“We’re helping to save lives. And that feels good.”
Creative and committed – Jhoanna Del Rosario drives donor engagement in a pandemic by channelling her passion for helping people
“I try to remind people of how lucky we are,” says Jhoanna Del Rosario, Canadian Blood Services territory manager in Calgary, Alta. “We live in a country where we don’t have to worry about finding blood for our families.”
In 2012, Jhoanna’s father was being treated for cancer in her native Philippines and needed blood transfusions. For his care providers, it wasn’t a simple matter of ordering units from the hospital blood bank. In the Philippines’ health system, patients depend on volunteer donations from family and friends; if not enough donors are available, blood must be purchased. And when the cost of a single unit can be equivalent to half the average weekly wage, this adds a significant financial burden to the emotional stress of supporting a loved one who is gravely ill.
For Jhoanna, living more than 10,000 km away in Calgary, the pain of her father’s illness and subsequent death was magnified by her sense of helplessness. “I was so frustrated, not being able to donate blood for my father,” she recalls. “But if I had to be here in Canada, at least I could still help other people.” And indeed, that’s what she does every day at Canadian Blood Services — connect with prospective donors and show how they can improve and save lives.
“We’re always reaching out to new ethnic groups.”
As territory manager for Calgary, Jhoanna is responsible for recruiting new blood donors and engaging with existing ones. Her role includes forging partnerships with businesses and other organizations, as well as with local media and marketing partners, to raise awareness of the need for blood and blood products.
Originally a sales rep with a large pharmaceutical company, Jhoanna now gets huge satisfaction from showing blood donors the impact their generosity can have on other people’s lives. “Ten years ago, I left big pharma to join Canadian Blood Services and help secure Canada’s blood supply,” she says, “and I’ve never looked back. In a sense, I still work in sales, but now my targets aren’t dollars but blood units.”
Jhoanna focuses much of her energy on the Partners for Life program, working with volunteer champions at corporate and community organizations. The goal is to recruit at least 10 per cent of these organizations’ members as regular donors. For Jhoanna and her team, that means working constantly to strengthen relationships, help organize group donations and provide support for awareness efforts. Partners range from tech companies to emergency first responders to not-for-profits promoting events such as Cancer Awareness Month.
Another key goal for the team is increasing the diversity of the donor base. “We’re always reaching out to new groups,” Jhoanna says, “whether Syrian, Chinese, South Asian, Black, Indigenous or my own Filipino community. It’s part of a longer-term commitment by Canadian Blood Services to ensure we reflect this country’s changing population.”
“It’s all about having a passion for what you do.”
COVID-19 naturally had a significant impact on donor relations, as Jhoanna and her colleagues moved quickly to get the word out regarding new donation protocols and to reassure the public that giving blood was still safe — and necessary. “Calgarians are very community-oriented and giving,” she says, “but we still had to let people know what we needed and get them out to the donor centres.”
The team also had to adapt its donor engagement strategies, as in-person meetings were no longer possible. For example, “lunch-and-learn” presentations on the value of blood donation became virtual events. This established a model for other Canadian Blood Services teams across the country — one that will likely continue as many people keep on working remotely even after the risk of infection has eased.
The pandemic has transformed Jhoanna’s workplace as well. “Our team normally gets together a lot and we really miss each other. So now we have a virtual touch-base every Tuesday morning where nobody is allowed to talk about work. It’s helped us keep our sanity, especially during the peak months of COVID-19.”
Beyond the camaraderie, what unites the team is a shared sense of purpose. “It’s not just about the paycheque,” Jhoanna says. “It’s about having a passion for what you do. The people I work with keep me motivated because what we’re doing matters. We’re helping to save lives. And that feels good.”