mandate that we have. I had some other global health opportunities, but I chose the foundation. It was a wise choice. We’ve done some great things.
I’m coming from a public health perspective and background. My specialization is health promotion. Marrying my expertise with this idea of building a charity and being able to have an impact on the public health sector or space, as you said which is fine, has kept me here and keeps me inspired every day. We are bringing value to this sector in a way that is so greatly needed.
As I learned about the foundation, it’s inspiring work that you do. I’m getting a lot out of it. I learn so much every day in my conversations with you and your team. You’ve talked about the impact and build. When you reflect on your time at the foundation, what are a few things that you’re most proud of having done during that tenure? You’ve achieved so much in that time. Can you narrow it down on a couple of things that speak to you?
First of all, thank you for saying that we’ve achieved a lot. I think that we have, and that makes me proud. I’ll focus on the last few years. We’ve all been through this shared, collective experience with the pandemic that we are still sharing and are still in. One of the things I’m very proud of is that we were able to pivot to supporting the COVID-19 response in early 2020. Being very new on the fundraising scene because we had only been a fundraising organization for a short time before that, we were able to support the COVID-19 response and continued to do so looking ahead at recovery. We were able to do that with very few staff.
The second part of that that I’m proud of is we were one of the first charities to launch a fundraising campaign. We did that in late January 2020. I also took a two-pronged approach because I knew that communication and messaging were going to be very confusing and difficult. We tried to help distill some of that very complex messaging. The myth and disinformation that we have seen have become a bigger issue that will continue to be the work that we do.
I’m proud of how we tackled that very early on and we’ll continue to do so. I also have to say that our work, which is even one of our top priorities, is to help support solutions to address the toxic drug poisoning crisis. We know that an average of six people are dying every day here in British Columbia, and there are solutions. It’s very important to me that we’re a part of those solutions. I’m very proud of the work that we do in that area.
Those solutions are very compelling with what you’ve come up with. The work of public health, the way it straddles so many different areas, it’s a lot to wrap your head around. It’s a crucial work that involves so many crucial partners. You alluded to a few of them right at the top. What does the future hold? What’s on the horizon for the foundation? What’s getting you excited about the next few months or next few years of the foundation’s great work?
So much is getting me excited. It’s hard to say a few things. We will have very soon a new three-year strategic plan to guide the organization until 2025. That may not sound super exciting but being a part of this organization for so long and building every day to be able to look ahead and look at the next few years of the impact that we can bring to this province and public health sector through a new strategic plan that is very much a board-driven engaged and team-driven engaged for this organization is exciting to me.
We also have a few campaigns that are in the works. I’m not going to spill the beans, but what those are is we have a particularly groundbreaking campaign that we’re working on to help address the toxic drug poisoning crisis. We have been entrusted with a partnership with the government. An investment helped the province recover from the pandemic and address the societal consequences of the pandemic and pandemic-related measures.
We know that many inequities have been greatly exacerbated over the last few years. We have an opportunity to work with our partners to help strengthen the infrastructure and the capacities of the public health system and sector to improve and rebuild resiliency for communities in BC, and look to the future and help shape that. That’s very exciting to me to be able to do that work as well. There’s a lot. I could go on and on.
I was going to say there’s so much to take in though. I’m trying to take some notes on the strategic plan, campaigns, and groundbreaking work. There’s so much to wrap your arms around. You alluded at the top as well a growing organization relatively new to the fundraising scene in some ways, but at the same time, you are hiring an associate director to work with you and your partners on fundraising here. That’s ostensibly what we’re talking about as well. How will this associate director contribute to those wonderful things that you’ve mentioned?
Helping to implement this new three-year strategic plan, for sure, will be key. Working closely with me on a new three-year fund development strategy aligned to that strategic plan and helping to develop those longer-term strategies that in the last few years, we haven’t necessarily been able to look ahead. We’ve been in a very reactive mode so it’s helping us continue to support the good work we’re doing but also look ahead to what we can take on.
