‘We’re a caring profession, it’s what we do.’

Pharmacist and proprietor Ian Shanks shares his passion for improving the health of women and children through the Fullife Foundation

Ian Shanks jokes that he’s only ever had two jobs in his life. After completing an internship at Austin Hospital, his first job was as an assisting community pharmacist in Newport, Victoria.

The second was managing a pharmacy in Mill Park – where he’s spent the last 37 years of his life.

This pharmacy is now one of two Fullife Pharmacies that he owns in Melbourne, with a third franchised in Tasmania.

Ian (right) is a pharmacy proprietor with Fullife Pharmacy, based in Melbourne.

Under the Fullife Pharmacy banner, Ian has taken the opportunity to not only develop a business but to use it extend charity to people in need across the world.

“I visited Africa in 2012 with my youngest son to climb Mount Kilimanjaro and during that trip, we saw the grinding poverty there and it’s just brutal,” Ian tells AJP.

“There was that thought in my mind that this is just not right and we should do something about this. And so it was then developing how we could do that.”

He founded the Fullife Foundation that year – a nationally accredited charity that has been integrated into the Fullife Pharmacy model.

Fellow pharmacist Michelle Bou-Samra assisted Ian in creating and running the foundation. She also helps to run Fullife Pharmacy for Fullife Group and is a director for the Fullife Foundation.

The foundation’s focus is on improving the health of women and children, with a particular speciality in maternal health and preventing maternal death.

Ian says he had had a long-time dream to do something worthwhile to make a difference in Africa.

“When we first decided to create the charity we thought we needed a partner on the ground to work with,” he said.

Ian (third from left) and Michelle (centre) at the newly built Maternal Waiting Room supported by the Fullife Foundation and Alliance Pharmacy.

“Effectively we settled on World Vision and when we first started working with them and we asked about Africa. They said there was a particular need in Ethiopia.

“As it turned out, Michelle had already been to Ethiopia twice over the past five years and also had a bit of a love and knowledge of the country. So it seemed like the most logical thing.

“We love the country, we love working there. That’s why we do it. Ethiopia is a country that comparatively has quite low corruption. It’s a very cooperative population and we can get things done.”

Fullife has six partners, which are different charities working on the ground.

Ian and Michelle visit Ethiopia once a year to visit their projects and make sure they’re running as agreed and that the impact is there.

“We also complete projects and officially open them, and then look for further opportunities while we’re there as well,” says Ian.

Fullife Foundation Director Ian Shanks and NAPSA president Jess Hsiao cutting the ribbon at the opening of the rebuilt health post earlier this year.

Ian is also a member of the Pharmacy Alliance, which he says is their “biggest supporter”.

“I went to them with an idea back in 2015 to see whether we could put donation boxes in some of their pharmacies. So they’ve been just incredibly supportive of us,” he says.

“They run a lot of programs for us in every one of their partner pharmacies around Australia – the Gift of Hope program and child sponsorship and some other things as well. We couldn’t do this without them.”

This has led to about over 100 pharmacies supporting the Fullife Foundation around Australia.

On the ground

Fullife has rolled out several initiatives, including sponsoring children in Ethiopia through two organisations.

“We built quite a large maternal health centre, we built a health post with NAPSA, we’ve built two maternal waiting rooms with World Vision in remote areas in the north, and we’re also in the process of building another one in the south with another charity,” he says.

Michelle and Ian at the water point that was built with support from the Fullife Foundation.

“A lot of our work is about just making sure that women have a safe birth and they have an assisted birth, whether that’s providing infrastructure so they have centres they can go to, or training up maternal assistants. We’ve got two programs we’re sponsoring currently through that.”

Fullife Foundation has worked to improve clean water access to over 17,000 people by funding a water pump and infrastructure – a project that the National Pharmacy Students Association (NAPSA) and the Fullife Foundation jointly funded, with NAPSA contributing approximately $25,000 raised during their Charity Cup activities.

The foundation works with Birthing Kit Foundation Australia to support the delivery of birthing kits to women in developing regions.

And through their partnership with World Vision Australia, Fullife Foundation has funded the construction of toilets with menstrual hygiene management facilities at a high school Northern Ethiopia.

The Fullife Foundation team completely consists of volunteers.

“Probably our big claim to fame is that we guarantee that all funds donated go straight through to our partners in Ethiopia,” he explains.

“We can do that because Fullife Pharmacy – my pharmacy – covers all the admin and marketing expenses for the foundation.”

Students being supported with a scholarship to study pharmacy and other health courses.

Ian says his background in pharmacy has “absolutely” prepared him for his work with the foundation.

“Firstly, detail and accuracy is fundamental to who we are as pharmacists. We’ve taken that same attention to detail and desired to do things the right way when we created the foundation to make sure we get all the relevant registrations, that we have MoUs in place, that the funds are being used appropriately and we can demonstrate that to people that query how our funds are used,” he says.

“Also we’re a caring profession, it’s what we do. I know that some people go into pharmacy for the money, I wasn’t one of them. Seriously, most pharmacists probably don’t. I think that desire to care for others, to see the best health outcomes for them, has given me a really good empathy basis to then going on and developing a foundation as well.”

Current Fullife Foundation projects that require funding include:

International Needs Australia

·      Childlink sponsorship

Barefoot Initiative

·      Water carts program

·      Pharmacy student scholarship sponsorship

Afar Pastoralist Development Association (APDA)

·      Gift of Hope program

Birthing Kit Foundation Australia (BKFA)

·      Maternal and newborn health project

World Vision

·      Child sponsorship

Hamlin Fistula Foundation

·      Equipping Hamlin Fistula clinics

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