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Health Leadership Award – Interview with Joy Finney


I Introduction
II About Joy Finney
III Interview with Joy Finney
IV Conclusion

Submitted by Melissa Potvin

I Introduction

The Health Leadership Award was launched by Health Nexus in 2011 in partnership with 3M Canada as part of the 3M Canada Healthy Communities Program.

This annual award honours the outstanding range of leaders who have a significant impact on the health and well-being of their community. These leaders understand that health starts where we live, learn, work and play.

By sharing the stories of the community leaders recognized by the award Health Nexus hopes to inspire future leaders to take action to create positive change in communities across Canada. We hope that you enjoy this interview with the 2014 Award recipient, Joy Finney.  You can learn more about previous recipients on the Health Leadership Award page of the Health Nexus website (

II About Joy Finney

Joy Finney, Community Health Promoter with the Woolwich Community Health Centre in St. Jacob’s Ontario is the most recent recipient of the Health Leadership Award. We discussed the Health Leadership prize with Joy as well as her vision on community health. Here is the summary of our conversation with this amazing health professional who one colleague has heralded as the “great network weaver.”

III Interview with Joy Finney

Firstly, congratulations on being recognized for your outstanding leadership Joy. What was your initial reaction upon hearing the news that you had won the Health Leadership Award? What do you think about this idea of a prize that recognizes your work? I think you usually shy away from this type of attention do you not?

I was very touched. How can I describe it…? Words fail me really… I was very honoured. I was also very surprised. I knew I had been nominated but I was so impressed with the work of all the other nominees! To me, it was so impressive to see collectively all the extraordinary things that are being achieved every day in our province!

Why do you think you were chosen?

I think it’s because I work with an amazing group of kind and generous people for whom helping others is the most important thing. This prize is the expression of all this put together. I work with some amazing and wonderful people to whom I am very grateful.

People often quote the best leaders as being the ones who work diligently and quietly behind the scenes, far away from such accolades? What do you think about that statement? How do you relate?

When you asked me how I responded to the (Award) news, I would like to say this:  it’s really easy to be passionate about the work I do every day and the people I work with. I would love to put the limelight and focus on them and their passion, instead of me… you have no idea!

Receiving the award does allow me to give me the opportunity to speak passionately about them and what we do here in Woolwich. I think what happens is that when you get to work with people in the way I do at the Woolwich Community Health Centre, you see how profound a contribution people are making. You see day in, day out the contribution volunteers are making in their community and the positive effect that these contributions have on the community. Each person is bringing their skillset, their ideas to create these creative innovative projects. When you work in my field, you see everyday these positive contributions. You witness the energy of people working together and who are getting things to work together, so it’s not about you. It’s how people are contributing.

You have a nice vision on sharing the limelight with others when it comes to the work you do as a health practitioner. Can you talk a little bit more about how you see that?

I remember 18 years ago, going to a workshop where, through the Myers-Briggs test, we learned how to value and work with our differences. We were put into groups by personality types and were asked this question: If you came across a wounded deer in the forest what would you do? It was fascinating! In my group people were interested in the spiritual well being of the deer (even though I have a nursing background, no less!) In my group, we were all trying to establish some sort of relationship with the wounded deer. Others around us were much more practical with their problem solving skills with a range of ways of helping this deer. I remember that like it was yesterday, it really struck me and has stayed with me since.


This made me realize how important it is to have a range of different people to help others around us, I mean people with different approaches, different visions. When you can bring all that together, it’s so rich and remarkable. We need to look for the creativity and creative opportunities in all of these differences. I seek out such opportunities.

What do you particularly enjoy working as a health promoter at a community health centre?

Our centre is based on the healthy communities model and I feel that this model focuses on having a supportive environment to foster change towards the right decision. This model is crucial to making the right decisions. It’s also a very holistic model. It looks at all the determinants of health and it also allows us to work on the issues specific to a community or that are unique to a given community – issues that the community identifies for itself, not us for it. And those are decided upon through the community, with the support of an advisory committee.

Other health organizations have priorities established for them. Our mandate adds a layer of health promotion to create the environmental support people need to implement the information that they have learned themselves (or have been informed upon). Without that support, chances are slim that the desired change will occur and stick. Unfortunately, in tight economic times, needs are urgent in primary care, and that’s often where funds go. But I think in those times, we have to work even harder at preventing illness. Just giving information out, isn’t enough. You need the supportive environment to help people make choices that are good for them.