Strengthening and further developing what we’ve built. We have a great foundation but we have a lot of exciting work that we can do and things that we can build like our annual giving and major gifts programs for some specific examples. Adding new areas like legacy giving is not something we’ve been quite able to add to our suite of fundraising tactics or practices yet. There’s an opportunity to build and add at the same time.
Building donor relationships, the groundbreaking campaign that we have coming is helping us launch that and secure some gifts around that. That will also bring in some advocacy opportunities so there are some opportunities there. We’re a small team but we’re close to working with communications as well. We continue to be highly collaborative. We’ll be bringing on an associate director of marketing communications. For these two roles to work very closely together is exciting. That would excite me. It’s a complex space but we’re unique in that space to be able to bring some creativity and excitement to the future.
You’re the only organization doing work like this that’s structured like this in the province and across the country as far as you’re concerned. I like how you described that. Getting to the tactics and the doing of the work is important as is that higher level strategy and planning with you, your team members and your new marketing staff members, marketing communications and so on. There are lots on the go. You’ve alluded to a couple of things about what it’s like to work there and the collaborative nature of the work. Tell me on a more specific basis. What’s the working culture like at the foundation? What’s it like on a day-to-day basis to be amongst you and your colleagues?
We’re a great team. I have a great team. Everybody is super dedicated to our purpose and each other. We’re very tight-knit. We very much have a team-based approach. We help each other. Whenever we need help, we all pitch in. It is genuinely one big team, and that’s what I will continue to foster. That’s important to me.
We enjoy working together. We have some fun along the way. We do a lot of serious work but we also take some time. We have some laughs and enjoy each other. Staff engagement is important. We do try to have some time where we get together outside of work as well or spend time getting to know each other because that is important for the team and culture.
We’re highly collaborative. We’re kind to each other. We’re compassionate. We all bring compassion to the work that we do, the organization and the team. If you want to get a taste of it, I would recommend reading a blog post that I wrote earlier in 2022. If you go to our website at BCCDCFoundation.org, you can search our blogs, We Believe is the blog post name. That will probably give a taste of the team culture far better than what I’m doing.
It’s good that you’re blowing your own horn and talking about that. I like that there are different ways and access points to learn about you as an organization. Coming back to you, we’ve talked a bit about your career. I’m getting a sense of how you want to lead and the culture you’re trying to build. More specifically, your leadership style and management style. The associate director is coming in. What is the dynamic going to be like between the two of you? How do you work with your staff directly?
Leadership is important to me. It’s something that is a lifelong learning process for all of us and something that I do value. I try to balance autonomy for my team but also make sure that they feel supported and mentored and have coaching opportunities as needed. I do enjoy doing that. I’m pretty responsive. I’m busy but I try to be there for everyone as much as I can.Leadership is a lifelong learning process for all of us. Click To Tweet
I can attest to your responsiveness, fair enough.
Thank you. I’m compassionate, humane, and flexible. We all have lives, families, friends, activities and all of that. Work isn’t everything. Having that balance is important. I’m pretty focused and action-oriented. I like results and getting things done but we also have some fun. We do a lot of serious work and it can be intense at times. We have some fun and laughs. I try to foster that too.
In fundraising terminology, what’s the case? Why would someone want to leave their job? If someone’s thinking about this opportunity, why would they want to leave where they are and join you at the foundation? If they’re not, otherwise engaged somewhere else. What’s the compelling piece about joining you as an associate director?
We are bringing much-needed value to a sector that doesn’t have an organization like ours. We have very strong partnerships and collaborations that are mutually supportive. Working with BCCDC and the experts there and across the system, I don’t quite know how to describe it but it’s respectful and collaborative. We get to share our expertise.
We’re in such a great place. We have this momentum that would be exciting for somebody to come on board, join us and help us leverage that. For someone creative and who would get jazzed about building something, that’s the right fit for us. If that excites someone, you can get into the idea of building an organization that has a strong vision and is already demonstrating important impacts, then I would say this is the organization.
