Getting to the Third Curve through ADAT

Photo of a conference badge

Just over a week ago we were in Malaysia……………..

We had been invited by the Insitute of Healthcare Improvment (IHI) and the British Medical Journal (BMJ) to present some of our research, and run a masterclass on developing resilience and wellbeing for the ‘Third Workforce’, at their international conference in Kuala Lumpur. It was an absolute honour and a privilege to be there, to share learning, and to meet some truly wonderful people.

The depth and breadth of knowledge at the conference was impressive, and I can honestly say that the plenary speakers really reached out and touched the hearts, minds and spirit of everyone.

We had already spent time meeting with some marvellous people from KPJ Healthcare University College, and had taken time to learn some Malay so that we could show interest and respect for our new partners. ‘Terima Kasih’ (thank you) was most frequently and earnestly spoken, though I have to admit it would have been fun to say ‘hoverkraf saya penuh dengan belut’ (my hovercraft is full of eels).

As the time drew near to present and teach our work, I began to feel a little more than nervous. I know our work is important, and that a lot of people have invested their time and resources in helping us to understand the importance of resilience and wellbeing, but as the conference approached I wondered whether our work might be too far off the radar for some people to engage with.  My concerns were answered by following a train of thought after spotting this in a cafe in Penang……

Photo of stair with "Think about why you started" written on it

Our work begins and ends with a fervent desire to support people who are on the ‘frontline’, we have been involved in this work for about 20 or so years. The ‘frontline’ has been redefined over time, and for us it now includes people who work as unpaid carers (the Third Workforce). Our exploratory project with the Third Workforce in 2016, has led to the development of a robust and evidence based programme that supports people, and means working alongside some of the most hardworking, dedicated and compassionate people on the planet. It was important for us to acknowledge them, and somehow take them with us to the conference, the only practical way we could do this was to film them talking about who they are, what their lives as carers are like, and what working with us has meant to them. I confess to watching their film many times before I actually went on to the stage, seeing them calmed me down, and made me smile. It made me feel the ‘joy in work’ that is also high on the IHI agenda.

Photo of a large screen at a conference showing the Third Workforce film

The IHI are keen on partnership working and ‘getting to the third curve’. For those of you not familiar with what this means, it all about ceding power and mobilising social action. This sounds fine but the art of passing the baton back to communities so that they are in charge of their health and social wellbeing is fraught with uncertainty, not least because it is urgently needed at a time of much stretched resources. The very act of passing the baton may prove difficult, yet there is something that we can all work with, and in Malaysia, it is called ‘Adat’.  Roughly translated Adat means having responsibility and harmony through the society of the community. It is perhaps something that globally we have seen become eroded, yet never was a time when we needed our community more. The Third Workforce provide their service right in the heart of communities, without them not only would health and social care providers be overwhelmed, but our communities would be desolated places.

I am very grateful that the people I shared our work with in Malaysia understood this, and that delegates from Thailand, Saudi Arabia, Singapore, Canada and Sweden also see that if we are to get to the ‘third curve’ we need to support the Third Workforce. We look forward to continuing our work here in the UK, and this autumn we begin a new project for an element of the Third Workforce made up of young carers, and developing a Training the Trainers programme for all of the Third Workforce – wherever they are.