29 November 2021

Gemma Major: Our inaugural ‘Eva Gluyas Memorial’ Scholar reflects…

Gemma 2019Gemma Major 2021
Evolution: Collective Intelligence inaugural “Eva Gluyas Memorial” Koru Scholar in 2019 (Left) and 2021 (Right)

Collective Who?
In 2019, Rachel Adams sent me a link to apply for a scholarship for a leadership programme she was part of. I hadn’t heard of Collective Intelligence before, but I was inspired by the kaupapa and put in an application. I was lucky enough to be awarded the Eva Gluyas Scholarship, a 3-year membership to the organisation. At the time, I was working in a charitable start-up I founded, Seed Waikato, and was pregnant.

Seed Waikato was set-up by a group of young people passionate about community-building and making personal development accessible. I had been working 70+ hour weeks for over two years getting the charity off the ground with an amazing group of volunteers, and we had secured funding for a part-time Manager while I went on maternity leave. Like any charity, funding was a challenge, yet the energy and momentum from the youth community was unlike anything I had ever seen. In my time as founding Chair, then founding Chief Executive, we saw more than $250,000 of volunteer hours donated (calculated at the living wage). This not only built a backbone organisation, but also brought 12 community-led projects to life – embracing the unique strengths of young people in our region which in turn has impacted on thousands in person, and hundreds of thousands online.

Wrap-around support
Joining Collective Intelligence was the wrap-around support I needed as a founder and leader. Although I was the youngest member of my group, our common ground was a passion for our evolution, and for making the world a better place. I chose to see every person, and every ‘share’ as a potential vehicle for my development. I connected the dots into my own challenges in my mission at the time and got curious about the discomfort and triggers that came up for me. It felt like an edge for me, as a young person, to contribute to the growth of my group given my age and stage; but as I began to value my strengths more over time, I began to share more on social innovation, leadership and millennials from my lived experience to strengthen the whole. I feel incredibly grateful for the ways my group nurtured my growth, calling me forward into my leadership.

I loved the privilege of a reference point to other leadership styles, and to hear more of the “inner workings” from other founders, especially whilst I was holding what felt like an isolating role at times. I learn by doing, so to be able to witness others in their doing, and process of evolving, was hugely impactful for me in my growth journey, and in growing Seed Waikato.

The value of a Host-Day
There are two key areas of growth I want to reflect on during my time with Collective Intelligence, all of which came from my host day. A host day is a 360 degree deep-dive into a particular area of your leadership and organisation by your group so that they can consult and support you to move forward with tangible actions. What fell out of this day for me was a series of insights that created quantum leaps, not only for my leadership journey, but for the growth of my organisation.

What got us here, won’t get us there

In going from an idea to reality, there’s a period in the start-up journey where you are likely to be the glue for all the important details across your organisation. You’ll need to be a little bit good at almost everything – or find the resources to bring on the experts. It could be filing paperwork to the Charities Services to gain charitable status, filling out funding applications, or coding transactions to ensure funds are spent in accordance with contracts. But there’s another period, where you need to transition from being the person that does that, to being the person that grows others to do that, and this is a skillset that can be developed and nurtured.

This was challenging for me in the context of charity, where funding for operations takes a few years to gain, and whilst the impact model is being tested and refined. My host day helped me see what my unique strengths and skillset were, and invited in this question for me to consider, “What lights me up in this organisation?” A question that I hadn’t considered up until then, and one that snapped me out of overworking to become strategic with what I chose to prioritise as the leader. In doing this, I began focusing my time and energy on fundraising so that I could grow a paid team to manage the core functions of the organisation so we could then scale our impact. Within 12 months, we had strong back-end systems for fundraising, incredible partnerships with local funders, $500,000+ in a funding pipeline over multiple years, and a paid staff of 5 part-timers. This was a major step forward in our ability to sustainably collaborate with the local youth community so we could make significant forward steps in achieving our vision of, ‘every young person having the resources to live purpose-driven lives they love.’

Leaders’ unconscious internal blocks will be reflected as external organisational challenges

After taking a deeper look at what drove my overworking, I could see how previous, stressful experiences in my life were able to be pushed down as I focussed on living out a core value of mine: contribution. Although living out this value was making the world a better place, there was an internal cost to me. I was ready to face this head-on so I could have greater integrity as a leader and as a mother, and for me to show up as my most authentic, integrated self in everything I do. (NB: you can listen to a podcast I recorded with Collective Intelligence founder, Ian Harvey, around this time.)

I worked with a psychologist to use Acceptance and Commitment Therapy and worked with a spiritual guide. Together, these two support structures helped me to heal trauma from my past, reveal the authentic me, and find the courage to let go of the identity I had built around my trauma. This meant I could parent from a grounded and regulated place, and give my son the best bits of me, not just my leftover bits. This re-alignment was life-changing, and I can now say I am proud of the mum I am and how I choose to parent my son with a conscious and gentle approach. I also believe doing this work empowered me to overcome the organisation’s challenges faced at the time; and it led me to step down from the organisation mid-2021 – knowing that my role was complete and that I had made myself redundant.

Gemma Rose

An evolving story
Sitting with the question posed by my Collective Intelligence team of, “What lights me up?” through my healing process helped me see how passionate I was about the ‘theory of change’ in an individual’s life, and my passion for curating experiences for people to go from one place to another.

Since leaving Seed Waikato in good hands, I have followed my joy, and have been in training for my Trauma-Recovery Coaching Certification to support people to find their voice and choice in life. I am the host of the Take Your Meds Podcast, where I get to have chats with young leaders who have a strong sense of self-leadership and talk openly about how to navigate tough things, and run online group programmes that support people to trust themselves by connecting to their inner-knowing, or intuition. This is all being created from a different place internally, one I have never created from before, a place that feels spacious, calm, and joyful. I have grown empathy and compassion for the world knowing we can all experience unseen battles of the past that keep us in prisons of the mind and body.

Thank you so much for the opportunity to evolve like this within Collective Intelligence, and for the privilege of being surrounded by high-performing, values-driven leaders who genuinely care about making the world a better place. I love contributing to and growing the collective intelligence of my team (shout-out Te Kunenga!) and would encourage young people interested to jump in the deep end and embrace the opportunity to be stretched by this incredible kaupapa.

Gemma Major – – November 2021
Connect with Gemma on LinkedIn

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