Michelle Ortega (Fonterra Cooperative Group)

Nominee/entrant details

Michelle Ortega, Supply Planning Manager / Chair Health, Safety & Wellness Committee

Employer details

Fonterra Cooperative Group

Size: 10,000+ staff

Industry: Manufacturing

Background on entrant/nominee's employer

We’re an Aotearoa, New Zealand dairy Co-operative owned by 10,000 farming whanau (families). Through the spirit of co-operation and a can-do attitude, Fonterra’s farmers, along with 20,000 employees around the world, share the goodness of our milk through innovative consumer, foodservice and ingredient brands, Sustainability is at the heart of everything we do, and we’re committed to leaving things in a better way than we found them. Everyday people working hard to be Good Together in the community

Executive summary

Michelle has courageously taken the adversity she faced in her own life (depression, trauma and suicide) & openly shared this in a public work forum for the utterly selfless goal of helping even just one person from not going as close to the abyss as she did. Michelle has done this with complete authenticity, passion and humour via championing Mental Health First Aiders, writing Blog posts that goes to 20k staff globally, organising events for public speakers (JK, Mike King, Matt Chisholm) and staff to share about their journeys and advocating all the way up to Miles the CEO.

Authenticity and vulnerability

Let the people speak…various quotes about Michelle: Quote from Lisa North GM NZ Sales who is Michelle’s direct manager “Michelle Ortega has been a passionate advocate of Mental Health across Fonterra, sharing her story and encouraging others to do the same and that it is ok to not be ok sometimes. She is a real role model when it comes to being your authentic self at work and cares deeply about helping others, she is incredibly passionate about mental wellbeing and many look to her when things get tough” Comments from Genevieve Mora - Co-Founder & GM, Voices of Hope She is an incredible human being who radiates a passion for better mental health. Her vulnerability to share some of her own stories has allowed others to feel safe to do the same. From what I have seen, she always goes above and beyond and is willing to talk about the hard stuff. I have seen through my work, other corporates afraid or perhaps unsure about opening the mental health conversation, and I truly believe Michelle is helping to lead the way through the work she has done and continues to do in this space at Fonterra. Wendy Paul – Director People Experience at Fonterra Her vulnerability and compassion shines through and put’s others at ease to share and open up about what is going on for them. Michelle is constantly looking at ways to grow awareness and appreciation for the impacts of mental illness and inspiring others to find their own ways to wellness.

Courage and leadership

Michelle began this journey by getting up at the first ever event held at Fonterra Corporate Head Office and sharing about her own experience of trauma, depression and suicide. In her own words: “In the days leading up to this event, I remember feeling physically sick. I struggled to get out of bed, tormented by thoughts that were reminiscent of my darker days. You are crazy. You are worthless. Who do you think you are? If you do this, they will think you are weak, self-centred, a liability. This is what gives my life meaning, what helps me deal with my own pain, and why I continue to shine a light on a topic which society continues to cast a shadow on.” Michelle then built on this initial experience and has clearly taken a leadership position within Head Office and globally within Fonterra (reluctantly becoming the “mental health” poster child) to drive real, lasting and significant change in this critical space. She continues to walk the talk and personally supports other people via being a Good Sort having regular conversations with individuals going through their own struggles. Michelle does this all the while still struggling with her own mental health at times. It brings to mind a quote I like “Courage is not the absence of fear. It is feeling the fear and doing it anyway”. Michelle lives and breaths this everyday and is the best example I can think of the epitomises this quote.

Engagement and communication

Michelle has demonstrated multiple strategies, techniques and influencing skills to champion the cause. • As Chair of the Health, Safety & Wellbeing Committee (for the last 3.5 years with oversight of 1500+ people) Michelle has taken the opportunity to really dig into what could materially help staff to prioritise their health, safety and wellbeing. • Through this platform, Michelle has taken the initiative to roll out events promoting the importance of mental health e.g.; an annual Wellness Expo, Movember fundraising events, and an entire week of activities to celebrate Mental Health Awareness Week. • Michelle has led the way in creating regular forums where our people are invited to share their own personal story with their colleagues. These incredibly powerful sessions have undoubtedly paved the way towards a shift in people’s mindset and attitude towards mental health in the workplace. It was in fact at the inaugural session in 2018, where Michelle first publicly shared her personal struggle with mental illness. • In getting the GoodYarn / GoodSorts program deployed across Fonterra corporate offices, Michelle had to prepare a fully costed proposal and then pitch this to the Global Head of HR to get the necessary funding to make it happen. The fact it went ahead and has since been rolled out globally is testament to her drive, passion and tenacity to make a difference to the lives of her colleagues. • Michelle has initiated a number of “Good Chats” with advocates Sir John Kirwan, Mike King and Matt Chisholm – broadcast to all NZ based staff members. • During Covid-19 Michelle took it upon herself to create a mental health blog via the internal social comms platform, MilkyWay to share tips and write articles about the importance of looking after people’s mental health & wellbeing. She generated on average 3 articles per week (!!!) and also created a ‘Working from Home Guide’ which was shared with all employees globally.


