Turning inspiration into action

Celebrating six years in October, the Wao Summit takes place annually in Wānaka. It is six days of inspiration dedicated to bringing people together to connect, share ideas and put in place initiatives to support regeneration through community activism.

In this Q&A we catch up with Monique Kelly, one of the founders of Wao. A strong advocate for change at a local level Monique (or Mon as everyone knows her) is one of those people who puts theory into practice, and words into action.

Woman speaking at a community event

“If we think of a coconut in a vice that is slowly closing, the first thing we need to do is stop the vice from closing any further.”

– Monique Kelly

People sitting at a table having a conversation.

Tell us a bit about yourself and how you ended up calling Wānaka home?

MK:  Born and raised in Invercargill, I’ve worked for a number of years with the International Labour Organisation in Geneva before coming to New Zealand in 2014 to be closer to my parents and give my kids a taste of the kiwi way of life.

You are six years into running Wao. What is the biggest change you have seen in that time?

MK:The mindset shift has been massive. Back in 2018 when we started Wao, most organisations and individuals did not even have climate change impacts on their radar. We’ve seen a shift from thinking not only of reacting to the challenges of increased warming, but beyond that to taking up the challenge of thinking about what a regenerative future would look like.

Presentation of a fund.

What is the theme for the 2023 Wao summit? And why is it so important?

MK: Collective Action! It’s going to take all of us to work together to come up with innovative solutions and build resilience. Each of us has a role to play.

For the uninitiated regeneration may sound like a buzzword. How would you define what it means?

MK: If we think of where we are now, we are in deficit in our global accounts. According to a recent study, six of the nine planetary boundaries have been exceeded. From a social perspective, climate and conflict are putting pressure on social goals such as eradication of poverty, food resilience and education. Achieving a sustainable society is like having zero in the bank. Our outgoing expenses equal our incoming and we are in balance with our planet and people. Regeneration is where we help create a system that is designed to give back more than it takes away, essentially putting money back into the account. We not only reach balance, but go beyond to create a thriving planet.

In a nutshell, what message would you give communities on the importance of acting locally?

MK: We have two key challenges – mitigation and adaptation. If we think of a coconut in a vice that is slowly closing, the first thing we need to do is stop the vice from closing any further. This is mitigation. To stop further damage, we need a systems shift in society. Grassroots is where change begins and momentum builds to shift systems. Our actions ripple upwards to influence the government, not vice-versa. The stronger we act, the quicker they will react. Second adaptation. The negative impacts of climate change will be felt strongly at the local level, whether it be acute events such as floods or fire or longer events such as drought or food resilience. We need to build resilience locally to adequately deal with these events.

The Wao summit takes place October 24th-29th and no matter where you are on your journey to leaving this world a better place for the next generations, this year’s programme has got you covered. From ‘how to’ workshops, sessions with leading global experts to films that will make you stop and think “I can do that”.

Find out more  https://www.wao.co.nz/summit2023