Spence Club’s First Year: Interview with founder Lauren Zwaans

November 22nd, 2015

With less than a week until Spence Club’s first birthday White Party, we asked founder Lauren Zwaans (picture above left) a few questions about how Spence Club came to be and her thoughts on the club’s first year.
Take us back to the start and the reasons for starting Spence Club.
Lauren: I was living in a one-bedroom flat in London at the time and feeling a bit disconnected from home. A part of me thought how great it would be to know of more South Australian expats who were living in London whom I could connect up with. At the same time, I was inspired by some of the networking groups I was involved with in London and I thought it would be great to get something going specifically for young women when I returned – a peer support group of sorts. I spoke to Lucy, who was living in New York at the time, not long after and we began discussing ideas. Each of the founding members came at things from a slightly different lense, but their feedback was incredibly valuable, particularly during those initial stages.

What have been some of the highlights of the year?
There have been a few. The amount of media coverage we had early on was both humbling and exciting and at the first event I could really feel that there was a sense of purpose among the women in attendance. Everyone was so genuine, positive and keen to get out of their comfort zone – I was thrilled that these were the type of women the club was attracting.  Another highlight for me was the Q&A event. This was such a fantastic event and we had excellent feedback about it. We were so grateful to the incredible South Australian women who took part for giving up their time to share their wisdom.  And finally, the establishment of the Board has been a definite highlight for me. It’s been a long time coming, but I already sense that bigger and better things are ahead for the club. The calibre of women involved is incredible.

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What have been some of the challenges of establishing a new organisation like Spence Club?
It’s hard to know where to begin because this has felt like the steepest learning curve of my life!  From envisioning a club for about 20 women to creating a club with more than 250 members, it’s incredible just how much we’ve grown in our first year.  One of the biggest challenges was trying to be everything to everyone, particularly early on.  As the founder, I did a lot of the ground work myself, which isn’t easy when you’re working full-time as well. I’ve definitely gotten a lot better at delegating and playing to my strengths. Incorporating and developing the club’s Constitution were long processes that I definitely found challenging. I’m very grateful for all of the help I’ve had from other women in the club along the way.

 

Spence Club events have all had a charity focus. Who has the Spence Club supported and how much have the events raised in total?
Yes, we love the idea that rather than being set up like a business to make money from networking, we can instead give back to the community. Many of our members are big believers in philanthropy, so we try to bring that element into what we do.  Our three events so far have collectively raised more than $6000 for three charities: Time for Kids, UNICEF and Headspace.

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Can you tell us a bit more about the event planned for Friday 27 November?
Absolutely! We are having a White Party to celebrate one year of the club. Since it’s our first birthday celebration, we’re inviting partners and friends to join us for the occasion.  The event will benefit White Ribbon and will also have a focus on the important issue of domestic violence. We’ll have a delicious three-course dinner on the night at the lush Mercedes-Benz Adelaide showroom.

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What are your goals/vision/plans for the year ahead? What can members expect from Spence Club in year 2 and what do you want from members?
That’s a really good question. We’ll have a survey out to members very soon asking them for their feedback on our first year and I know the Board definitely wants to be guided by our members. In some areas I know we could do a lot more, specifically to support our expat community.  In 2016 I think the focus will be on delivering more exceptional events that members will hopefully walk away from and really feel like they can take a lot out of. For me the Q&A style event is definitely something I’d like to see repeated.  I’m also hoping we can mobilise our communities in Melbourne, Sydney and London to begin holding smaller-scale events there.  From an online perspective, I think you’ll see improvements in our communications output too, as well as improvements to our website functionality.  We’re lucky that our membership is highly engaged already, but we’ll be working to ensure that members continue to stay engaged and feel excited about coming along to our events. Hopefully members recognise that this is a unique and inexpensive opportunity to meet like-minded young women in the state beyond our own niche industries.