There was no "a-ha" moment, no lightning strike, and the Earth didn't move.
Six years ago, I was sitting next to a fellow hockey mom in a frigid arena, chatting about life, parenting, careers and the world at large, when she uttered the words: "women's investment networking and entrepreneurial" group. To our collective astonishment and delight we realized the phrase folded neatly into the acronym WINE.
I immediately told her we would have to create something to celebrate the name, and that I would assemble the crowd. WINE was born.
WINE has quietly impacted many lives in positive ways over the past six years. Women have attended our networking events to break out of their comfort zones, they have been encouraged to look at their challenges from perspectives they likely never would have considered, and they have been equipped with contacts and advice to help move them forward, empowering them to have hope and to soldier on.
WINE is not therapy or a self-help group. It's about savyy, like-minded women getting together once a month to share, exchange and communicate face-to-face to learn new things, to draw inspiration from and make new connections with each other.
There is no membership fee, no complicated formula, no charter, no tedious rules. Whether you're a stay-at-home mother or a C-suite executive, WINE is predicated on the strongly held belief that helping others willingly and without expecting something in return is the purest form of giving. When done consistently, this simple truth creates real success, which breeds more success.
We meet the first Thursday of every month at the same venue: a family style pub near midtown Toronto. We gather in groups of 10 to 15 – our largest numbered 37 – we order a few nibblies and we talk. If there is one formal "rule" for WINE gatherings, it's that everyone speaks and everyone gets a chance to be heard. No one is judged for their viewpoint or beliefs.
WINE attendees introduce themselves, discussing what moved them to attend, what type of help they're looking for, what they expect from their visit. What flows from these informal elevator speeches, which last two to 20 minutes, is a free-flowing, organic conversation. Questions are posed by other attendees, learnings are shared, contacts are exchanged, business cards are swapped.
E-mails, phone calls and texts will never convey what in-person contacts can, plain and simple. That's the secret of WINE. Hardly revolutionary, but it's at the very heart of the group's success and longevity.
WINE also calls out any inclinations to hide behind being "too busy:" swamped, drowning, barely coming up for air. It is largely an excuse from poorly organized individuals or people who lack the skill to prioritize effectively and execute consistently. You know the adage "under promise, over deliver?" It rings true. I know a lot of people who have full days, diverse interests and huge responsibilities, both personal and professional, and you would never know they have that many balls in the air at one time.
They just get things done through plenty of planning, a balanced approach, and little fanfare.
WINE has helped attendees change professions, find jobs, return to the work force, follow their passion, enhance or mend their relationships (spouses, children, families), understand their bosses, become entrepreneurs, leave entrepreneurship, pursue a lifelong goal – it's a long, varied list.
One WINE attendee chronicled her formidable rise up the corporate ladder. "I got to the top," she said, "and I looked around and said to myself, 'now what?'" She had come to the realization that perhaps she had sacrificed too much over the years for something that ultimately was not completely fulfilling.
There have been women who are married, mothers and mortgaged who admitted to being shackled to a career they loathed, but who did it for decades because of their familial obligations. They came to WINE looking for inspiration to follow their passion and pursue a long-ignored dream. Many stay-at-home mothers have arrived at WINE, having put their careers on hold to raise their children.
Where and how do I re-enter the workforce, they ask. What skills can I re-purpose or sharpen to reflect today's world, they wonder. Their questions are met with encouragement, ideas and contacts. Then there are those who chased their dream of entrepreneurship – sacrificed, toiled away and in some cases, invested their family's financial future into the pursuit of their venture. They needed and got a mini-intervention from those in attendance who asked, "Have you ever considered that perhaps you are not cut out to be an entrepreneur," or "maybe you need to think about delegating because you can't do it all and certainly not with a family and young children – there's nothing wrong with asking for help."
The bottom line is we all have a body of experience – be it as students, employees, entrepreneurs, parents, teachers, corporate executives or volunteers. None is more important or more special than the other. Each has its own merit. As a result we each have something to contribute.
Here are some tips for anyone who wants to launch a networking group:
- Keep it simple.
- Identify your group’s purpose and niche.
- Create a call to action or a reason to attend. What are they getting out of it? Why should they be present?
- Fear regret more than failure. You’ll never know if it will succeed until you try.
- Leverage social media.
WINE founder Lianne Castelino is a mother of three, a TV journalist, a former sportscaster at CTV, and founder of WhereParentsTalk.com, Canada's first online community for parents by parents. She is senior public affairs adviser at Peter Munk Cardiac Centre in Toronto.