That impact and mission ultimately is the drive. The opportunity to change and save lives in many cases is so compelling on its own in some ways but the opportunity to do the work daily is so crucial too.
Where we’re at as a world but as a province, we have a lot of work to do in the next number of years to help address the pandemic recovery and save lives. There are things that we can do to save lives. People that are dying of an overdose. That’s preventable and we can do something about that. It is about that purpose, impact and cause. Building awareness around public health as a cause and a movement is also an exciting opportunity.
Thinking about inclusivity, diversity, equity, access and some of the hallmarks of building a strong and inclusive community and workforce is so crucial in our sector. What is the foundation doing to create such an inclusive and diverse workforce?
That’s an important area for everyone. We’re all having these conversations. From day one, we have always grounded our work in equity, which is the core of public health. That’s what we do. We try to address inequities fundamentally through public health so that’s something that I have always tried to embed in the projects, priorities and work that we do. We are trying to ensure that we bring EDI practices to hiring, as well as board development. We’ve gone through some recruitment for the board and did try to put EDI at the core of that. That’s been important to me. I did try to ensure that we did that and continue to do that with hiring for staff as well.
In 2022, we’ve also created an EDI committee. There’s another opportunity for someone new to get involved in that, but ensuring that the work that we’re doing, whether it’s hiring, board development or projects that we take on is grounded in EDI. Also, look at how we ask people for projects or the researchers whom we give money to. The reporting that we get back from that, we want to make sure that that is also grounded in EDI and we’re not making overly complicated practices or things that are negatively fostering, anti-indigenous racism or anti-racism. We’re working on a lot of that. We revamped our employee handbook with an EDI lens. We did that work in 2021 as well.
It’s coming through both on a strategic program level or the development level of the programs and services you provide and the work and research you’re doing, but also on a very grounded basis within the organization. It’s so crucial too in your recruiting practices, HR practices and things like that. It’s fantastic to hear.
You’ve got that very well. Thank you.
If someone is reading this episode and they’re on the fence and not sure if they want to throw their hat into the ring or pursue this opportunity, what would you say to them? This is your chance to do so.
Come join us. Reiterating some of what I’ve said and I’ve used the word exciting too much but it is an exciting time for where we’re at and what we’ve built. We’re poised. It almost feels like a springboard moment for the organization. We are ready to springboard into the next few years, leverage that momentum and look to the future.
As a community and society, we’re doing that collectively. That’s where we’re at with the organization. Think about public health and what it means to strengthen the awareness around public health and make it a cause. We’ve transitioned from maybe people not knowing much about public health to thinking it’s about pandemics. We have a lot of work to do around that. Public health is very broad.
Public health work historically has been very underfunded. We can change that. Through fundraising and diversifying our fundraising portfolio, we can continue to bring immense value to a sector that needs us. It is about that impact. I hope that there are folks out there who are reading and saying, “I would be so jazzed to be a part of building this and this cause. I can’t wait to apply.”Through fundraising and diversifying our fundraising portfolio, we can continue to bring immense value to a sector that needs us. Click To Tweet
That’s the impact and focus. Exactly what we want to do is give people a sense of what the organization is all about and what you are all about for that matter as well. If anyone is interested, they can connect with us over LinkedIn, for instance. You can reach out to me directly at Christoph@TheDiscoveryGroup.ca.
Kristy shared her website, BCCDCFoundation.org, which is well-populated with blog posts, research, results, program results, and lots of great information there to take in. I’m looking forward to hearing from people in the community that are interested and working with you soon again, Kristy. Thank you again for your time, enthusiasm, and passion that’s certainly come through. I appreciate it.
Thank you so much, Christoph. It was great to talk about all this.
- BC Centre for Disease Control
- We Believe Blog Post
- LinkedIn – Christoph Clodius
About Kristy Kerr
BCCDC provides health promotion and prevention services, analytical and policy support to government and health authorities, and diagnostic and treatment services to reduce communicable & chronic disease, preventable injury and environmental health risks.