Take smoking in public places as an example. Since it’s been banned, the environment changed and this unhealthy behaviour is no longer supported. Because this is no longer the norm, we see a positive change take hold. So we change behaviours through our environment, you see what I mean? The same type of movement is becoming stronger and stronger around eating locally and healthy which means we need a healthy farming community. Food processing must also be done locally, etc. Again, a supportive environment that keeps local food, local. So this is all interrelated. We need to ensure support at all levels.

You are obviously a very passionate woman. Where does the motivation come from?

I’m really blessed. I work in a place with a strong sense of values, which has a real resonance with my own. This is very important to me. What matters to me is working on what the community decides – that’s an authentic community centre model. This model frees me to do what matters in my community. So you get to focus on matters that matter to them. I get to witness over and over again the good news stories in which people contribute to their communities and make a difference in their lives. I love working in a community health centre also because you get to work at all ends of the health promotion continuum. (Community health centres focus on treatment of illness, prevention of illness and health promotion by definition). So you’re not just working with people when they are ill, you are working with people who are well to ensure everybody stays healthy.

I love giving people the tools they need to make better choices for themselves. Those are authentic and real changes and the ones that have the better chance of success because they come from the people making the choices. My experience in travelling the world has showed me that culture and healthy public policy play together a most important role when it comes to the healthy choices we make, hence the importance of a supportive environment for our health. Therefore, healthy communities require a healthy economic environment as well as a strong social supporting one. That’s the model I like to work in and one in which I firmly believe.

You make interesting links between cultural environment and health. Can you elaborate on that a little?

Oh, cultural environment is so crucial! Part of that for me, comes from when I went to school in India where there were students form all over the world. I then travelled and lived all over the world. We are shaped by the assumptions we make. You then realize how differently we view our world. It’s fascinating.

When I was living in the UK, and was working with refugees and I would assist with the mat medical appointments, I witnessed how much culture influences health. Culture literally shaped whether or not they would implement a doctor’s ideas or not, no matter what he (or she) said, no matter what their needs were. I am blessed to have been exposed to so many different cultures and to have seen how significant culture is in shaping our decisions, namely in health.

Here in Canada, I see it everywhere. A simple example here is the Clean Waterways Group, an initiative that changed local farming practices in order to secure clean creek water. We worked with local farmers to find solutions that worked for them. For example, some farmers were comfortable working with financial government support while others were not, because of their religious beliefs for example. So we had to find funds and ideas to achieve the same desired goals but by being respectful of the culture and beliefs of all involved. It was a real challenge but we succeeded by working together, for the good of our community. We couldn’t just go to them with a grant, we had to find more creative ways to approach community members and work it out together. When we talk with each other, when we consult each other, we always find solutions. But first, you have to build trusting relationships. That’s what makes such a difference in how we work with one another. And I am very fortunate to be working within a community where people still believe in this. Woolwich is a community that has found ways to retain qualities where people are caring for each other and working together and supporting one another. I have a lovely work environment and my team really understands health promotion. Lots of people comment on how our community is caring and that our organisations work together very well. I am very proud of that.

From your perspective, what is the view of the future in community healthcare?

I think one of the challenges is that I see a drift where health promotion is being limited to health education. I think that this is partly because economically, when money is tight, it’s easier to focus on treatment and handing out information because we think we have met our responsibility. But by doing this, there is a risk that we miss the significance within health promotion, of missing the entire component of the environment as I mentioned earlier.

I think our centre is a good example of how when you are involved at the community development level of promotion, you can obtain the community’s insight as well as their understanding, which can lead to positive and sustainable changes. You can tell people over and over again to be physically active. Here, some community volunteers decided to do something about it. Some volunteer members lobbied and obtained a township trails coordinator position. She in turn helped mobilize the community in order to work towards the creation of walking trails at the township. So we created the opportunities to allow people to be physically active.

It’s critical that we recognize the community development element of the health promotion continuum as well as how public policy supports culture. And we need to allocate enough resources and funding towards those goals. Simply informing people is not enough. We need to work on the determinants of health.

IV Conclusion

In support of Joy’s nomination, D’Arcy Farlow, an organizational and community capacity building consultant said, “Joy wound never see herself as a leader. In the true fashion of someone who “leads from behind” she facilitates others to discover their leadership potential by providing them with the knowledge, tools support, and encouragement they need to become active and excited. As a result of this process there are numerous leaders driving the successful projects of Woolwich Healthy Communities and many other health promoting activities within Woolwich. Joy, in her wise and beautiful way, has been a mentor to me and so many others in Woolwich Township and in the Waterloo Region. We value the vision of community that she holds in her heart and models in everything she does.”

We can’t find a better or more eloquent way to conclude a discussion with such an engaged and devoted individual, a woman with a big heart. We sincerely congratulate Joy Finney, recipient of the 2014 Health Leadership Award.