This year the Sunshine Coast Business Women's Network (SCBWN) is celebrating a momentous 25 YEARS since the incorporation of the network after its humble beginnings as Women in the Workforce.
To celebrate this great milestone we are recognising those that have put so much into the long-term sustainability of SCBWN. We are incredibly excited to share with you all the interviews of our devoted past presidents and share their stories of personal contribution and their legacy to SCBWN over the years!
When Celena Ross joined a Women in the Workforce lunch in 1992, she enjoyed attending lunches and connecting with other small business women. In 1994 she became an integral part of the committee and sparked a new wave of progression, including initiating changing the name to the now widely-known Sunshine Coast Business Women’s Network.
Celena, how did you join the Sunshine Coast Business Women’s Network/what brought you to it?
At the time it was called “Women in the Workforce”. I had moved up from Victoria and had gone to their very first lunch in 1992 and it was just a small group of women that met socially once a month for lunch to get to know other women. My husband and I had moved up from Victoria and had management rights in Maroochydore so it was about networking and making contacts.
In 1994 they needed a new newsletter editor and it was around that time the group was struggling with attendance numbers at the lunches. I went to a lunch at Alexandra Headland and at that stage the numbers had dwindled. I volunteered to take on the role of newsletter editor as I had a journalism/writing background and I immediately started to source dynamic and interesting speakers. This was pre-internet days so I would go down to the library, I’d flick through the Courier Mail and I would buy the Sunshine Coast Daily. I started to look for business award winners and women who had written books. I instigated the change of the meeting time to breakfast instead of lunch because of the low numbers and the fact it may have been difficult for women to attend in the middle of the day. Breakfast events immediately attracted larger numbers and it was from that time that I morphed into a volunteer coordinator role. I had experience in event management, marketing and journalism and I had an instinctive vision of for how the organisation could develop and flourish.
At the time I was also the coordinator for what was called at the time ‘Go Mooloolaba Chamber Of Commerce’ and was writing feature articles for the local Weekender Newspaper. I linked both Go Mooloolaba and the Women in the Workforce for publicity and organised some large joint events and in doing so, the whole time I was out there talking to people to encourage them to join both or either organisation. I took the membership numbers of both groups from initially around 45 to over 200 members. They were the top organisations on the Coast to be seen at and to belong to. I initiated strategic planning the structure of a professional and training committee, a mentoring committee, the awards committee and the marketing committee with the Chair of each represented on the Executive committee.
When I was appointed the Regional Coordinator of Office of Women’s Policy it enabled me to link into government contacts and resources. This role and subsequent roles as Business and Economic Development officer for government enabled me to tap into key people and resources and the ability to link at all levels of government and from small to large businesses.
When I took on the newsletter and marketing role I knew it was critical to obtain the lawyers, banks, large and small corporate organisations and encourage them to identify women in their business to join as members. We started to get members representing Council, banks, law firms and other middle to large corporate businesses. In pre-internet days, I would stand at my fax machine for a day-and-a-half until I had 100 attending every monthly breakfast.
I had a passion for helping women and one of the things that I’ve always done is talk to them to find out what they do, and in that discussion I’d learn what help they might need, or what difficulties they were having.
One of the things that I’m really proud of is establishing the strategic structure, another is changing the name of the network as I knew for the group to flourish and be seen as professional it needed a strong structure and a professional title so government and large corporate business would take note, include us in regional planning sessions, and turn to for feedback with development of policies and events.
What are your fondest memories of the network?
I’m grateful for the fact that we had fun, we worked hard but we had much laughter and a lot of friendships developed. Everyone was so committed. I am proud that I had the vision for the first ever Women’s Expo held at the Sunshine Coast University. There are so many memories of a huge amount of work accomplished and now the satisfaction of seeing how the foundations have supported the ongoing development of the network.
I had the leadership, vision and drive but it means nothing if you don’t have a team of people supporting you. I’ve always said everything I’ve achieved in my volunteer and career life is because of the women who believed in my vision and helped me to achieve it. One of the other memories is of Cheryl Picton. She was expecting her first baby and she was in labour in the hospital completing the documentation for our very first and successful corporate directorship grant.
What did you want to achieve/your legacy/most proud moment within the network?
For me what I’m most proud of is the foundation I put down and the structure that I put into place with those committees. I’m proud of the foundations I worked hard to create over the two years before turning into the Sunshine Coast Women’s Business Network by getting the membership up, the publicity, the buy-in from all levels of government and media. I’m also proud of the moment after so many years working as a volunteer coordinator we could finally employ a part time coordinator, Kim Curd.
What I had put into place was the communication. I’m proud of my vision, I’m proud of the leadership, but I absolutely acknowledge that I had the most fantastic group of women and we had fun!
I am proud of the legacy of hundreds of women who have benefited from membership, and participated on the committees. I’m proud of the award winners and the women who had the passion and skills to further develop the financial viability of the network.
What are your hopes for women in business now and into the future?
I’ve always hoped that women will help other women with no expectation of any kind of payback. I hope that women would be looking to other women in terms of how they can help them, not what’s in it for them. That’s how I always operated. If I go to an event and I see someone by themselves, I speak to them and bring them into a group of other women who are there by themselves. It’s the little things that we can help with.
I think it’s more important than ever for business women to be establishing contacts and doing it with authenticity and no expectation. Now with social media and technology the focus can be so short so it’s harder business women to really get their message across. Their marketing and personal relationships are going to be absolutely critical and that’s one thing that doesn’t change.
What do you believe is a challenge for women in business today?
The challenges are about getting your messaging across. It’s such a crowded, noisy market with social media and that’s why it comes down to those personal challenges. When I first started, there was no internet and everything took ten times the amount of time that it did now. Now you have the ability to reach so many so quickly but you’re competing with everyone else who is doing the same. So, I think the challenge is having yourself heard, having your marketing and communication seen and to be acted on.
Do you have a message of encouragement for women in business today?
If you love what you do and have a passion for what you do, it won’t feel like you’re working. Don’t make the mistake of having a business that’s really nothing more than a job and so therefore you won’t have your business plan in place. It won’t be sufficient enough for you to grow. It’s great to have an idea but if you really love it and have a passion for it, go and get yourself educated on everything you can possibly do to make that a successful business. I hope that recorded documentation of my volunteer work will inspire Maddy and Chloe and future grandchildren.
Celena is currently running a Sunshine Coast over 60’s SOLO women’s group which she founded for other widows, divorced/single, or retired women to connect.