Woman Draper, Mary

Health Consumer Activist

Written by Kate Moore, Australian National University

Mary Draper was born in Sydney in 1945 but grew up in Brisbane. She was the first child in a family of nine children. Educated in Catholic schools, Mary became the leader of first her school's and then the Brisbane branch of the Young Christian. After completing an Arts/Social Work course at university, where she became involved in the women's movement she moved to Tasmania where she worked as an Equal Opportunity Inspector.

In 1983 Mary moved to Melbourne after being appointed as Women's Adviser to the incoming Labor Government. It was a new position which she describes as 'a leadership and advocacy role' and its job was 'to get up a policy agenda across the Government'. While exciting it was 'very, very hard'. Mary was a single parent and, when she left the position after 4 years, found that her daughter 'visibly thrived' (http://janeelix.wordpress.com/2012/02/22/mary-draper/).

Mary spent the next 10 years working in an academic environment. Through the Health Issues Centre, a Victorian organisation that promoted consumer perspectives in health care, she investigated the impact on consumers of casemix funding for hospitals, an important piece of work which led to her involvement with the broad health consumer movement. Mary then took up a position as Manager of the Effectiveness Unit within the Quality and Care Continuity Branch with the Victorian Health Department. After four years, she became Director of Clinical Governance at the Royal Women's Hospital, a position she held for seven years.

Mary has now set up her own consultancy business. She recently stepped aside from her role as Chair of the Health Issues Centre to take up the role of Interim CEO. Although she has held leadership positions throughout her school and working life, Mary has never had any formal leadership training but if she were to redo her career she would make time for more education and skills development (http://janeelix.wordpress.com/2012/02/22/mary-draper/).

Early in her life, Mary enjoyed the challenge of new ideas, and has an ability to think deeply about issues. She enjoys thinking things through and offering solutions and sees herself as an 'intellectual' leader. She emphasises the importance of listening 'sometimes it's hearing the story from the inside, and sometimes it's others people's analyses'. Understanding and respecting constituencies is another leadership quality that Mary stresses. Your credibility, she says, 'comes from listening and respect for others, and acknowledging that your ideas have come from listening, connecting and communicating back'. She acknowledges that leaders can never do everything that people want, but that it's important to keep faith with the constituency - its 'a mixture of doing your best, knowing you had a constituency and an accountability. It's a social movement, and it keeps you honest.'

Mary wonders where the future leaders of the health consumer movement will come from. 'Our generation came through the movement - and many from the women's movement. We all came with some interesting skills but we also learned a lot and we've been very effective. It's now a question of continuing to nurture and continually review and plan for succession' (http://janeelix.wordpress.com/2012/02/22/mary-draper/).

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