World Class SA – Louise Driver: In the driving seat

2014-09-21 15:00

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City Press began its World Class edition last year to showcase South Africans excelling globally. They are those heroes, mavericks, pioneers, ground breakers, thought leaders and originals who have made strides on the world stage. This feature on a woman who lives the phrase ‘pay it forward’ is the last in our taster series. On Heritage Day, City Press launches 100 World Class South Africans as a digital magazine on

As chief executive of the Children’s Hospital Trust, Louise Driver has raised more than R100?million, securing funding for several healthcare projects at Cape Town’s Red Cross War Memorial Children’s Hospital and throughout the Western Cape, including a new paediatric oncology unit and radiology complex; a new centre for childhood infectious diseases; a paediatric surgical skills training centre, the first of its kind in Africa; and the upgrading of the Red Cross Children’s Hospital specialist burns unit.

It’s an impressive achievement by any standards but given the economic downturn and the draconian cut in international corporate funding, the full weight of her powers of persuasion becomes something quite exceptional, so much so they’ve earned her the 2013 southern Africa fundraiser of the year award, the social entrepreneurship category in the Businesswomen’s Association of SA’s Regional Business Achievers Awards and the global fundraiser award in the Netherlands. In short, when it comes to leveraging capital for caring, Louise Driver is as good as it gets.

Philanthropy runs deep in her DNA. In her first year of university, Driver started the Bucket Project in association with Community Chest, collecting fresh leftover food from restaurant salad bars and distributing it to township soup kitchens. Later, she started a neighbourhood tin can collection along similar lines.

After graduating, Driver exercised her fundraising abilities by working for Catholic Welfare and Development, one of the largest charitable organisations in the Western Cape with more than 22 operations under its umbrella.

Extended overseas travels saw her meeting the Dalai Lama in Dharamsala and a privileged one-on-one with Mother Teresa (her childhood idol) while volunteering at the Missionaries of Charity in India.

Back in South Africa, based in Durban and tasked with marketing the MTN Science Centre (an NGO largely concerned with exposing disadvantaged children to the wonders of maths and science), Driver wrote How to Help: A Guide to Charitable Causes in Durban. The small manual garnered enormous publicity and Driver found herself increasingly acting as intermediary between organisations and people.

She took to this role like a duck to water and was soon running the corporate consulting arm of GreaterGood SA called GreaterCapital, advising companies from Coca-Cola to Unilever among 65 others on how to best invest in social funding, how to ensure their money is optimally channelled and how to maximise their brand while doing so.

BEE regulations and corporate social investment programmes were fast becoming common practice, and as a first in its field, GreaterCapital was perfectly positioned to lead the way.

Then, at the height of the recession and in the thick of the global crisis, Driver courageously moved to the Children’s Hospital Trust challenged by a mandate to develop an extended strategy for paediatric healthcare in the Western Cape and to bring the organisation to a point of self-sustainability.

Driver typically speeds through her CV in less time than it takes the Ferrari F1 team to complete a pit stop, and when she fires on full cylinders its pure optimism, energy and a can-do charm that shoots from her inexhaustible engine.

Her narrative is punctuated with words such as ‘lucky’, ‘fortunate’, ‘grateful’ and phrases like “dream come true”. A week in Driver’s diary looks something like this: Meeting with the minister of health, Lunch with Suzanne Ackerman (Pick n Pay is one of the Red Cross Children’s Hospital’s longest standing beneficiaries), Tea for the Muslim Women’s Group in Athlone, and preparations for a big organ donor drive inaugurated by Premier Helen Zille to coincide with Mandela Day.

But for the most part, Driver’s job is desk-based, endless and unglamorous, and Driver is quick to put paid to popular notions of fundraisers as high society beggars in ball gowns picking the pockets of penguin-suited corporates seeking absolution through charitable donation.

“Our operation base is not funded, we work off the interest of a large bequest given to the trust 10 years ago,” explains Driver. “There is really no money or time to plan lavish events.”

For her part, Driver is tormented by “that look of desperation, the pain in the parents’ faces”. She is motivated by the courage of the children. “They are so strong and positive.”

She is inspired by the overwhelming commitment of the staff, “they are passionate and dedicated beyond the call of duty”, and by a genuine desire to build a better South Africa. “The most amazing thing about this hospital”, says Driver, “is that the poorest of the poor are being treated by the best paediatricians in the field.”

Like most mothers, Driver needs a disciplined division between work and home. With two small children of her own and hundreds more in the hospitals, it’s not always easy.

In 2012, when her daughter was two, Driver and her husband adopted a baby. An incorrigible multitasker, Driver overambitiously combined maternity leave with an overdue operation on her Achilles heel, which left her with a boot on one foot, a baby bag around her neck and a bottle in each hand as she hopped between nurseries.

And what better metaphor for her work: in a handicapped healthcare system where demand far outstrips supply, Driver and her team are always juggling projects?…?with a programme and a funding plan in the baby bag.

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