Sandra and her team at Auaha, Business Event Agency have been a huge part of the development and execution of the Women in Public Service Summits.


What brought you to the event planning industry and founding Auaha?

I was part of the steering committee and organising team for the first Māori Economic Development Conference in 1999. Auaha was formed in 2001 after we’d done a few more events and realised we could turn our side hustle into a full-time business.

What do you enjoy about your work?

I enjoy the creativity and variety. No two events are ever the same! I love dreaming big and creating a vision for an event, ensuring that it’s on-brand with clear objectives and that the experience is participant focused. It’s about creating the balance between content, connection and community.

What are some of your top tips for running a successful event?

It’s the sum of many parts. Yes, the event needs logistical elements but more than anything it’s the vision for the event that sets the path. Contributors and their networks can then bring the programme together. After that, it’s how well you communicate the benefits of the event to the target audience while maintaining the focus on what you want your participants to experience.

How have these events developed over the years and what are some of your favourite memories from previous summits?

It began in 2016 with a Summit in Wellington for approximately 250 women in the public sector. Within two weeks of registration opening, we had to expand the event to 500 and it’s been an annual event ever since. This demand saw the Auckland Summit added in 2017 and Southern in 2021. I’m super proud of the programme structure we developed for the 2016 event which has worked well and stood the test of time.

There are so many fantastic memories. Carol Hirschfield shared her personal and honest story at the Wellington event and had us all in tears with her. Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern went above and beyond at the 2017 Auckland Summit, received a standing ovation and happily took selfies with the attendees. In 2020 I was able to have my mum (a Taranaki kuia of Ngāti Mutunga, Ngāti Tama descent) help me develop the Māori name for the Summit “Ngā Pua o Ngā Mareikura”, which speaks to the budding female leaders that will emerge from the events.

Due to the pandemic, the summits have on occasion been held online. What was it like to manage this transition?

After postponing the Wellington and Auckland 2020 Summits the decision was made to move them online making them nationally accessible. I was excited, yet nervous at the same time. Would women in the public service be ready for this type of event?  Luckily, they were, with 700+ women registering from around the globe, many first-time summit attendees. Face to face events are always our 'Plan A' but being prepared means we can pivot to virtual as we did again with the 2021 Wellington and Christchurch Summits and still deliver high-value results. Anything is possible when you set your sights on the goal and take action, even in the face of the unknown!


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