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What’s keeping high-flying Canberra women sane in the time of COVID-19?

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You’ve met these movers and shakers before when we profiled them for a series on Canberra’s Shining Lights late last year.

We talked of their exciting work across a range of industries and what motivated them to get out the door each day and make a difference for our community.

But, oh, how times have changed.

We touch base with the ACT’s new Commissioner for Sustainability and the Environment Dr Sophie Lewis, Salon Canberra founder and director Catherine Carter, Chair of the Canberra Innovation Network Hala Batainah and CEO of Screen Canberra Monica Penders to see where they are in a year that has surely tested all of us.

These women are still doing incredible things in their respective fields, but have had to make monumental changes to the way they work, live and play.

Dr Sophie Lewis, ACT Commissioner for Sustainability and the Environment (formerly 2019 ACT Scientist of the Year)

Photography: Tim Bean.

What do you make of 2020 so far?

How is it STILL 2020????!?!?! I have been feeling a strange mix of gratitude and worry—gratitude for health and family and friends and our home and work, for those essential workers and volunteers working to help us.

We have so much respect for educators, teachers, nurses, doctors, public servants, supermarket staff, waste managers, posties and everyone pulling together. But we also worry so much for our community and also for our daughter’s future.

How has life changed since COVID-19 hit?

Craft. Just sooo much crafting. I have a self-awarded graduate certificate in craft. Life with COVID changed drastically. I went from being a work-focused mum to a stay-at-home, full-time mum [before accepting this new full-time role as Commissioner which she started this week]. The time at home with my toddler has been so precious but also a big mental challenge to shift so quickly.

What are you currently working on?

I’m working on honing my hot glue gun techniques! More seriously, my work has taken a bit of a back seat to life but when I’m back into it, I really hope to focus on our future in Canberra under climate change.

What are you missing most?

I miss less than I expected. I was very sad calling my brother in Hobart on his birthday and realising I would not see my beloved baby nephew for a long time.

I miss friends and family but we are enjoying a quieter pace of life, with far fewer lists and calendars and complex schedules and planning.

What’s keeping you sane?

Nature is keeping us sane. I realised I’m doing about 9-10km of walking a day chasing after my kiddo and I think a lot of people are doing the same.

We are so lucky to have access to nature in Canberra and it’s delightful to see so many Canberrans out and about. We are building community and getting through by connecting with the environment. But also chocolate. So much chocolate.

Catherine Carter, Founder and Director of think-tank Salon Canberra

Photography: Rohan Thomson.

What do you make of 2020 so far?

Well, it’s certainly a year like no other! It’s been impossible to miss the impact that extreme weather events and now the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic have had on daily life—not just here but around the world.

Inevitably the scale of the global event we’re currently experiencing will change the world permanently. As individuals and as a society we’d become pretty complacent.

The events of 2020 remind us that we need to listen to the experts, whether medical professionals or climate scientists, and give us an opportunity to re-set and re-adjust our priorities.

How has your life changed since COVID-19 hit?

COVID-19 has brought with it the need for physical distancing from others, which has made life much quieter in many ways, but also more connected in others.

I had already been working from a home office for a few years, so the transition wasn’t too difficult. I’m definitely travelling and driving less and walking more. We’ve recently had some glorious autumn days—I’ve never seen so many people out and about walking or riding bikes.

One really nice thing has been the way people have reached out to get in touch or to collaborate in some way online. I now have a regular weekly Zoom catch-up with friends overseas and have been part of an online choir which was fun.

It’s not the same as real-life catch-ups, but it has been really great to connect in other ways.

What are you currently working on?

COVID-19 turned my working world completely upside down. My business Salon Canberra, is all about connecting people to discuss ideas, and I had a big forward program of events. I had to quickly change my business model to be able to deliver events online.

While getting to grips with new technologies has sometimes been frustrating, it’s also been exciting to be able to explore new ways of doing things.

 What are you missing most?

I miss being able to catch up with people socially, in the real world, and I miss being able to travel. Virtual travelling has been fun, but I’m looking forward to being able to go to a concert again or even just to a movie.

 What is keeping you sane?

Talking with friends, exercise, sleep, reading, routine and knowing that this will eventually pass.

Hala Batainah, Chair of the Canberra Innovation Network

Photography: Tim Bean.

What do you make of 2020 so far?

Emergence. 2020 has opened our collective hearts and eyes in so many ways, so I feel we are emerging from a period of consumerism and self-centredness to one of caring for the environment, each other and the health of ourselves, our community and our earth.

How has your life changed since COVID-19 hit?

Self-isolating early on was the most difficult. When one is used to jumping in the car and going anywhere to buy anything or meet anyone, to stop and ask oneself multiple times whether it’s worth going out has been a learning experience. Pausing often has been a good thing!

What are you currently working on?

Like many in the gig economy, I am working on several projects and with a number of organisations. As CBRIN Chair, the focus has been on making sure our people, entrepreneurs, members and partners can continue to do what they need to do to work through the initial stages of the crisis. Now, the focus is on what’s next? How do we help our people, entrepreneurs, members and partners to thrive.

For GiG Enterprises, I am wrapping up a project for a public sector client. The work was not impacted, as the project is an outcome-based project and the client as well as my partners have quickly pivoted to virtual meetings.

What are you missing most?

I have everything I need to be ok. To thrive, I miss the simple things: hugging my friends, face to face coffee catchups and going to the theatre!

What is keeping you sane?

Connection calls with friends, family and business colleagues. The absolute belief that we will overcome and better days will come our way. Flowers, laughs with my family and helping others.

Monica Penders, CEO of Screen Canberra

Photography: Tim Bean.

What do you make of 2020 so far?

Bizarre with a capital B. Bushfires, smoke, hailstorms (still have holes in my ceilings) and now the virus. Am waiting for frogs and locusts. It’s been a year of adjustment and reassessment—what is really important in your life.

How has your life changed since COVID-19 hit?

We started working from home just a few days before everyone else started. So I feel my workday is longer as you never leave work.

What are you currently working on?

We have been super busy trying to readjust delivery of [Screen Canberra’s] programs online and get ready for production when the ban on production lifts. And are working on a program to support our filmmakers during this really tough time. More news soon!

What are you missing most?

Friends, family, hugs and a decent cup of coffee and brunch at a nice cafe. Games night with my sister and family. And the ability to travel overseas.

We were supposed to be leaving for our honeymoon in a few weeks to Bali. We changed that to Tasmania. Both, of course, are not viable. Hopefully, we will have a honeymoon before our fifth wedding anniversary.

What is keeping you sane?

Streaming TV programs (worried I am turning into a Scandinavian serial killer), crochet and my garden.

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