5 things I learnt from the Newday Summit 2021

1. Not all ‘conferences’ are made equal


Described by emcee and Newday Leadership co-director Matthew Wright-Simon as a blend of conference, wellbeing retreat and art festival, the Newday Summit 2021 was a powerful experience that left a lasting impression.


The warm and heartfelt Welcome to Country by Mickey Kumatpi O’Brien, a descendant of the Kaurna and Narrunga peoples, set the tone for the day.


With an impressive line-up of world-class speakers and activators presenting on the theme of Purposeful Leadership, the event was ideal for anyone wanting to live and lead with purpose for the greater good - wherever they are on their leadership journey. It challenged attendees to think in new ways, be inspired, and take action.


The Newday team clearly demonstrated that a ‘conference’ doesn’t need to be a staid, conventional affair. They have re-imagined the traditional conference to create a unique event that creates an atmosphere of connection and collaboration, of belonging, and a display of the power of sharing with vulnerability and authenticity.


Founded by Katrina Webb OAM in 2017, this was the fifth year of the one-day event. It was my third Newday Summit (the second in-person after Covid caused a Pivot for the organisers in 2020). For me, Newday Summit 2021 was a kind of ‘homecoming’ – to a room of whole-hearted, generous, and inspiring individuals. My tribe.


2. We are hardwired for contribution


Zach Mercurio, author and purpose researcher, identified that the distinction between having purpose and being purposeful is important. Being purposeful involves contribution-centred thinking, being, and doing.


We need to forge a more purposeful mindset by asking ourselves better questions and telling ourselves better stories. Shifting from questions like “what should I do with my life?” to “what should my life do for others?” and “what kind of impact do I want to have made?”.


The questions we ask ourselves determine what we pay attention to, and therefore how we feel about ourselves and our place in the world. Adirupa Sengupta urged us to have more purposeful conversations, about real, complex issues that affect us all. Purpose attracts. It harmonises our thoughts and energy into meaningful action.


Our greatest sense of meaning involves connecting and contributing to something bigger than ourselves. Having meaning and working towards compassionate goals makes people more connected, feel better about themselves and be less anxious and depressed.


3. Leadership is about respectful relationships and embracing diversity


As leaders, we need to be ‘present’ – to show that we care and that we understand those around us.


Good leadership involves respectful relationships and acknowledging that every individual, and every culture, brings something to humanity. As highlighted by Vicky Welgraven, respectful relationship champion, leadership is about walking beside people towards a common purpose.


Inclusion and embracing diversity is at the heart of purpose. Adirupa Sengupta encouraged us to adopt a mindset of abundance – if we include, there will be more, not less.


Through inclusion and diversity teams are more resilient and innovative. This was further highlighted by the story of intrepid adventurer Shackleton, shared by Tim Jarvis (an intrepid adventurer himself), whose inspired leadership led to the survival of his team against seemingly impossible odds.


4. We all seek connection, meaning, and mattering


A good leader seeks connection, asking questions of themselves and others…Who am I? What is the human problem I exist to solve? Why you, here, now? What are we here to create together?


By asking better questions, we can shift towards greater self-determination (for ourselves and our communities). This was powerfully demonstrated by the stories shared by Rebekah Smith, Bel Ryan, and Annalise Jennings.


It’s not about the work that we do, or what we achieve, but why we matter. As relayed by Zach Mercurio, we need to realise our own significance and consciously let other people know theirs – to be specific about how they are indispensable.


It’s also about the company we keep. The importance of having a tribe around us was highlighted by Taryn Brumfitt’s heart-warming story of resilience. It allows us to be brave and “get comfy” with what holds us back. It also allows us to reveal our vulnerabilities and authentic selves. As expressed by Bel and Rebekah, we all want to be heard, acknowledged, and have a space held for us.


Adopting a purposeful mindset allows us to take our values and purpose seriously, without taking ourselves too seriously. Taryn and Annie Harvey showed us the power of laughter – the more connected we are to others, the more opportunity we have to share the joy of laughter.


Peter Baines, humanitarian and author, shared Dan Pallotta’s quote:

“People are tired of being asked to do the least they can possibly do, people are yearning to measure the full distance of their potential for causes they care about deeply.”

I found this particularly poignant. How many of us have found ourselves ‘trapped’ in education or work settings that don’t serve us, and don’t allow us to serve others in a meaningful way?


5. Purpose is more enduring than achievement


Currently, there is still the tendency in schools and workplaces to educate for, and measure, success in terms of ‘achievement’. Conversations from the Newday Summit have further cemented my belief that what we should be educating and working for is purpose. As stated by Ridgway in 1956 “not everything that matters can be measured. Not everything that we can measure matters.”


Both Peter and Tim highlighted that purpose is more durable than achievement, helping individuals and teams persevere through struggle - it fuels the “then what?” and “now what?”, leading to greater grit and resilience.

“Purpose acts as an anchor.”

In times of challenge, understanding our values and purpose helps us to make the right decisions. A clear purpose also allows us to keep the vision but change the goals. It allows for flexibility, creativity, and innovation.


Purpose has been shown to make people significantly more engaged and leads to greater school and job satisfaction. As stated by Peter, “people can’t aspire to what they can’t see” so as leaders we need to open peoples’ minds and hearts to what is possible. In the beautiful and inspiring words of Gill Hicks,

"There is a moment, just a breath of time, when the darkness lifts to reveal the promise of a new day."