A chat with our Board Observer Isabelle Howard

5 min read


1. Could you please tell us about yourself, what you do and how you came to be involved in WaterAid’s board?

My name is Izzy Howard, I am a proud Jaadwa woman of the Wotjobaluk Nation. I am a registered nurse and currently work as the Site Manager of First Peoples’ Health and Wellbeing (FPHW) Frankston clinic. FPHW is an Aboriginal Health Service specialising in trauma-informed primary care for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and their families.

My first involvement with WaterAid was when I met Rosie at the Joan Kirner Young and Emerging Women Leaders Program. Rosie was speaking to us and I distinctly remember her ability to tell stories with such passion. I then met Rosie again when she interviewed me for an observer position on the WaterAid Board. I wasn’t sure what I could offer as I don’t have a background in water but she reassured me that I would be very useful. I’m glad I trusted her as it has been a really great experience.

2. You’re part of the Observership Program, could you please tell us about that? Has it been what you expected, or has it surprised you?

The Observership Program is a 12-month program that combines the theory of governance with practical experience on the not-for-profit board to ensure young people have the right skills and experience to be on a board. The program has a specific focus on people under 40, particularly women, Aboriginal people and culturally diverse people (as these groups are really underrepresented on Boards).

The program has provided me with the amazing opportunity to join a Board such as WaterAid and observe a Board that functions well and are very respectful of one another and their opinions. It has been a rocky 12 months with COVID-19 but my experience has still been great and my confidence has increased.

3. How did you first learn about WaterAid and our work, and why were you interested in getting involved?

I first learnt about WaterAid and the amazing work you do through Rosie. I was interested in getting involved as I think there are many similarities in the work WaterAid does and the work I do in Aboriginal Health. These include raising awareness, recruiting allies, and nurturing self-determination. I was also keen to get involved in the RAP process as I had just completed one in my old role at Monash Health.

4. What have you learnt about WaterAid and our work since becoming involved? Why do you think WASH is an important focus?

I have learnt that not only does WaterAid do amazing work but the team was agile, innovative and resilient when it came to COVID 19 throwing a spanner in the works. WASH is something I am particularly passionate about coming from a health background. I think the WASH concept with a cultural lens over it would be well received in Aboriginal communities that are rural and remote. Some communities have poor supplies of running water and with diseases such as rheumatic heart disease (RHD) still killing Aboriginal children even though it is completely preventable with water, sanitation and hygiene, we still have a long way to go in Australia, which you can read about here 

5. WaterAid has a RAP, what do you think we are doing well in our reconciliation journey – what do you think are the next steps for them in their journey?

Congratulations to WaterAid on getting their RAP approved. All things considered with COVID-19, I think WaterAid is progressing well. Embedding reconciliation into organisations take time but it starts with great leadership – Rosie has demonstrated her commitment to reconciliation not only through words but actions too. It would be great to see a standing item in the Board Agenda on the RAP, this ensures accountability at all levels. Aboriginal procurement is something I am particularly passionate about and is a great way to start the journey of reconciliation when Aboriginal affairs isn’t your core business.

6. What would be your advice to organisations that don’t yet have a RAP and how can they get started on one?

My advice to organisations that don’t have a RAP is to definitely start looking into one. A RAP can really help start the journey towards reconciliation but are only really useful if you have full executive and board buy in. You can contact Reconciliation Australia to start a RAP and if you’re not sure how to write one or where to start you could engage an Aboriginal consultant service to assist. RAPs are a significant commitment and as we saw recently with Rio Tinto, they can be revoked. If you are wanting to have a RAP it is good to understand why you want it and make sure it isn’t tokenistic. 

7. What is next…what does 2021 look like for you?

I hope 2021 is slightly more relaxed than 2020. As you can imagine, working in health during a pandemic can be very stressful but to add to that I bought a house, renovated it, moved, and changed jobs all in 2020. I’m looking forward to using 2021 to consolidate and reflect on all I’ve learnt in the past few years, and continue to grow more as a leader. I’m also really looking forward to heading back to Country as I haven’t been all year.