CoLiberate was founded in 2016 by Bop, Sarah and Jody. These awesome women recognised the need to shift the conversation to mental health and wellness, by creating the equivalent of a gym culture for mental health. 

We’ve caught up with co-founder Sarah to chat about CoLiberate journey, resilience in the workplace and the role of employers when it comes to employees’ wellness. 


How did Co-liberate come about?

We began evolving CoLiberate two years ago when we were full-time artists building community through theatre projects. We realised that while the arts industry is struggling in many ways, it does have an under-utilized strength: highly developed processes for self-care. As theatre-makers, the most important part of our work is preparing people to feel mentally capable, by building self-esteem, generating purpose, enabling people to be most powerfully and authentically themselves.  We recognize now that our work in theatre has been an evolutionary prototype in building mental wellbeing in a range of individuals — and better still, building a sense of pride in doing what it takes to look after your wellbeing while simultaneously doing your best work.


What’s CoLiberate mission?

We’re on a mission to enable the emotional and mental health capability of our nation and beyond!

We are doing this by taking ‘self-care’ out of the niche ‘arty-spiritual’ realm and make it gritty, grounded and available to the mainstream. We’re generating the equivalent of a gym culture for mental health, so that everyday people, even non-creatives, heck, even your average Kiwi bloke can do a workout for his mind, and develop a proactive relationship with his mental health!

We are also the lead providers of New Zealand’s Mental Health First Aid Certificate – equipping people with the skills, language and confidence to respond and intervene in moments of mental health crisis.


What’s the role of resilience in the workplace?

There is a misconception with resilience that tells us we should be able to digest anything that comes our way and be able to bounce back quickly after any knock. That if we aren’t emotionally affected by failure, stress or even that rejection email, then we are resilient and amazing. I think resilience has value, however, we need to define it in a way that gives room for vulnerability.  

A resilient workplace, to me, needs to have the capability to communicate the hard stuff with each other and not be afraid to lean into that vulnerability. It takes a huge amount of courage and trust within teams to show up and share our challenges and celebrate our wins.


What’s the role of employers in promoting wellness in the workplace? And where can employers start from?

Employers have a responsibility to enable the capability of their staff to do good work. This comes with needing the capability to recognise when employees need extra support. Organisations are in a great position to lead by example in the wellness space and create a workplace culture of positive mental health where giving and receiving support is not restricted by fear, shame or discrimination. This can look like creating processes, systems and a shared language to talk about whatever is going on – a culture where it’s okay to have hard days and it’s okay to talk about it.

We have this idea that we need to go to therapy, counselling or home to process whatever is going on for us – what about work? If you are there 40 hours a week, why can’t we also create a safe culture to feel heard and seen when it comes to workplace stress, pressure and issues at work?

We are working with more and more organisations who are saying that investing time into health and wellbeing of their staff is having a massive return. They report seeing improved staff retention, reduced absenteeism, improved adaptability, increased productivity, performance and innovation. It’s really exciting!


How can individuals work towards building stronger resilience?

We started by creating a culture of ‘checking in’. Every morning we would check in together and adapt our day according to how we’re feeling. We clocked on very quickly when we started working together that we had our best days when we all felt connected. Connection happens when we feel heard, seen and valued, so we created a container to do that every day. Creating ways in your teams to feel connected to each other and connected to each other’s work, cuts through isolation.


You co-funded CoLiberate together with Bop and Jody, after taking part in “Living the Dream” accelerator (run by Inspiring Stories). Do you have any learnings from your journey that you’d like to share with other entrepreneurs and aspiring accelerator participants?

We made a very bold decision halfway through Live The Dream accelerator, not to buy into this culture of ‘go hard or go home’ and burn ourselves out. That looked like making a commitment to looking after ourselves and each other first, before our to-do list – this led us to rapidly creating processes within the team to check in with each others capacity and mental health. I thought the opportunity cost of doing that would be that we would be working much slower… but I haven’t seen any evidence of that. We really committed to supporting each other to do this too by encouraging days off, encouraging asking for support, encouraging to share where we are at. I feel really proud of our decision and I believe we would have had to stop long ago if we didn’t make that choice!


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