Technology if utilized properly has the potential to create the positive impact in the lives of many people. CIOLook recognizes contribution of women in technology. Avril Chester is one such woman who is passionate about utilizing technology for the common good of the society. She is the Founder & CEO of Cancer Central. She is utilizing technology effectively at Cancer Central to serve the people affected by cancer. Cancer Central is a brandnew digital platform created to provide those affected by cancer with the help and support they need. Below are the highlights of the Interview conducted between Avril Chester and CIOLook.
Kindly take us through your journey on becoming a proficient leader.
Graduated from university having completed a dissertation on cyborgs with no idea what I was going to do – cyborgs didn’t exactly exist! Started on a Graduate Management Scheme, took a path through Project Management, then Program Management, then Global Programs, and followed by Heads of / Functional roles, including operations, onto IT Director. This was all through different industries, permanent and interim roles. I was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2015 with treatment into 2016. During my time off, I realized the need for Cancer Central and after a 16-month stint returning to work as Interim IT Director, I decided to give Cancer Central my best shot. I didn’t want to live life thinking, ‘what if?’
How do you diversify your organization’s offerings to entice the target audience?
Launched in October 2018, Cancer Central is a new digital platform created to provide those affected by cancer with the help and support they need during their cancer journey. The platform combines a database with an innovative conversational search engine to connect people to the products, services and products, when and where they need them. These services include benefits advice, insurance products, counseling, complementary therapy, respite care, hats, wigs, lingerie, skincare, financial help, nutrition advice, local societies or communities, meals on wheels, books, blogs, forums, local hospital taxi services and so on – all based on geographical location and cancer type to provide individualized information.
The site is non-exclusive and independent. It is not tied to or driven by any charity, not for profit or business. We exist to give those affected by cancer, their friends and family a choice.
Knowing who all these businesses, charities and communities are is a challenge. We are always looking for people to help share the news of Cancer Central and encourage providers they know and have used to register with us for free. Together, with our audience, we will achieve diversity of offering.
How do you strategize your game plans to tackle the competition in the market?
The key to Cancer Central’s brand is community and innovation. A new word to describe this working style is Cominovation.
Cominovation is not just about problem solving, it is the complete process of finding solutions – from identifying a need, developing ideas, sourcing support, to delivery. It involves individuals giving their time, skills and/ or expertise to something they are passionate about and coming together with like-minded people to innovate for a common purpose.
Subject matter experts have contributed to everything from the ideas, suggestions, design, processes, build, testing, policies, data, and so on. Over 20,000 hours from 100+ individuals and 20+ organizations, with major contributions from TechFINIUM and ROQ have been donated to date. This is #TechforGood at its finest. We have partnered with leading corporates such as IBM & American Express and some of the sharpest minds in the tech start-up / SME community.
Our cominovation approach sets us apart. It provides everyone who has been affected by cancer with the opportunity to use their skill set to help and support. Our game plan is constant innovation, fresh ideas, and involvement from the community.
What are the vital traits that every business women should possess?
- Stop comparing. We are all different, from our natural strengths, our personalities, our likes and even our big toes. Why then do we compare and let ourselves feel intimidated / doubt ourselves?
- Be brave. One of my favorite quotes – ‘Courage doesn’t mean you don’t get afraid. Courage means you don’t let fear stop you’ Bethany Hamilton. Give it a go, learn quickly and have fun along the way.
- Believe and be you. Ultimately you are the best at being you. Find your strength, build on that. Write it down to read when you are having a difficult day, because these exist and you need to find your own inner strength to dust yourself off and keep going.
As per your opinion, what roadblocks or challenges were faced by you in a corporate business? And how did you overcome them?
Thankfully I look young for my age (I hope that continues), so when I ran my first technology department mainly full of men, I was wondering how I could be seen as credible. Especially as I have a squeaky voice, I bounce and wave my hands around a lot. This is where I learned very quickly to just be yourself and realize everyone in the department including you is like a piece of the car. Someone is the breaks, another the wheel, the suspension, the speedometer and so on. Only together does the car not only move but have terrific fun on the country roads or race track. I therefore didn’t shy from my weaknesses; I called them out in front of my team. In technology you cannot possibly be a subject matter expert in everything, no-one can (even a male!). Whether it is networking, infrastructure, analytics, AI, security, development, collaboration tools, online social delivery etc. be honest and focus on building a fresh environment, full of trust, with you unblocking the issues and most probably, dealing with the politics so that your team can flourish.
What are your insights on “The myth of meritocracy”? And how it could bring a change in today’s technological arena?
I don’t think it is a myth; it is too well known and established. However, with technology becoming more digital, consumable and accessible you do not need a PHD in computer science. It is possible and encouraged for nontechnical entrepreneurs to spring board new ideas into reality.
How do you cope up with capricious technological trends to boost your personal growth?
Unsure if I understand the question; but it is important to not get absorbed in current fads. As a Founder & CEO, it is important to have a voice and be accessible. This is vastly different from previous decades. It is noticed if you are not on social media or blogging for example. How will customers, potential employees and partners decide whether they wish to do business with you if they do not know who you are digitally? We have thankfully entered the wonderful world of value and purpose-based decisions. The best advancements in technology, has allowed us to connect more with like-minded people globally.
What are your future endeavors/objectives and where do you see yourself in the near future?
Immediate objectives are to secure social impact investment so that I can recruit a core team and grow the organization quicker. This will provide the continuous leadership alongside cominovation. My hopes and dreams are to eventually go international and develop the platform for other critical illnesses such as dementia, stroke, and mental health.