Originally published on smh.com.au
When Danielle Stewart attended the funerals of her grandparents she learnt many facts about their lives that were previously unknown to her.
It got her thinking about the importance of storytelling, especially for the families of the elderly.
In 2016 she started a company, My Word, whose mission is to connect people through stories.
“You can’t expect to care about someone if you don’t know them,” she says.
Knowing a patient’s likes and dislikes is as important as knowing their medical conditions, and Stewart has found that often this gap in knowledge is considerable.
Mentored by her father, David Stewart, an experienced businessman and co-founder and chair of My Word, Stewart has developed a model that delivers five different story offerings.
Specially trained writers attend residential care homes, or work with families, and help people to tell their stories, encouraging positive relationships, connection and empathy between carers, residents and their families.
The activities are designed to be the ultimate story experience. My Word provides the resources, the story prompts and a recording device. Stewart says it’s effective because residents are having their stories elicited by someone that they love. My Word offers different ways of capturing and displaying this information, whether it’s a storyboard or a keepsake book.
Fiona Allchin, lifestyle co-ordinator at Arcare Aged Care in Point Lonsdale, finds My Word invaluable for her staff because the end product gives them a quick reference to the resident’s whole life. “Residents love sharing their stories as they get to the end of their lives. The program really helps to stimulate a bit of fun conversation and helps to build trust and rapport with them when you show an interest in their background,” she says.
After working in hospitality and retail while a student, Stewart attained a bachelor of business degree, majoring in marketing. She started her corporate career at the age of 20, when she accepted a one-year paid internship with a large multinational information technology company in Melbourne. The company were so impressed that they employed her for the next three years as a marketing co-ordinator.
After a stint travelling and working in short-term marketing roles, Stewart moved to London and accepted a role as a logistics manager for the London Olympics and Paralympics. At 24 years old, she was in charge of all aspects of transport (airport travel, buses and trains) for athletes, team officials and media that were coming into London. This meant dealing with all sorts of stakeholders: airports, bus companies, accommodation providers and the organisers for each of the countries.
This high-pressure role taught her that she had the skills, resilience and fortitude to create and sustain her own business. “This job was a massive career highlight and a challenge as well.” Now, it is My Word that motivates her. For people who do have ambition and drive, she says, “Get comfortable being outside your comfort zone because nothing major ever happens in there.”
In the aged-care sector, large residential care facilities and companies are lining up for the services that My Word provides. Families are so positive about the results that the storytelling experience is producing that the Stewarts are developing ways to scale the idea so it will become a sustainable business model. “Getting people to connect through stories in a fun and engaging way is something that people need.”
Danielle Stewart sees the recent announcement of a royal commission into the quality of aged care as a very positive move for the industry and believes her company can help forge connections between carers, patients and residents.
“You learn so much about people at their funerals which is so sad. We really want to change that,” she says.
- Get some work experience as an intern.
- Learn about business etiquette.
- Find yourself a mentor.
- Never burn a bridge. You never know who is going to be behind the next door.
- Reflect regularly on your personal and professional achievements.
Study: Danielle studied a bachelor of business degree majoring in marketing.
Attributes: Tenacity, resilience, people skills, empathy, communication skills, logistics, active listening.