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In early August, Chelsea Hayward, the recent winner of the MECCA M-Power grant supported by a partnership between Engineers Without Borders Australia and MECCA Brands, participated in a bootcamp for young female social entrepreneurs. The bootcamp formed part of the MECCA M-Power program and was facilitated by the Foundation for Young Australians. The MECCA M-Power program is designed to empower women and girls to realise their potential through access to funding, mentoring and learning opportunities with industry experts.  Read about Chelsea’s experience at the bootcamp below.

“I gaze out of the window as we drive down the winding road into Kangaroo Valley, catching glimpses of the spectacular view over the valley as it flashes between the trees. The sun is shining, we are surrounded by lush greenery and as we drive through a cow paddock on our way up to the farmhouse where we will be staying, I am filled with a mix of emotions – excited, nervous, intrigued and in awe of our beautiful surroundings. Little did I know that the next three days would be filled with transformative experiences that I will carry forward into my volunteer work with Engineers Without Borders.

Thanks to the support of a MECCA M-Power grant, I am currently working on a project with Engineers Without Borders to expand the School Outreach program. My project involves building on the strengths of the existing program and developing new resources that are tailored to different groups of participants, particularly female and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students. The aim is to break down stereotypes so that diverse young Australians can see themselves as the engineers of the future, with the longer term goal of helping to address the significant lack of diversity in the Australian engineering sector (read more about my thoughts on why diversity in the engineering sector is important here).

Along with the grant, I was invited to attend a bootcamp facilitated by the Foundation for Young Australians and supported by the MECCA M-Power program, aimed at equipping participants with skills and tools to progress their entrepreneurial and intrapreneurial endeavours. We headed down to Kangaroo Valley and it was straight to work with a series of sessions over three days that included intensive presentation and pitch training, development of strategic action plans, and advice for obtaining funding, all culminating in a final 5-minute pitch delivered by each participant.

I had never done anything like this before and I am not much of a fan of public speaking so this was quite far out of my comfort zone. It was exhausting! But it was also one of the most rewarding experiences in my professional and personal development to date.

Yes, being out of your comfort zone is, well… uncomfortable, but it is also where you can experience tremendous learning and growth. Where you can transition and transform. And where amazing opportunities are presented, opening the door to new enriching experiences. What prevents most people from leaving their comfort zone is fear – fear of getting hurt and fear of failure, but if we learn something from the experience, is it really failing? As A.P.J. Abdul Kalam said “F.A.I.L. means First Attempt in Learning” and I couldn’t agree more, but you have to make the decision to be in the right mindset. Take risks, learn from your mistakes, grow and you will perform better in the future. All of this is possible by taking even just a small step out of your comfort zone.

A key takeaway for me from the bootcamp was from a session with MECCA Brands Founder, Jo Horgan, where she advised us to do something every day that takes us out of our comfort zone. Even if it is something small like making a phone call you don’t really want to make; it’s all about getting comfortable with being uncomfortable, a message that was reiterated often throughout our sessions. This is something that I have tried in the past, but now intend to be much more conscious of.

The bootcamp itself was not just a step but more of a leap out of my comfort zone. And what a place to do it! Surrounded by bushland, with wombats, wallabies and lyrebirds wandering by. There is something to be said about the power of being in nature, to inspire you and help you grow. Plus it helps to counteract that mix of emotions that come with trying new things.

It was also incredible to be surrounded by so many amazing women, both fellow participants and our wonderful coaches and mentors. Women from diverse backgrounds and with amazing aspirations for the future. They created a safe space to stumble, but rise again, having learnt from my blunders. So even though I was out of my comfort zone, I felt completely safe. I didn’t feel like I needed to run out of there when I was drawing complete mind blanks in the middle of a presentation. I was able to keep myself grounded and carry on and was rewarded immediately with amazingly constructive feedback that I was so willing to take on board so that each attempt I got better and better. I’m not going to say I completely nailed my final pitch, but it was a vast improvement from my first time standing up in front of the group and I feel extremely proud of the transformation I made over three short but intense days.

After having participated in the bootcamp, I not only have new tools and skills that I can draw upon when giving presentations and setting up business plans, but I also have a clearer vision and plan for moving forward with my project with Engineers Without Borders. I am truly grateful for the bootcamp experience and will take all of my growth and learning, continue to step out of my comfort zone, and strive towards realising my goals.