South Proud | A Journey of Passion and Purpose.
In a world of faceless internet transactions, it’s not often we meet the people behind the business, so, let me introduce myself. I’m Jen, the sole owner and operator of Southproud.co.nz.
It was an idea that came to me while enduring another painful, sleepless night. After two years of procrastination I decided not to be one of those ‘ideas people’ who did nothing to develop a concept. This is my story.
I’m 52 now. Eight years ago I needed an operation to fix my ‘lady bits’. Like a lot of ladies my age, I had a bit of a trickle if I coughed, sneezed or lifted something heavy. My surgeon told me he could fix that when he took my ‘lady bits’ out. The trouble was, he used surgical mesh to repair my bladder.
If you’ve never heard of surgical mesh, it’s like ‘netting’ that is designed to imbed itself into your body tissue to repair hernias and pelvic floor weaknesses. Unbeknown to me, this stuff had maimed and ruined the lives of thousands of people worldwide. I had no idea what it was until it was too late. I woke from the operation and immediately knew something was horribly wrong.
Long story short, the whole operation was a disaster. The nerves in my groin had been irreparably damaged, my legs were wonky and I couldn’t pee. The pain was, and still is, excruciating. I spent four months in and out of ambulances and hospitals to try and rectify the mess to no avail. Then the mesh started eroding inside me.
I got lost. I lost my spirit, my identity, my zest for life, my ability to earn and contribute financially, and then I got angry.
Four years and a couple of operations later and my condition was no better. I went over to the ‘dark side’. The Black Dog was beating at my door and no matter how hard I tried, my heart and mind couldn’t seem to accept that life as I knew it was gone.
While trying to address the psychological impacts of the injuries a doctor told me I needed to ‘reinvent’ myself. “You can’t teach an old dog new tricks” was my reply.
Southproud.co.nz was a concept that had festered in my psyche for a few years.
I’d often ponder why all of our best stuff goes offshore while we get the leftovers. I’d think about ‘Brand NZ’ and how completely far removed I felt from it. I asked people, ordinary New Zealanders, what they thought and they felt left out too. Though totally proud of our fine nation, many felt like bystanders, watching the tourism treadmill consume everything we love about this place without consultation or consideration. That’s when I made the conscious decision that South Proud would not only promote the South Island as a destination, it would embrace locals and their stories. No big international hotel chains, no offshore businesses, just Kiwis doing what we do best, fine hospitality and exceptional experiences.
Ask any tourist and they will tell you that on the whole, our people are what make this place wonderful. We’re just blessed that our stage has the most incredible backdrop!
I started scribbling notes about a website that would bring our whole South Island together in one directory. With many visitors ‘time poor’ and having to choose between two main islands for their holiday, having a South Island dedicated information website just made sense. My friends would make that sharp inhaling noise when I told them about South Proud. Would it work? Who would use it?
Chasing your dreams is all very well, but let's not be silly about it. You have to gauge if the concept will fly. I did this by setting up social media pages. I’d post newsy travel information, images and lesser known destinations and soon had a fair following. I did everything I could to grow my social media following so I’d have an audience ready and waiting for the website to go live.
The fallout from the disastrous operation had far reaching consequences. We’d lost our home, I couldn’t work in mainstream employment, had no retirement savings and no prospect of accruing any. I was not entitled to compensation for loss of earnings so my husband became my sole provider. With no litigation process in New Zealand, I had to take what the Govt gave me by way of compensation for the medical injuries. When the payment came, fear and doubt set in. I got a little over $10,000.00 for my injuries. It was everything I had and was ever going to have. I put the ‘feelers’ out and approached a team of web developers in Dunedin. We made a date to meet so I could ‘pitch’ my idea to them. This was a totally foreign concept to me. I’d had management positions in the hotel industry on a very small scale. All my life I’d been a ‘hands on’ worker, general dogsbody, vineyard worker, truck driver and mother, not someone who steps out into the corporate world. It was scary! Looking back, there was nothing to be worried about. The team at The Bold considered my idea and agreed to build South Proud. It was going to take every financial reserve I had, but it felt right.
I set about approaching businesses to list on South Proud. The response was incredible and though the website wasn’t up and running, I could add information ready for the launch. Office equipment arrived including an automated desk that I could raise and lower when the pain of sitting became too much. For weeks I stared at the computer screen, adding listings and doing what I could to manage the pain. I’d weaned myself of the plethora of synthetic opioids I’d been prescribed and it was tough. ‘Focus Jen, focus!’
One day while uploading our fantastic walking trails to South Proud, I felt a deep sense of responsibility to try and ensure the safety of our visitors. I got in touch with the Mountain Safety Council of New Zealand and asked to use their resources to educate travellers about hiking and outdoor safety. They were totally fantastic to work with and their outdoor safety message is such an important part of hospitality. Not long after South Proud went live, the Department of Conservation began using their outdoor safety videos too.
Web launch was set for August 1, 2016. I was writing a press release and wanted to include a mission statement. It was too easy. It was, in fact, the whole concept of South Proud in a few words. “To encourage a culture of pride and stewardship in visitors and locals alike”.
Six weeks after the press release was published, Tourism New Zealand released ‘Tiaki Promise’.
There’s a rule in business to watch your competitors. I started, then stopped. I couldn’t measure my business against those with massive financial grants, government backing or huge teams, that was just crazy - and stressful. I pottered on, focussing on the South Proud vision and development. Growth was steady and progress was great.
Each morning I get up and check the website and social media ‘analytics’. Sometimes they’re up, sometimes they’re not, but life is all about swings and roundabouts. One morning I got up and sat at the computer in my pj’s with a morning cuppa and a message popped up on Facebook. ‘Congratulations on your milestone’. I nearly fell off my chair! The Facebook posts for that month had reached more than 1 million people. Combined with website visitors, that was just too huge to comprehend. My mind skipped back to a Fleetwood Mac concert I’d been to in Dunedin. I conjured up a vision of all the people that were there and multiplied them to fit into a picture of 1 million people. Mind blown!
Every single day I am grateful. Wholeheartedly, I appreciate the support of South Island businesses who afford me the privilege of promoting their entities. I’m often invited to try new experiences and love getting out when I can to see clients and meet new ones. Of course, there are challenges. Driving for long periods is painful and I need to stop often to relieve the nerve pain in my legs. I can’t fly on the skywires, ride the horses, fly down the rivers at breakneck speed or hike the lengths of our Great Walks, but nothing gives me more pleasure than seeing the happy faces of folk who can. I write sometimes, when the pain is not too much and my head is clear. I’d like to write more.
I’m not rich in material things and there’s no big pots of money in the bank. Mr South Proud still goes to work every day to pay our rent and fill up the cupboards. I'm blessed to have the support of my family and friends. South Proud pays for itself and I have never drawn a wage from it. When the Govt COVID business grant became available, I paid my web fees and operating costs in advance to keep the website going. I gave every South Proud business free advertising until March 31, 2021, the end of the financial year, which meant no income for the business but a helping hand for those who had stuck by me and the South Proud concept through the devastating effects of the coronavirus pandemic.
I love this place and have a deep spiritual connection to it. When returning from Wellington on the Cook Strait Ferry in 2016 I wrote this poem when land came into sight;
There she is in the distance
This mystical land steeped in history
In my heart, my home
I feel her heaving greenstone waters
Her life blood
Her breath on the wind
Her wairua fills me up
In all her majestic glory.
So there you have it. How South Proud ‘happened’. My journey out of darkness to a life of passion and purpose.
Thank you for taking the time to read it. Stay South Proud x
Find more South Proud stories here
Back to Blog