Getting Started: A Journey Rooted in Youth Organisations

by Mathilde Tomson-Myburgh

A conversation with Dr Clive Rabinowitz: Navigating challenges and building community at Highlands House

I recently caught up with our Honorary Life Member Clive Rabinowitz in a heartwarming chat. He is a familiar face in the Highlands Community and still regularly engages with those at the Home. Clive’s community work journey began many years ago as a school pupil, exploring the ins and outs of youth organisations. From there, he found his way to Habonim and his local synagogue, which eventually paved the path to Highlands House.

“I was involved with Habonim Dror, originally. I was often involved with the shul close to where I lived.”

Emerging from the Shadows: A Commitment to Change

Picture this: Clive rolls up his sleeves in the mid-80s, all set to make a difference. And this saying was true of his attitude: ‘When there’s a will, there’s a way.’ Clive’s ex-wife landed a gig in administration at Highlands House and, like a true team player, Clive decided to jump in. He sensed that things weren’t exactly peachy on the admin front – procurement and operations were crying out for a makeover.

“I spent the next year or two just listening, and looking around, taking notes and planning my actions.”

Clive hopped aboard the committee wagon and soon found himself navigating the Highlands House landscape. 

Steering through Storms: The Battle to Save Highlands House

So, what’s the story behind the ‘clean sweep’? Well, folks, brace yourselves. When Clive got settled on the committee, he got a front-row seat to a full-on financial fiasco. Highlands House was teetering on the edge of bankruptcy, and the cavalry was called in – a.k.a. the late Eliot Osrin. With a campaign fueled by Eliot’s determination, Highlands House managed to dodge the financial bullet.

“The Home was losing money hand over fist.”

But wait, there’s a twist. The Home was still reeling from loose procedures and financial leaks. Clive, alongside Max Florence, orchestrated a game plan. They took charge, giving Highlands House an operational overhaul. With a new executive director and HR firepower, they were on a roll – until disaster struck.

A Rocky Road to Resolution: The Union Saga

Hold onto your seats, because this part of the journey gets bumpy. A wage negotiation in the 90s took a wild turn when the HR department decided not to recognise a union on a technicality. That tiny decision snowballed into a full-blown strike. Picture this: picket lines, security, and community members stepping in to keep the ship afloat. (Doesn’t feel too distant from our memories of the COVID-19 lockdown and the recent taxi strike, does it?) It was like a movie, only it wasn’t popcorn entertainment – it was real life.

Navigating through this chaos, Clive and his team ventured into negotiations, arbitration, and even a stint in the Labour Court. It was a rollercoaster of ups and downs, with Clive realising that winning in court wasn’t enough. The real challenge was what came after – dealing with the aftermath.

“It was a terrible time and I’m sure my contemporaries remember this very well… it lead to a long negotiation process with the unions, all the way up to a Labour Court case. I realised we would probably win, but winning the battle and losing the war was not an option. We still had to face each other afterwards, look each other in the eye. So I suggested we settle out of court, and we reached an agreement over a weekend. I phoned Eliot and his wife to share the good news while they were abroad – I promised I would only phone if it was good news.”

The Light at the End of the Tunnel: A Brighter Future for Highlands House

As the dust settled, Clive and Max had their work cut out. First things first: out with the old; in with the new. The executive director and HR staff had to make way for fresh faces. Slowly but surely, Clive and his team steered Highlands House towards a better future. They revamped admissions, renovated spaces, and breathed new life into the nursing setup.

From President to Trustee: A Lifelong Bond with Highlands House

Now, let’s fast-forward a bit. Clive’s stint as President saw him mingling with various organisations, all while keeping Highlands House at the heart of his mission. For him, it was all about focused effort and collaboration. He decided to stick to representing one organisation – Highlands House – a decision that brought about meaningful change for him.

But Clive’s insights don’t stop there. He’s got some thoughts on fundraising and community dynamics. According to him, tapping into the younger, wealthier generation is the key. He suggests taking a leaf out of the American playbook: Hire experts, make fundraising enticing, and incentivise success.

“Eliot [Osrin] had a phrase – ‘If you don’t ask, you don’t get’. You need skilled people that know the art of asking, and you need to target the younger, wealthier pocket of the community. You need to make it enticing to become a benefactor, and need to incentivise any assistance you get in fundraising for your Home.”

Looking Ahead: Clive’s Vision for a Stronger Community

As Clive looks into the proverbial crystal ball, he envisions a community that works together, pooling resources and sharing the load. He believes in engaging the upcoming generation, understanding their needs, and crafting a pitch that resonates with them. And, guess what? He’s got a point – after all, they’ll be the ageing community someday.

Parting Words: A Community Champion’s Legacy

Clive’s journey at Highlands House spans decades, marked by challenges, triumphs, and an unwavering commitment. As we wrap up our chat, it’s clear that Clive’s legacy is one of resilience, resourcefulness, and community-building. He reminds us that a united community can weather any storm, and with a sprinkle of innovation, it can shine even brighter.

Dr Clive Rabinowitz grew up in Paarl but studied and practised medicine in Cape Town for more than 25 years. These days, he is back at work, having opened a clinic for a fishing industry company’s local operation and enjoying this post-retirement couple-of-days-a-week work arrangement. He retired in 2020 when COVID-19 hit but couldn’t stay away from occupational health work for too long. He enjoys it and celebrates a happy marriage to his wife, Christine, and spends time with his two children. He’s been involved in Highlands House leadership for 35+ years.

Highlands House

• Published in the September 2023 issue – Click here to start reading.

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