It is impossible to speak to Natalie Briffa Farrugia about business without referring to her sporting endeavours and her philanthropic work with the missions in Africa. For Natalie, the lessons learnt among the poorest of the poor and the struggle faced while swimming among jellyfish in aid of charity are metaphors for the ongoing challenges of life, especially those endured by people with disability or mental health issues.
“This is my purpose in life,” she begins. Barely 48 hours earlier she had been completing another gruelling sporting event in aid of twin brothers, Len and Jacob, who were diagnosed with Zellweger Syndrome.
“Disability is a very harsh reality, and it just gets harder. You don’t choose disability. You have to face it. The physical aspect of the sporting challenge is a great representation of what happens in these boys’ journey, in their world. This was my way of showing solidarity with the parents.”
And after just one day of rest, she was back pounding the tarmac to train for the next sporting challenge. “This is the reality of disability. It doesn’t stop. You go from one challenge to another. If it isn’t going to stop, you make friends with it. You convert it into something significant.”
In 2023 Natalie spent some time volunteering with the Living Waters mission in Ethiopia, a charity organisation she has been committed to since 1998.
“I went to visit a young man in prison who had killed someone because of an undiagnosed mental health issue. This meeting reinforced my belief in doing more for mental health.”
All this brings Natalie back to her “single purpose in life” where her sport and business ethos reflect and affect each other.
“Care, disability, mental health… they will never give you a rest. You’re struggling and striving all the time so may as well keep going all the time,” she says, adding that, just like in sports, what matters is striking the right balance to achieve long-term consistency.
CareMalta was what brought Natalie back home from her travels with the missions and over the years it became her “home”.
“All I wanted to do as a person and the difference I wanted to bring about in the world, CareMalta gave me the opportunity to do it. And from a business perspective it was a great success.”
During her tenure as CareMalta CEO she, together with her team as she insists on adding, transformed it from an elite care service provider to an accessible one.
“I maximised the potential of the private-public-partnership which had been introduced by our director Richard Clough. My belief is that quality of care is not only for those who can pay for it; it is a basic fundamental right.”
She likened herself to a tightrope walker, “a professional acrobat” who has to tread a very fine line between business and care practices. “They are two different and very sensitive things. Unless you have all the right components you won’t manage to bring that right perspective. CareMalta was the platform that gave me all this: my priority was care. I didn’t come with a business perspective.”
Natalie learnt her greatest lesson about priorities at the door of a “dying” home run by the sisters of Mother Teresa where they had to assess who had the greatest need for the few beds available.
As chairperson she is conscious of the significance of her role, not just as heir to her father’s legacy, together with her siblings, but as the caretaker for future generations.
“You can never stop dreaming… The real success is hearing the need before people see it, and catering for that.”
“We have a 10-year vision which, from a business perspective doesn’t make sense but from the human side allows us to forecast what is going to happen. This is our greatest strength. We have the backbone of society in mind. We are not just providing a service.”
The “private company with a public conscience” motto as spelt out by her father is still valid today. “You have to have a greater purpose. You can’t just do it for the profit margin. Today we cannot live without public conscience.”
The greatest challenge the company is facing is rising costs, which is why digitalisation is one of the top priorities. “We are embracing change all the time. We are confident we will find a way to mitigate these rising costs.”
And overriding all this is a sense of authenticity in every aspect of the business.
“If you had to summarise us in one word it would be ‘authentic’. That is what CareMalta is about. I am obsessed with l-intenzjoni retta. The people who will make it are the authentic ones.”