Indira Naidoo: author, gardener, sustainability advocate

2 May 2016

Courtney Lawler

Courtney Lawler is YWCA Canberra's Communication & Events Coordinator.

The 2016 She Leads Conference will be held on Tuesday 17 May at QT Canberra, with She Leads masterclasses to be held on Monday 16 May. Tickets and program details are now available at 2016.sheleads.org.au.

Open to all, the She Leads Conference brings women from a range of sectors, at all stages of their leadership journeys, together with Australia’s most inspiring women leaders. This year, our program explores the theme ‘Transform’ – focusing on stories of personal transformation and experiences from women leaders who are transforming their workplaces, industries and communities.

Here we chat to Indira Naidoo, one of the keynote speakers for the 2016 She Leads Conference. You may recognise Indira from her years as a nightly news anchor for both the SBS and the ABC. In recent years, Indira has transformed her career, after discovering a passion for gardening and sustainability. Indira has written two books, The Edible Balcony and The Edible City, to share that passion with others.Indira Naido holding plants

Describe yourself in 30 words or less.

I don’t particularly see myself in the descriptions that other people would probably use. I don’t see myself as a human. I don’t see myself as a woman. I don’t see myself as someone from an Indian ethnic background. I don’t think those sort of labels apply to me. If I met an alien from another planet, I wouldn’t use any of those to explain who I was. I’d be saying I really like these foods, or I love growing these plants, or I love painting, or this type of music. I would use descriptions of what my passions are, rather than those other descriptions. Really, what I would say is I like adventure and exploring and learning, meeting with many different people in many different walks of life and outlooks and ideas as possible. To me, that’s the real essence of life, rather than anything physical.

What has been a significant moment that has transformed your career to date?

I’m so lucky – I sort of expect them every few months. I’m a big believer in always looking for the open doors. Even when I think a door is closed or a door is shut, I just keep walking along the wall until I find an open door, and I just go through it. I try never to say no to anything, I say yes. Then I try to work out how the hell am I going to do that. Am I qualified? Do I know what I’m talking about? Often, I just struggle my way through. I’m so glad I do that, rather than say, “oh look, I have to say no because I just have to … I’m the worst person for it, and I have no idea.” Most people come to you because they think you will be able to do whatever it is they’re asking you to do. That means at least someone has confidence you can do it.

I think it’s really important just to say yes. When you take that attitude to work, creative pursuits, relationships; you’re going to spot amazing opportunities. When you have that attitude, I don’t think the opportunities ever stop. You almost shouldn’t be able to look at your life and think of just one or two really changing moments. There should be a myriad of them, in all different ways.

What is a book that has influenced your leadership journey? 

I grew up in South Africa and my family had to leave because of Apartheid and things like that. Nelson Mandela became a huge figure in my upbringing and in my consciousness. So I would have to say his “Long Walk to Freedom” about his background, the ANC, being incarcerated, being in jail on Robben Island, and how he emerged from that without bitterness was very inspirational. I went to visit Robben Island when I was in Cape Town a few years ago, and you can’t imagine being in that environment and not being bitter about the people who put you there, especially when he didn’t do anything wrong. That was quite a definitive book, in saying that you can rise up beyond the wrongs that are done to you. That vengeance, and being vindictive, and bitter are just horrible things to hold within yourself. It is almost as if the being jailed is not the crime; it’s the lifelong bitterness that you are left with by a jailer. If you can choose to not feel that way, it’s very powerful; and it’s very freeing.

How does having women in leadership transform our community?

I think having women in leadership makes a real difference. In all the groups, and successful community groups, and networks that I’m part of, the broader the range and the diversity of ideas that come into that group, the better quality the ideas that come out of it. To me, that’s why I think it’s important to have gender equality, as well as other kinds of diversity; you get a broader cross-section of ideas and opinions that are going to make the outcomes a lot better, and a lot more relevant, and just better decisions. As much as possible, if you can, in any sort of process of decision making, increase the diversity; whether that’s for women, or people from different paths of cultural, ethnic and religious life, I think they’re going to be able to come up with better ideas.

How do you be brave/resilient in situations where you feel uncomfortable?

The more and more I garden and spend time in nature, the more it teaches me those lessons. Everyday, when you get up, that plant is still there, that tree will still be growing. It’s gone through the storm, and it’s gone through men digging it’s roots up to lay more electrical wires (and God knows what else we do to trees in the city) and I’m always amazed by how plants manage to survive. You see them growing in the cracks between the mortar in bricks and the gaps in the footpath, and you think, my gosh, that seed landed there, and how in the hell? It got rain, and somehow it germinated, and somehow no one’s trampled on it; how has it grown? I have to admit, there’s an extraordinary resilience plants demonstrate when you connect with them and understand the way they survive and their resilience that I take a lot of lessons from. I actually get my lessons in that way from nature, from plant life.

Indira Naidoo will be a keynote speaker at the 2016 She Leads Conference. You can find her on Twitter and read her musings on her blog. Register to attend the conference by visiting the She Leads website, and follow the conference online on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. 

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