(L-R) Paul Heath and Mike Wilson

Calling time on a 10-year stint as a director for type 1 diabetes charity JDRF, Koda Capital chief executive Paul Heath’s message to his financial services peers is to recognise the value their skills can bring to charitable organisations.

The Juvenile Disease Research Foundation (JDRF) raises funding for research into type 1 diabetes and chief executive Mike Wilson says the organisation was created with the sole purpose to “rid the world of this disease”.

“In our simplest terms we were founded by parents whose children were diagnosed with a chronic disease, type 1 diabetes,” Wilson tells Professional Planner.

“[Families are] generally told at the time of diagnosis, this is a terrible burdensome thing. It’s pretty hard to manage. Even if you try your best with it, the outcomes aren’t great and there’s not much hope for anything different.”

The JDRF was founded in the 1970s in the US and in the 1980s in Australia. Realising this was an issue that had the same implications everywhere in the world, the organisations became better co-ordinated to fight the issue in concert.

The organisation has driven $2.25 billion in research worldwide in 20 countries, including $266 million invested in research in Australia.

But it was one night in 2011 when Heath was told that this 14 -year-old daughter Maddy had type 1 diabetes that catallysed his involvement.

“Every person who’s ever been in that situation can remember the event,” Heath says.

“I was at a JBWere board meeting in Melbourne and my wife called and she said you need to get on a plane and get back here.”

More than 130,000 Australians live with type 1 diabetes, and 3000 more adults and children are diagnosed every year.

“The disease is your immune system attacks the cells that produce insulin in your body, for reasons that we don’t yet understand,” Heath says.

“If these exist, your blood sugar levels stay within a tight band. If you go above that there are no short-term effects, but long-term complications [include] blindness, amputation, organ failure. Go below it and you die. It’s a very confronting thing for a kid.”

Heath’s wife Linda had a background in nursing, which he says meant she could “comfortably gravitate” towards the health aspects of her care, but given his own skills only centred around financial services he wasn’t sure how he could directly impact Maddy’s care.

“I met with Mike and then chair Steve Hicks and though this is where I can make my contribution,” Heath says.

Heath says he worked with the organisation to lead programs from basic scientific research, through to the early stages of funding potential research breakthroughs, as well as gaining government grants.

“My job was to create support infrastructure around Mike and his team to do the very best that they were able to do,” Heath says.

“That’s where professional networks I had were able to bring people and skills around the board table and help with stakeholder management.”

Heath says it can be challenging to balance wanting to be completely anonymous with the work being contributed, and at the same time not wanting to be overly self-promotional.