Tahoe based ‘TEDx caliber’ professional development for women

She remembers being inside her first Starbucks alongside her sister, thinking, “pinch me.” They didn’t have the popularized coffee shop back home. It was the moment when immigrating to North America became real for Andrea Drew, “where you can aspire to be anything.”

In her experience, moving to British Colombia, was “not all picture perfect,” but what struck her was the access to so many opportunities.

She says it also forced her out of her bubble. The 19 year old at the time, although shy, loved people. Immigration put her in a space to embrace meeting new people and learn their story because she says, “The story is what makes that journey so amazing.”

Andrea Drew and peers started a professional development and networking organization for women in South Lake Tahoe that meets three times a year. It started in Nov. 2021. Katelyn Welsh / Tahoe Daily Tribune

It’s something she’s carried over years later, developing a South Tahoe based professional development and networking organization for women.

It began when Drew and peers at the Tahoe Chamber, including Jude Wood and Tiffany Zabaglo, alongside Emily Abernathy launched their Women in Leadership program. They further developed it into the non-profit organization now called Cospire.

Drew says the organization’s mission is to “empower women to be all they can be in all the seasons of their life” with professional development, tool kits and peer mentoring. Women can access these attributes at speaking events three times a year, right here in the basin.

Social Un-distancing

It was the organization’s inaugural event in the final throes of COVID. Women came out of their Zoom meeting stupors to the Tahoe Beach Club that November 2021.

One attendee discusses the common theme at the gatherings, “We’re not isolated and alone anymore,” says Liz Allison, vice president quality at Panasonic Energy North America, “It’s time to reconnect.”

Drew knew after months of social distancing, they needed to bring woman together again—in person. She had experienced losing too many in the workplace, saying many went through COVID alone without familial support close by.

“It was vital for our local economy to get past the COVID hump,” she says.

Cospire had their first event at the end of the pandemic, then called Women in Leadership, with a goal of bringing women back together in Nov. 2021. Provided / Courtney Aaron
Women in Leadership – Elena Armijo

The longtime CPA also found herself at a point in her career where she wanted a more purposeful and meaningful networking experience. The numerous bay area conferences didn’t provide that element.

“I wanted to be able to build community and network and reconnect and build those relationships,” she says, “with the women that I am in community with,” right here in South Lake Tahoe.

Going Big

Immigration taught Drew to “go big or go home.” She developed a proclivity to taking risks, forced to survive in a new place when she moved to British Colombia, and again when she met her husband and moved to Tahoe.

“Immigration,” she says, “forces you to recreate yourself a little bit.”

The South African native quickly learned that the worst that can happen really isn’t all that scary. She wanted to bring that energy into Cospire and go big with TEDx caliber speakers including, Wing CFO Shannon Nash, and Chase International Founder Shari Chase.

Bringing those speakers directly to the basin makes it more meaningful for community women and sister communities because they learn alongside each other, Drew says.

Drew also wanted to shoot high with the speakers to ensure quality tools for the attendees. Women glean a fresh perspective from speakers the organization intentionally pulls from outside the basin.

But to compliment this outside perspective, Drew wanted to bring in a local dose of perspective with Power Hour. It’s a segment where locals share their story—every aspect of it—from the “LinkedIn” worthy parts to what Drew calls the “it’s not like this everyday and there are Cheerios littered everywhere” parts.

The organization has met three times each year since that inaugural 2021 event. They originally planned for 20 to attend the first event, but the Tahoe Beach Club quickly reached it’s max when 50 women reserved a spot.

Each event has since hosted 70 participants and they sell out. But Drew doesn’t want to go any bigger. This size allows the women to easily network and build relationships.

Speaker Shannon Nash says, they want to create a safe collaborative space for participants to attend the workshops and network.

Drew describes the space as disarming. One participant was surprised at being comfortable enough to open up to the eight strangers sitting at her table.

Other women describe it as a reset from deadlines, stacked on top of motherly duties, and other obligations. Unlike vacation resets, they go home with long-term practical tools that they can use the next day at work, what Drew describes as professional tool kits.

A Cospire event at the Beach Retreat and Lodge, Feb. 15, 2023. Provided / Courtney Aaron
Women in Leadership – Elena Armijo

These tool kits are designed build on leadership skills that move women forward. But Drew says sometimes moving forward can look a little unconventional.

“Maybe it’s not like on your resume that you’ve shifted positions yet,” she says, “but you’re readying yourself.”

She gives an example of one woman standing up and in tears, announcing she needed a six month sabbatical. Her boss was in the same room.

“‘She said, ‘oh, don’t tell,'” Drew remembers, “and we all kinda giggled about it.”

The same lady came back to her job after the sabbatical and jumped two positions. Drew credits that to the woman’s opportunity to recenter and refocus, allowing her to change her trajectory.

“Sometimes you’ve got to make the hard decision of closing the door,” Drew remarks, “because then other doors can open.” 

Drew says these events have a 360 effect and it starts with being selfish, “you need to thrive first.”

She says if you’re not thriving as an individual, you can’t grow your business, or inspire your employees, donate to the local school, or impact the local economy. When businesses aren’t thriving, she says the community isn’t either, and it starts with the individual.

This trickles to sister communities as well, she says. Truckee, Reno, Carson City, Incline Village, and Markleeville are all areas attendees travel from for these events. The organization welcomes it.

“What’s good for Tahoe is good for sister communities,” says Drew because they, “leverage off each other.” She equates excluding them to an oversight.

What’s Next

Drew wants to make these resources more accessible to women through regular evening classes, including finance 101. Financial freedom is necessary for women to change their trajectory, she says.

“If you’re not feeling really confident about where your finances are at,” Drew says, “then you can’t pivot and shift on career.”

That’s not the only thing in the pipeline. They just unveiled a bookclub at their latest event on Wednesday, Oct. 25 and an International Women’s Day event next year on March 6.

But keep the calendar open. The organization has events coming up in February and May with Certified Life Coach Becky Bacon and former General Manager of the Triple-A Reno Aces Emily Jaenson.

Cospire will release more details as they become available on their website.

Support Local Journalism

Support Local Journalism

Readers around the Lake Tahoe Basin and beyond make the Tahoe Tribune's work possible. Your financial contribution supports our efforts to deliver quality, locally relevant journalism.

Now more than ever, your support is critical to help us keep our community informed about the evolving coronavirus pandemic and the impact it is having locally. Every contribution, however large or small, will make a difference.

Your donation will help us continue to cover COVID-19 and our other vital local news.