Last month I had the privilege of attending the AFN Conference on a scholarship from Zenergy. It was an amazing opportunity and I was asked to share some reflections on my experience.
Photos from the AFN website https://www.afnconference.org.au
Arriving in to Brisbane where this year’s conference was held, the first thing I saw was a giant screen proclaiming that New Zealand’s Silver Ferns had won the netball. It proved to be one of the themes of the conference for me. I found myself feeling proud of my country as over the course of the conference there were many instances where Aotearoa New Zealand was held up as an example – from admiration for our Prime Minister, to our willingness to redress the wrongs of colonisation and our promotion of the Māori language. That has not always been my experience as a New Zealander travelling in Australia. And of course most of the time when I am at home in Aotearoa New Zealand I don’t walk around thinking how lucky I am…there are many things that are not working well, are not fair or safe for many people here. However, it was a delightful surprise to be welcomed by the conference attendees so warmly, many of whom expressed an interest in learning from our experience.
My purpose in attending the conference was to find out how others have made a career out of facilitation, discover some different pathways to making it happen and see what a facilitator looks like in as many different forms as possible. If I’m completely honest it was also the chance to have a bit of a break from my regular life and soak up a bit of sun in Brisbane.
Well the weather delivered spectacularly…it was very similar to our summer (!). And I got to see facilitators from all ends of the facilitation spectrum and from within many different industries. Although people worked in completely different settings (corporate, government, indigenous reparations, permaculture, health, leadership, community, to name a few) it seemed to me that there was a common interest in making the world a better place. Perhaps the theme of the conference helped to bring that to the fore – “What the World Needs Now”.
People were unfailingly warm and generous to me as a newbie. Genuinely interested in sharing knowledge, stories and friendship. It ticked all my boxes and then some.
For me, facilitation has been a passion that I have had throughout my life that was never fully recognised as a skill or career option I could pursue. I never realised that the reason I loved being in groups so much was because I enjoyed facilitation. It never clicked that the reason I always put my hand up to organise workshops, lead stakeholder meetings or run team strategy days was because I liked facilitating. I never noticed how much time I gave to self-organising community groups and to facilitating sessions at community events and gatherings. That is until recently, when it was time to return to the paid workforce after 11 years raising my family. Sitting down to work out what I had to offer (my career before children was in sustainable business within the corporate sector and then at the Ministry for the Environment in central government) and where my passion was, I realised that facilitation was actually the common denominator.
So last year I decided to work towards becoming a facilitator by starting training with Zenergy and looking for roles that would lead me in that direction. I won’t pretend it has been an easy transition, and I am still looking for a job that will take me in the direction I want to go but it is great knowing what you want to do for the foreseeable future. Attending the conference only confirmed that for me. I met so many inspirational people and heard powerful stories of facilitation making positive change in the world.
One of my highlights was hearing from Indigenous Australians. The conference was opened with a traditional Aboriginal Welcome to Country and an Indigenous Australian elder shared his story of growing up in a racist system. It was shocking, heart wrenching and incredibly inspiring. The participation throughout of Indigenous Australians meant I felt grounded in the land despite having flown in from overseas, stayed on the 12th floor of an apartment building and the conference itself being held in South Brisbane near the beautiful arts and culture precinct by the river. Part of this was because of the proximity of the venue to Musgrave Park, a sacred piece of land to the Murri people of Queensland and north-west New South Wales.
Another highlight was experiencing different facilitation styles and learning some new techniques. I particularly loved getting a taste of the story cookbook, seeing how graphic drawing could bring together the outcomes of the session, hearing how broad the field of online facilitation is and experiencing plenty of personal ‘aha’ moments. It was a bit like riding a wave as I went up and down as the conference ebbed and flowed throughout the three days. Some sessions were powerful and riveting, some weren’t, but overall there was deep engagement in the processes and presence in the group to what was emerging. There were master facilitators giving master classes in how to move from the scheduled programme to something else altogether as the needs of the group became clearer. The lessons on time management were huge for me as facilitators stretched 5 mins to feel long enough to reach group consensus when it felt like another 2 hours were needed. They weren’t. I learned that time is not just linear.
I felt warmly welcomed into a tribe of people who have many gifts that I want to learn from and share stories with. So much so, I offered a workshop on the spur of the moment during the conference and joined the organising group for next year’s conference. I have put up my hand, turned up and now have another community in which to learn and grow.
He aha te kai a te rangatira? He kōrero, he kōrero, he kōrero.
What is the food of the leader? It is knowledge, it is communication.
By Anthea Ogilivie