As it celebrates turning 40, nabs looks to the future

—A board subcommittee will help chart a new course for the future. “It is, in my opinion, the single most important committee that we’ve had since I’ve been around, and I’ve been around nabs since 2010,” said chair Tom Shipman—

Over the past few weeks, The Message been helping celebrate the 40th anniversary of nabs—talking with people whose hard work made the charity what it is today, reflecting on its beginnings, its growth and evolution, and honouring its many contributions to people in need across the industry.

But as important as it is to look back and remember the invaluable contributions of those who helped build nabs, Tom Shipman, chair of the nabs board, and Rosetta Heckhausen, managing director, are very much looking forward, in order to ensure it remains a cherished institution supporting the industry and the people within it, whatever new needs and challenges arise.

“At the end of the day, what nabs does is try to improve the lives of individuals in our industry,” said Heckhausen.

Whether job or career related challenges, or personal issues away from the office, nabs has long recognized the intersection of the two, and been there to provide assistance. But the industry is constantly changing, requiring nabs to change along with it.

“Every decade is different, and I think what explains our longevity and our relevancy is that we’ve always been able to adapt and deliver what our community needs,” she said.

The relevancy of nabs is as strong as ever, even if the context changes, added Shipman, whose “day job” is partner, and director of strategic solutions for Mediology in Vancouver.  “If you look at where nabs is at today, there’s no shortage of clients.”

But nabs has to be run like a business, and just like any business, it must continue looking forward, said Shipman. “Not just this year, not just next year, but where does nabs need to be in three years, where does it need to be in five years?”

With that in mind, about six months ago, nabs created a new special board subcommittee.

“We call it vision and strategy, and it is, in my opinion, the single most important committee that we’ve had since I’ve been around, and I’ve been around nabs since 2010,” said Shipman.

The special committee has a broad mandate to study every aspect of what nabs has been until today, as a first step to reimagining what it could be tomorrow. Chaired by Alexandra Panousis, the committee is expected to present its findings and recommendations late in 2023 or early in 2024.

“It’s super important that we understand what we need to provide moving forward,” said Shipman. “Where do we fit in relative to a changing landscape?”

Heckhausen thinks of it as “taking a pulse” of the industry. “What are the challenges people are facing? What supports do they need, and where are they getting supports if not from nabs. And trying to understand where—if there are gaps—how do we adapt and change current programming to fill those gaps.”

Evolving attitudes and approaches to mental health and wellness is a perfect example. Governments have been trying to provide additional supports, and private companies are providing “way more support” for their employees, said Shipman. “Five years ago, 10 years ago, there was minimal support in that area, if at all, and we were on an island doing it,” he said.  ‘We’re no longer on an island, and we can’t ignore that.”

And yet, calls to the nabs support line in March were the highest they’ve been in a long time. “And mental health is still number one,” said Heckhausen. “We are still seeing it as a priority when people call us or download information that they need.

“Mental health is a very complex issue, and that requires complex responses and different types of programming and supports.”

That begs the question, is what nabs doing in that specific area still the best use of its resources, or should they be redirected or repurposed in other ways? “Could that be a part of the future? Absolutely. Could it be reduced part of the future? Absolutely,” said Heckhausen. “This is the committee’s job—to figure out from the people of our industry, from the leaders of our industry, what is relevant that we’re doing, what is no longer relevant that we’re doing.”

Importantly, the committee is not being steered in any way, said Shipman. “There is nothing that’s untouchable, everything needs to be reviewed. We’re going to be honest with ourselves and assessing exactly what programs remain relevant, which ones are no longer relevant, and steer the organization accordingly.”

But while everything is on the table, they aren’t expecting a radical overhaul. “We’re still doing incredibly great work, helping a lot of people,” said Heckhausen. But any time you undertake this kind of deep research and introspection, surprises inevitably emerge.

“And I’m actually really looking forward to that,” she said. “Because I think what nabs has always done really well is provide [people in] the industry with what they needed, even when they didn’t realize they needed it.”

This won’t be a one-and-done effort, added Shipman. “It’ll have to be revisited. Whether it’s two years, three years down the road, to maintain our relevancy.”

And that is the all-important goal that motivates both Shipman and Heckhausen, and explains their work and commitment to nabs.

“We are so fortunate to have a charity dedicated to us, and that’s what keeps me going,” said Shipman. “Every now and then, when I’m swamped with nabs and swamped with my work, I think ‘Why am I doing this?’ But then I’ll have somebody approach me and say, nabs helped me and tell me the story, and it just blows me away.

I’m so incredibly proud of the work that we do.”

David Brown