The Big Idea: WNORTH elevates women with Whistler forum

Powerhouse professional women from across the continent will descend on Whistler this week.

These women on the rise will trade corner offices for candid conversations as they meet in Whistler to elevate one another’s careers. This global gathering is WNORTH, the vision realized of Heather Odendaal, founder and producer of this brand new destination event for females on the fast track to success.

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Odendaal created a forum where driven and dynamic women who are the next generation of senior business leaders can work together for shared success. A local entrepreneur and accomplished event producer, Odendaal is catapulting her career and sharpening her event producing skill-set while aiming to lift emerging leaders around her to equally impressive heights.  

Ditching the desk

After attending a healthy dose of women’s networking events in Vancouver the observant Odendaal noticed a troubling trend of distracted attendees unable to fully disconnect from their desks.

“I recognized a consistent challenge was that there was limited engagement opportunities as women were popping in and out of the event from their downtown offices; there wasn’t that breaking down of barriers and level of engagement that I had seen at some conferences I had attended in more destination locations,” Odendaal explained.   

The challenge facing these urban events offered an opportunity for Odendaal to rejig the concept for a destination setting built to foster connections, conversation and accountability. With her Whistler resort location and inclusive format, Odendaal aims to break down barriers by positioning speaker talks alongside additional activity programming ensuring attendees enjoy the resort and form meaningful connections with other women.

A wine reception at the Firerock Lounge, a trip to Scandinave Spa and dinners at Araxi and Alta Bistro are some of the additional options on the table at this inaugural event. 

Ladies who lift as they climb

An outpouring of support has fuelled Odendaal’s event engine. She has engaged with event organizers from New York, Salt Lake City, Toronto and Vancouver and said the mentorship she received has provided incredible insight and invaluable connections.  

Pouring her heart and soul into her project offered a particularly personal reward when, on the day her event management company (Bluebird Strategy Ltd) turned five years old, she received a message of support from Sheryl Sandberg, COO of Facebook and author of Lean In: Women, Work and the Will to Lead.

“It was truly inspiring and validating to receive that support from one of my biggest role models,” Odendaal said. “I know what we are bringing together is right, and that the need for this forum is real.”

Community roots, global growth

When Odendaal speaks with pride and passion about elevating women to great heights her focus is laser sharp on executing a flawless event this week, but her upward gaze has a vision of immense growth for the future.  

“(This year) is just the beginning,” she said. “For 2016, we have already been in discussion with a number of international speakers that are interested in joining our agenda. We plan on marketing the conference across the U.S. and Canada through a number of national partnerships that we have already created with existing women’s networks.”

While her market is global Odendaal recognizes the power of the event’s community roots. She sees plenty of opportunities for both local businesses and dynamic women in the corridor to get involved. One of this year’s initiatives to engage local women included a scholarship opportunity with the Whistler Chamber for two aspiring leaders to take part in the conference.

“We look forward to working with the community to integrate opportunities for our local businesses with these women on the rise!” said Odendaal.

Heather Odendaal on seeing her big idea come to life

“I think there are a thousand quotes out there about how the hardest things are always the most worthwhile, but I can truly say that seeing the vision of WNORTH come to life (although not easy) is the best thing I have done in my career to date.”

Make business easy — tune into The Big Idea, a bi-weekly column from the Whistler Chamber of Commerce showcasing a Whistler business innovating in its sector. 

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