Last Friday I had the privilege of spending the day with approximately 100 senior women in business who attended the sphinxx Ascend Series. These events have been held all around Australia with an exceptional suite of speakers. It was a great day of connection where networking abounded and knowledge was shared. The focus was on challenging your thinking and re-thinking your approach.
Speakers included Kirsty Spraggon, Ronni Kahn, Denni Francisco, Penny Burke and Sandy Blackburn-Wright. It is Sandy that I want to write about today. She spoke so beautifully about connection and community and what that meant for her during her 15 years living in South Africa during some of the nation’s most tumultuous and significant events, including the release of Nelson Mandela.
I was deeply touched by Sandy’s sharing on taking a stand, taking risks and understanding what honour means as an individual – so that you can step up and challenge thinking and when all else fails – or you are asked the tough questions – you have a framework to make tough choices.
Sandy spoke of being invited to live in a township in South Africa, which was due to be demolished and relocated. The thought behind the action was that if white people were living in the township, that demolition may be a harder thing for the officials to do. Some people had been there all their lives and leaving was not a choice they were willing to make. Having made friends with many young South Africans through her community development work, she asks “How could I NOT stay”. This put Sandy in immense danger and despite the willingness of these courageous community workers to stand by their fellow human beings, the township was still levelled.
Sandy embodies courage and honour. We were challenged to think of what honour means for us. What are the three things that represent honour? Without this, how do you know when you will and won’t stand up for what you believe in?
I resonated deeply with some of Sandy’s description of living in South Africa and the community and connection between South African people. “In the absence of community you are very vulnerable” says Sandy.
I highly recommend reading Holding Up the Sky. This remarkable book explores Sandy’s time in South Africa and this is a lovely description straight from her:
“My book Holding up the Sky wasn’t meant to win a Pulitzer prize, to stand up under the critics’ scrutiny – it was just a story I thought should be told. I had the rare privilege to live in one of the most intriguing countries on earth and spend time with its magnificent people. I learnt about the joy of being part of a vibrant community working passionately for an ideal. I also learnt that with deep joy comes pain, relentless and inevitable. One reviewer said my book was not a comfortable read – well I’m not surprised. In a place like South Africa, people are not cushioned from life’s harshness but in my experience, they also are open to more of life’s pure joy.”
If you are looking for a wonderful speaker I highly recommend Sandy Blackburn-Wright. Sandy is cultivating a new kind of inclusive, emotionally intelligent leadership in her role as Head of Organisational Mentoring, Group Sustainability and Community Involvement at Westpac. Hear her speak; You will leave changed.