The Nonna Effect – a new social phenomenon!

Photo credit: The Huffington Post

Photo credit: The Huffington Post

A recent newspaper article reported that in Darebin, in the northern suburbs of Melbourne, Australia, solar installations have spread rapidly through the area’s low-income households.

The catalyst for this is a council program that allows local pensioners to install solar at no upfront cost and immediately make significant savings. The council pays all initial costs and then recovers the full amount without interest over 10 years. The cost of repayment over the 10 years is easily covered by the significant cost-savings the pensioners achieve through their use of solar power.

The council thought that it would take quite a while to persuade low-income residents of the benefits of this program however the take-up of the program has been remarkably fast and widespread.

Asked for an explanation for the resounding success of the program, Trent McCarthy, a Greens Councillor in Darebin said “We call it the ‘nonna effect’…. “The nonna in the street has her solar on her roof. She’s very proud, she tells all of her friends. It’s social marketing 101.”

As I was reading this article I was struck by its significance. It is not about little old ladies in Darebin at all. It is a signal to all of us older women – particularly those of us who fit the ‘nonna’ descriptor (many of them short and round like me and easy to overlook in a crowd).

 No longer young and pretty, many of us nonnas have become resigned to the veil of invisibility which seems to descend on us as we move into and through middle age. While older men with thinning hair and thickening waistlines are still in demand and influential, we are expected to move to the sidelines without fuss.

But not anymore. We have now been recognised as a social phenomenon with the hitherto unrecognised power to influence social change significantly. I’m ready!

'Doing an Adele'​ - success through failure

Photo credit: Kevouk Djansezian; Getty Images

Photo credit: Kevouk Djansezian; Getty Images


I confess that I am a fan of Adele. If my very proper English grandmother were still alive I think she would have winced at the accent but, sorry Nanna, I love it. It strikes me as very real and authentic. She is also short and round like me and gets away with it. She does not seem to be obsessed by her appearance or public image. She has a strange wardrobe (although to be fair I have never seen her wear a meat dress like lady Gaga) and no-one talks about it or trolls her in the Twittersphere. She expresses gratitude for her success and gives no hint of a sense of entitlement. So you can see how I became a fan.

On top of that, I’d like to be so famous that I only needed one name. I’d like to do Carpool Karaoke with James Corden (and, before you delete me from your LinkedIn contacts, you need to know that Adele’s episode has had more than 147million views – and yes, 10 of them are mine!). Stay with me, I am about to make a serious point here.

Working in Paris these last few weeks I was finally in the right time zone to be able to watch the 59th Annual Grammy Awards live. Adele’s performance included a tribute to the late George Michael. Just as she did during her performance last year, she stopped halfway through and shared with the audience that she felt she was not doing justice to her tribute song and wanted to begin again. Begin again she did and at the end she received a standing ovation.

So here is my serious point. The world has shifted on its axis recently and many of us are troubled by what is to come – this is a recipe for us all to become significantly more risk averse. When we have a low risk appetite we worry more about making mistakes and tend to choose to do nothing rather than making a mistake – and of course for those of us who do a lot of our work in the face of public scrutiny, the fear of doing something foolish is constantly front of mind. It is certainly front of mind for me.

What I take from Adele is that acknowledging a less than perfect performance and seeking permission to deliver the performance differently and better is a recipe for success, not an opportunity for public failure. I am encouraged by her behaviour to reframe my own unhelpful and critical self-talk – acknowledging my commitment to continuous improvement and willingness to learn from success and failure. Thank you Adele.