Michelle has been key in bringing the topic of mental health to life within Fonterra. After noticing the lack of HSW focussed activity at our head office, Michelle rejuvenated the HSW Committee, bringing a structure and clarity. Now there is a committed group of 25 people, with allocated HSW pillar leads, and a fully planned annual calendar of activities. While she has driven HSW in this context, she is incredibly well respected for her work on mental health specifically, and across the entire business. Michelle has successfully led 3 comprehensive mental health awareness week campaigns, including bringing a “realness” to the topic through encouraging others to share their stories, as well as sharing her own. She has then created a sustainable model to keep the topic alive. She has championed the need for mental health first aiders in the workplace and received the initial sign off for 10 staff in head office to receive professional training and deliver Good Yarn mental health literacy workshops to over 300 people to date. She has also created the Good Sorts network within Fonterra - trusted people who are available as a sounding board to those dealing with mental health challenges. The Good Yarn / Good Sorts program has now been deployed globally within Fonterra, with 158 workshops involving 1887 people with 96% people rating it highly. Michelle has not done this on her own, and she is great in working with others. However it is clear that the impact would be nowhere near what has been achieved, without her passion, humanity and empathy. Her incredible drive and ability to influence means things happen! I have been very impressed with the number of people that show up to these events too. It shows that people are wanting to have these conversations Genevieve Mora - Co-Founder & General Manager, Voices of Hope Michelle is constantly looking at ways to grow awareness and appreciation for the impacts of mental illness and inspiring others to find their own ways to wellness. Wendy Paul – Director People Experience at Fonterra


When recruiting and selecting GoodSorts for our Auckland corporate office, there was a lot of consideration that went into ensuring there was representation across the board – age, gender, business unit and cultural background. As well as this, the main criteria was someone who demonstrated high empathy, approachability and a strong passion for mental health – whether it be through lived experience or a strong desire to create an inclusive environment for people to feel safe to be open about their struggles with mental health In recruiting GoodSorts across our NZ operational sites and Global corporate offices, we made sure senior leaders were engaged and committed to creating the time and space for their site GoodSorts to carry out their role in championing mental health awareness and facilitating GoodYarn (mental health literacy programme) workshops. Another way in which inclusivity plays a big role in Michelle’s advocacy work is through the blog posts she writes which goes out to all Fonterra staff via our internal social comms channel. She tailors her communications to make sure she not only consider our global teams (US, Europe, Australia, Asia) and their unique circumstances, but also the wider demographic – e.g. posts on men’s mental health, useful tips for parents and International Women’s Day.

Innovation and creativity

Engaging people in the conversation of mental health is no easy feat, but Michelle was able to leverage her vast network of stakeholders across the organisation to create innovative opportunities to bring the topic of mental health to life in the workplace. Some noteworthy examples include: - Advocating for and submitting a proposal for the introduction of GoodSorts (mental health first aiders) to Fonterra to support the sustainability of the GoodYarn mental health literacy programme. Starting with a small group of 10, the GoodSort network has now expanded to over 80 volunteers across NZ and globally. As GoodSort global ambassador, Michelle has personally engaged with every single newly trained GoodSort to provide support and mentorship, even travelling to sites to deliver talks and meet teams face to face. - During the peak of Covid-19, Michelle developed various tools to support colleagues with looking after their mental health; developing a ‘Working from Home Guide’; a ‘Virtual Water Cooler on Microsoft Teams as a way to maintain social engagement while working remotely; creating a blog to share tips and tools, messages of support and encouraging others from across the Co-op to share their personal experiences with others in the spirit of togetherness. Due to its popularity and following, Michelle has continued using the blog to raise awareness for mental health. - Inviting well-known and respected mental health advocates (Sir John Kirwan, Mike King, Matt Chisholm) to Fonterra for a Good Chat to share their personal story and tips on maintaining good mental wellbeing via live stream to all NZ based staff.

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Referee details

Glenn Purdon, Director HR (Fonterra)

027 807 4850 • [email protected]

Key contact

Hamish Keston, Senior Vice President - Dairy (Austin Data Labs)

0278075096 • [email protected]

3 Months
Since posted
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