Zeenat Jeewa: Transforming Disability Services Through Sustainability

Published by Gary Ellis on May 28th 2024, 7:07am

Zeenat Jeewa’s journey to becoming CEO of the Asian People’s Disability Alliance (APDA) exemplifies a firm commitment to service improvement and efficiency. 

With a decade of experience in the NHS, Jeewa honed her skills in streamlining operations, “I was working to improve the service, it was costing the trust a lot of money. I came in, looked at the system's processes and turned it around,” she recalls. Her efforts culminated in transforming a costly service within medical physics into a profitable venture, generating an income of about a million pounds.

Her transition to APDA marked a shift from public health to the voluntary sector, where she initially took on a part-time role to enhance the relationship between the local authority and the organisation. Ms Jeewa’s impact was soon felt as she worked her way up, “the need for the organisation grew over my time,” she states. By 2010, she had fully committed to APDA, bringing her principles of sustainability to the forefront of the charity’s operations.

Under Zeenat’s leadership, APDA has embraced the digital age, establishing online cloud storage systems that proved invaluable during the COVID-19 pandemic. This foresight allowed the organisation to continue delivering services seamlessly.

Beyond operational success, Zeenat is passionate about nurturing talent and providing opportunities for those struggling to enter the workforce. “I’ve always used a methodology where I can help somebody to gain work experience,” she explains. This ethos extends to running APDA as a sustainable entity, not solely reliant on grants but delivering valuable paid services.

Ms Jeewa’s philosophy of valuing people’s time and energy has led to the creation of a supportive work environment that accommodates individuals with diverse needs, including those with caring duties or long-term health conditions. She firmly believes in the importance of social care, often referring to it as “the 4th emergency service,” and advocates for the recognition and respect of those who dedicate themselves to this vital sector.

Leadership and Values: Zeenat’s Guiding Principles

Zeenat is a leader who practises what she preaches. “I don’t expect people to do what I’m not willing to do myself,” she asserts, setting a high bar for both herself and her team. This philosophy extends beyond mere words, as she believes in the congruence of actions and statements, both personally and organisationally.

Her leadership is characterised by her meticulous attention to processes and procedures, which she regards as the backbone of the organisation’s operations. This focus on structure and guidelines has been crucial, especially during the challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic.

At the core of her leadership style is the belief that “everything is doable and is fixable.” Ms Jeewa approaches problems with a can-do attitude, always looking for innovative solutions and encouraging her team to think outside the box. She emphasises the importance of listening and learning, acknowledging that “nothing is stagnant” and that leaders must adapt to change while maintaining their core values.

For Zeenat, the ultimate goal of APDA’s work is to improve the quality of life for individuals with disabilities. She resists the temptation to chase funding at the expense of the organisation’s mission, focusing instead on the needs of the people they serve. “We look at what people need and will this work improve the quality of life,” she states.

A Vision for Achieving Sustainability

At the forefront of APDA, Zeenat is candid about the challenges she faces as a leader. “Sustainability is the major factor,” she states, acknowledging that financial stability is a concern shared by many in leadership roles.

Time, or the lack thereof, is another significant challenge for Ms Jeewa. Leading a small to medium-sized charity means there’s always more to do than time allows. “Not having enough time to do all the involved aspects is a real challenge,” she admits.

Growth is a double-edged sword in Zeenat’s experience. While APDA has the capacity to expand significantly, she opts for a measured approach. “I’ve chosen not to go down that route,” she explains, having observed other organisations where rapid expansion compromised quality. For Ms Jeewa, the reputation of APDA and the quality of service it delivers are paramount. She is wary of the pitfalls of rapid growth, such as high staff turnover and losing touch with the needs of service users.

Zeenat’s focus remains steadfast on the impact of APDA’s work. “I look at what people need and will this work improve the quality of life,” she says, using this as her guiding principle rather than chasing funds. She sees her role as bringing staff back to focus on what is important, ensuring they don’t lose sight of the bigger picture amidst daily tasks.

Discussing some of the broader sector challenges, Zeenat urges policy makers to re-evaluate the relationship between social care and the NHS, emphasising that they “go hand in hand.” She calls for a rethink on core central funding, advocating for investment back into social care rather than depending on charities’ fundraising efforts.

The cost of underinvestment in preventative work is a concern for Ms Jeewa, who sees it as a short-sighted approach that burdens the criminal justice system and hospitalisations. “The amount of money that’s being thrown at the criminal justice system and they can’t cope,” she explains, stressing the need for policy change back to prevention.

Zeenat also addresses the challenges posed by changes in immigration legislation, which have led to a staffing crisis in the care industry. She criticises the lack of checks and balances in the visa issuing process, which has disadvantaged legitimate organisations like APDA. “We’ve lost so many quality carers,” she laments.

Overall, Zeenat advocates for a strategic shift towards sustainable social care, emphasising the importance of prevention, proper funding, and sensible immigration policies. Her insights reflect a deep understanding of the interconnectedness of policy decisions and their real-world implications, particularly for the most vulnerable in society.

A Legacy of Quality and Care

Nearing the end of the conversation, it is evident that Zeenat is determined to leave a legacy that resonates with quality and cultural sensitivity. “One of the things that is desperately required is culturally appropriate short respite breaks services,” she states, acknowledging the challenges posed by property prices and political instability. Despite these hurdles, her vision for APDA is clear: to replicate and expand their services across London and the UK in a sustainable and quality-focused manner.

Zeenat’s commitment to growth without compromising quality is unwavering. “Growing with scale, but not letting quantity get in the way of quality,” she explains, highlighting the importance of maintaining a balance.

As a leader, Ms Jeewa is passionate about advocating for the most vulnerable and raising awareness of the issues facing social care. She recalls the fleeting attention social care received during COVID, quickly overshadowed by the NHS, despite its critical role. “Those that need it are the most vulnerable, and that’s where the imbalance is,” she remarks.

Overall, Zeenat envisions her legacy as one that champions the value of social care, striving to highlight its significance wherever possible. Her leadership at APDA is not just about expanding services but also advocating for a sector that supports society’s most vulnerable members. It’s a legacy that seeks to ensure that quality care and cultural appropriateness are not just aspirations but realities for those who rely on them the most.

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Authored By

Gary Ellis
Senior Editor
May 28th 2024, 7:07am

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