Behind the scenes of the 25th Bowls New Zealand Annual General Meeting

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Bowls New Zealand Chair addresses the ‘meeting’ watched by President Mark O’Connor and live-broadcasting Producer Tamara Maher

Last Saturday, the 25th Annual General Meeting of Bowls New Zealand was held at the Ponsonby Bowling Club in Auckland.

But it was a meeting like no others before it.

The Level 2.5 COVID lockdown in Auckland precluded gatherings of more than 10.  So the traditional attendance by the 27 Centre delegates from throughout New Zealand, was instead replaced by a ‘virtual’ attendance by 25 of the 27 delegates via the digital platform Microsoft Teams.

Although the team at Bowls New Zealand of Martin Mackenzie, Erin Nurkka and Tamara Maher had already previously grappled with the technology to enable such remote collaborations within the bowls community, it was the first virtual annual general meeting for bowls.

“It was pretty stressful,” remarked Nurkka. “Even though we’ve done live-streams before, there’s a thousand things that can go wrong.  Not only at our end, but at the delegates’ end too.”

“For instance, while we had delegates logging in to a ‘waiting room’ prior to the scheduled 10.00am start (a digital equivalent of television’s ‘green room’), we found we couldn’t bring them on-line into the actual meeting as quickly as thought.  We were pushed to start on time.”

Bowls New Zealand Chief Executive, Mark Cameron, also initially found the experience challenging.

“It can be disarming just talking to a camera,” observed Cameron.  “And although you’re facing an on-screen collage of the 25+ attendees, it’s not the same as facing people in the flesh.  You can see them … but not hear them.”

Bowls New Zealand Chair, Tony Lepper, also found the experience ‘different’.

“Asking the meeting who’s in favour of a motion, and who’s against, takes a bit of getting used to when delegates are using an ‘electronic hand’ in Microsoft Teams.  Fortunately, there weren’t any contentious motions this year which required us to really test the voting process.”

It’s a difficult voting process at the best of times.

Like the electoral college system in the United States, each of the 27 Centre delegates has a varying number of votes at the annual general meeting.

“That ranges from the smallest centres with one vote like Bowls Gisborne-East Coast and Bowls Buller,” explains Martin Mackenzie - on-hand as vote scrutineer.  “Right up to the likes of Bowls Auckland with 5 votes and Bowls Canterbury with 7 votes.  It’s all based on their number of affiliated members.”

The lack of controversy meant that the 2020 AGM was all over and done with in a record 30 minutes … lock, stock and Chair’s report (Tony Lepper), President’s report (Mark O’Connor) and Chief Executive’s report (Mark Cameron).

“The brevity of the meeting requires a little investigation,” says Cameron. “Maybe there was in fact little to discuss.  Or maybe the virtual AGM didn’t easily allow engagement and comment.  Or maybe our on-going communication had meant there were no surprises.”

Perhaps it was simply the financial health of Bowls New Zealand which prompted the brief AGM.

“Despite COVID, it was great to be able to report to the AGM a $39,000 surplus for the financial year,” says Cameron.  “Including an increase in commercial revenue from the likes of Summerset, Prebble Seeds and APEX Insurance which reduced our reliance on affiliation fees.”

Whatever the case, Bowls New Zealand will be following up with delegates to see what worked and what didn’t work with this virtual meeting.

“Of course, we all hope things are back to normal this time next year.  But maybe these virtual AGMs are a thing of the future … either by necessity or design.  There’s pro’s and cons : there’s obviously a cost to traditional AGMs, but they’re also an important opportunity to mix and mingle.”

“We’ve now got $2 million of reserves … there for a rainy day,” says Cameron. “With COVID, I guess it’s fair to say it’s raining now.  So we’re going to be using some of those reserves to invest more in the bowls community in the coming year.”