House on Fire Part II: Why This Woman Will Never Stop Gathering Other Women to Ignite Positive Change

Anne Devereux-Mills at her home in San Francisco, CA
Anne Devereux-Mills at her home in San Francisco, CA

The Salon, Re-Invented & Re-Imagined

Recently, I sat down with Anne Devereux-Mills, founder of Parlay House, to learn more and pull out best practices about the movement she started five years ago when she opened her home and gathered women from all walks of life to connect, be inspired and instigate positive change. I first learned of Parlay House through mutual friends and have been a huge supporter of it ever since as it is fundamentally different from other Women’s Leadership groups and efforts. As someone who teaches Women’s Leadership for the Hult International Business School, I am passionate about finding new and practical ways like Parlay House to engage and empower women of all ages, cultures and backgrounds. For some time now, the salon re-invented and re-imagined has been gaining tremendous following not just here in the Bay Area but all over the US. Now though there is a new sense of urgency as women are fired up like never before and eager to find ways to make a difference on a number of fronts and Parlay House is leading the way with gatherings on both coasts. Efforts like these, especially when you have warnings like the one issued this week by the UN Secretary General which outlined the attacks on women’s rights globally, are more critical now than ever. This post is the second in a series that charts how Anne founded Parlay House, the lessons learned and best practices she discovered along the way and where she plans to take the effort going forward.

“Parlay House is an affiliation of inspirational women who come together to connect, grow, learn & thrive. We take our life experiences and “parlay” them in new directions.” — Anne Devereux-Mills, Founder & Chief Instigator

CG: In a sea of causes under the women’s empowerment umbrella, what makes your approach and philosophy to initiating change different from all the others out there? And can you share a brief example of one of your favorite Parlay Effects initiated by you or one of the Parlay House members?

ADM: When people normally think of initiating change and making a difference, they tend to think of the big efforts and events that we hear about non-stop on social media. The reality is though that even the smallest of actions can make the biggest difference over time. I call these actions Parlay Effects. Parlay Effects can happen every day, and we tend to initiate them when we slow down long enough to notice and recognize the opportunities. An example from Parlay House is that I met a new member, Hannah Manfredi, who told me how she was using mindfulness to help students in low-income schools reduce their stress and anger through very basic techniques. Just after meeting Hannah, I spoke by phone with Sreileak Hour, a young woman in Cambodia who I was helping mentor so that she could get a scholarship to a major American University. All of Sreileak’s grades and national exam scores were perfect to give her a chance, but the stress of taking the TOEFL (English ad a second language) exam was too much for her to handle, and she was not scoring well-enough. Hannah offered to call her to tell her about the basic coping techniques she was using with her students, and after a half hour on the phone with Hannah, Sreileak did well enough to earn a full scholarship to Scripps College. Thirty minutes of a young woman’s time changed another woman’s life in numerous ways. And that young woman will go back to Cambodia after college and pave a new road for women who will follow her. These opportunities to create a cascade of change can ignite at any time – a side conversation by two people who’ve just met and find common ground or after hearing one of our guest speakers, a group forms to tackle some pressing issue together. It’s what happens when we are passionate about something and engage in an action to support furthering positive change. I also call these micro acts that instigate massive change, the thing AFTER the thing. Its easy to track an action of generosity, kindness, empathy or inclusion, but almost impossible to track the way that the recipient then goes on to do the same for others. But the great thing is that you don’t have to have some specialized experience, deep pockets or ‘the right connections’ to make a difference. You just have to listen for signs that someone else might benefit from something that you naturally do well, and pass it along.

CG: You have shared at several Parlay House gatherings about your experiences ‘going horizontal and then vertical’ to instigate Parlay Effects. Can you elaborate on this best practice because it is such a powerful one that so many of us can relate too?

ADM: I too had initiative fatigue and I was getting burned out by all the causes and fundraisers and feeling pulled in every direction. I had said yes for so long that I came to a point when I needed to refine what I was engaged in and focus in on just a couple key efforts where my passion and strengths aligned. I call this process of saying yes to everything and then finding focus going horizontal and then vertical. By going horizontal for a time, I could explore all that I was curious about and drawn to. This takes time and I allowed myself the space to go broad and dip into anything and everything that sparked my curiosity and concern. Overtime, you start to see where your passions intersect with your strengths and once I found that intersection, I started going vertical, selecting a few key efforts where I felt I could “go deep” and encourage others to also engage. It’s a great best practice to allow yourself to go horizontal for a time – just to explore all that’s out there until you find where you will best create Parlay Effects that will take on a life of their own.

I call this process of saying yes to everything and then finding focus going horizontal and then vertical. By going horizontal for a time, I could explore all that I was curious about. This takes time and I allowed myself the space to go broad and dip into anything and everything that sparked my curiosity and concern. Overtime, you start to see where your passions intersect with your strengths and once I found that intersection, I started going vertical, selecting a few key efforts where I felt I could “go deep” and encourage others to also engage.” — Anne Devereux-Mills, Founder & Chief Instigator

CG: With all that is happening in the world, it has never been more important for women to come together to make a difference and initiate positive change. And yet, so many women feel paralyzed by the sheer enormity of all that needs to be done on so many fronts. How does Parlay House support individual and collective empowerment?

The Parlay Effect leads to individual and collective empowerment, because instead of waiting for a leader to mightily pull us up, we can create massive change through micro acts that have tremendous ripples. We’re connecting the dots in a growing circle, not looking for hierarchy, but rather depending upon our care for one another as individuals to provide both personal and group growth.

It is not a one-for-one exchange. An inspired woman chooses to replicate what she has heard in her own way and extend herself for others. With membership, one member brings another. Two become four. Four become eight and then the eighth member finds a connection with the first one, and the circle expands. One member has an interest, skill, or insight, and another member gets lifted by finding that person and benefiting from what they pass along. That recipient, in turn, is motivated to act in a similar way for others and a chain reaction begins.

The Parlay Effect goes far beyond “paying it forward.” Instead, it involves paying it outward, creating an ever-growing circle of people willing to be connected in new and surprising ways, and in doing so, making others feel not only comfortable in their own humanity, but empowered at what their humanity can do for those around them.

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