An unconference. What on earth is that? Earlier this year whilst surfing the worldwide web of interesting, useless information, a WWGSD Facebook advert appeared in my Facebook feed. It grabbed my attention, so I clicked through to find out more.
I soon found out that just as the title suggested, the Unconference is a collaborative event for women in New Zealand who are out there getting shit done, bringing together 100 diverse women from all over New Zealand to inspire and engage with one another. They come from a range of backgrounds, ethnicities, life experiences; ages and stages come together to share their stories.
But is an unconference even an achievable concept? Initially, I was a little unsure about how it was going to run. To be honest, I was unsure about the whole thing right up to the moment I sat down in a room of 100 women who I didn’t know.
How an unconference works is there is no pre-set agenda. The plan for the event was built by the group of women attending on the first night and the sessions were run informally, based on what we wanted to share, discuss and learn. Whether that was to talk about something we are passionate about, share a skill, or getting feedback, reflecting or chatting about something we want to change in the world or learn about, everyone had something to add.
As a woman, it’s natural to second guess yourself, and I initially had some reservations that I wasn’t as accomplished as the other ladies involved. But the more I thought about it during the application process, the more I gained confidence in myself. Five house renovations, hell yes. Started a business, hell yes. Raised four kids under six and stayed sane, hell yes – er, most the time anyway. I applied to attend and out of the 350 women that applied, I was one of the 100 women that was selected.
Alongside the business that my husband and I established 13 years ago, Mount Maunganui based branding agency Woods, I have always had a little black book of random product ideas that I have wanted to create and take to market. I was hopeful this weekend away from the kids would give me the time to focus and reflect on how to get shit done in this area.
So, off I drove to Waihi Beach from Papamoa earlier this month wondering what the hell I’d signed myself up for. The first evening, we met and chatted as a small whanau group and then as a larger group to identify what we were all going to talk and learn about.
Sticky notes and vivid marker pens were handed out and we were encouraged to write down anything we wanted to discuss or felt passionate about. Sessions were to run over the Saturday and Sunday for 40 minutes each, and it was okay to come and go in and out of each one as you pleased.
I still was unsure how this was all going to work until one of my favourite speakers stood up, sticky note in one hand, glass of wine in the other with a baby strapped on her front. She walked to the front smiling, turned around and said, “I’d like to talk about motherhood. What the fuck’. The room erupted in laughter. Instantly, I thought, ‘Yes. I am in the right place.’
Some of the other sessions listed you could attend were: unconscious bias, business fuck ups, finding your inner man, honouring the treaty, women in leadership/governance, automated marketing, permaculture and evidence-based hippydom, women who don’t get shit done, life without kids, minimalism, taming your inner voice and my own: muddling through your child’s brain injury. The attendees were from a wide variety of backgrounds: doctors, scientists, firefighters, CEOs and general managers, artists, stay-at-home mums, lawyers, small business owners, start-up entrepreneurs, professors, professional athletes, childcarers, uni and school students, retirees, psychologists, ministers, midwives, teachers, social workers, local and central government workers and more.
What did I take away from it all? New Zealand is full of clever, motivated, entrepreneurial women looking to or making a living out of their passions, and a lot of them were at WWGSD. After meeting such a variety of them from all around the country, I felt inspired to delve into my little black book of ideas and pick out one to make a reality.
The other great thing that happened is by making these connections, women have been able to assist me with the sourcing of materials from overseas for my business ideas, while I’ve been able to return the favour with my experience in branding. The power of collaboration is awesome.
There’s an entrepreneurial buzz in the air at the moment as New Zealand women, while once held back by the confines of marriage and raising a family, are now realising anything is possible – and the ideas are flowing. Admittedly, there’s still some challenges surrounding this – like how to juggle starting a business and raising children – but I think the only way forward is us women figuring this shit out together. After my time at WWSD, I expect to see more innovations and amazing businesses emerging that are led by women, while I’m making some progress on my own. Watch this space.
If attending an Unconference sounds like a bit of you, the next one is going to be held in Wellington in September. Find out more details here.
Melissa Woods is the director of Woods, a branding agency based in Mount Maunganui, a mother of four kids including twins and an avid surfer.