An ever-expanding group of local, like-minded women have been taking time out to grow, strengthen and support each other, be kind and compassionate, and have an impact on the Wakatipu community.SMART – Strong, Mindful, Ambitious, Resilient, Tenacious – was founded last year by local NZME boss and media specialist Vicki McLean and Westpac personal manager Brooke Davis over a casual coffee.
Vicki had returned from 15 years in Sydney and where she was part of an amazing network of ‘can do’ women and found there was nothing like it here. The Queenstown group is a diverse community of new international and national people arriving all the time. “These women also need a place to feel they belong and connect to others,” says Vicki.
The group, until now limited to a table discussion of 10 – 14 women, many of them business managers, already has a waitlist and this month SMART will expand to include another group of 10 to 14.Ages and career diversities range from 23-year-old Queenstown firefighter and NZ Ice Fernz player Rikki Lee McLean to businesswomen in their mid-50’s.It’s totally not about age, or careers and business, says Vicki, but the first group of women will continue to meet for breakfast on the third Wednesday of each month, while the new more entrepreneurial members will meet on the last Friday of each month.
This will include mentoring those in more junior positions or who want to further their careers and lifestyle. Each month the women discuss a set topic. Members all contribute their individual perceptions, what lessons can be learned, what they feel and how they see certain situations. “We recently discussed ‘Leading Through A Crisis’, specifically how Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern handled the Christchurch terrorist attacks,” says Vicki. Members are given the topic several days in advance and come ready to contribute their thoughts. “We really drill that down to a local level, exploring levels of compassion and emotional understanding that can be applied to our daily lives and the impact we have on each other.”Wellness and health, both mental and physical, are also a big focus. “We talk about whether we’re making the most of this incredible environment that we live in,” says Vicki.‘Dr Wellness’ – Dr Tracy Chandler, of Timaru, joins the discussions regularly, offering her perspective on integrative medicine. “It’s about nourishing the soul too,” says Vicki. “We’re really conscious about what we eat and how we look after each other. We’re about taking the time for and putting energy into things that make us happier and more productive.”“Our purpose is also to make a difference in the community,” says Vicki. NZME and Westpac sponsor the monthly breakfasts so the women decided to donate the $25 to $30 that they would’ve spent on their breakfasts towards doing good locally.
“Initially we would take that money each month and use it for compassion and kindness locally then come back to the group the following month and share our act of compassion,” says Vicki. One woman left the breakfast that morning and saw a homeless man in Camp Street so bought hot food from Ferg Baker and gave it to him.
“We’re now putting that money into a collective pot each month and every few months, when the donations get to about $2000, we’ll decide where to distribute the funds to compassion work or a good cause locally.”
The group will possibly support mental health organisations but that’s yet to be decided.“We try to give people freedom and a voice, and enrich each other’s lives with fresh purpose,” says Vicki. “We’re hoping that overflows into our workplaces and into the community. It’s about learning to live with, trust, and support others, and not judge them,” she says.
Many women are lacking that ‘can do’ attitude, after maybe becoming discouraged in the workplace or at home. Technology has also influenced connectivity, says Vicki. “It’s the age of the connection economy. I think we’re starved for that one-on-one connection with other women. We’re so busy being busy that we forget to stop, look up and see where we are,” she says. SMART is about resetting, stopping and breathing each month.
SMART’s motto is ‘The 3C’s’ – no criticism, complaining or condemning. “We always catch each other out and bring the conversation back to optimism and positivity,” says Vicki. “It’s really invigorating and most of us feel we walk away from the meeting each month feeling more energised and boosted for the month, knowing we’re making a difference in our personal lives and the lives of others.”