AgriFutures Rural Award Winner, Allison Clark, Speaks from Parliament House

 
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“I stood in this room 12 months ago, not thinking I would win.  It was not because I didn’t think I had a good idea, but because there were other finalists who I felt had projects with strong merit for rural and regional communities.

And then my name was called out – and the shock arrived.  Quickly followed by the opportunity to talk further about my idea for change.   I had a platform to speak from!

The AgriFutures Rural Women’s Award is not just about your idea for change – it is about a year of change for you personally.  Yes, there are commitments that you make towards your project, but there are also additional opportunities along the way that are presented to you which you can gain from.

Meeting the other State AgriFutures Rural Women’s Award winners and the Horizon Scholars during a week long event in July in Wagga Wagga provides you with the ability to build on your personal pitch.  It gives you the chance to talk with a younger generation and see also what matters to them.

Your State Rural Award winners will become colleagues, supporters, mentors, and confidants.  It is not an easy year – each of you have different things to achieve – and you are also vying for the National award together.  However, I have found some strong friendships this year across the country and have developed a deeper understanding for just how diverse and simply unique this wonderful country of ours truly is.

My project has been about ideas and stimulating business start-up in rural, regional, and remote communities.  At the heart of my project was Tasmania’s rate of illiteracy (up to 49% in some regions) and ensuring that people could find the information they needed in a way that was meaningful and useful when they needed it.    Early on, I realised that I needed to consider all forms of diversity and disadvantage, as illiteracy was just one of these.   At the end of the day, if I could find a way to encourage more people with ideas to start their business and find information in new ways then I had achieved my goal.

Two days ago, I returned from my study tour to the UK which was designed to challenge my early findings in Australia.  I met with the researchers in entrepreneurship, innovation centres, change agents, the Food Farming and Agriculture Commission, the UK Horticulture and Development Board, and had a conversation over dinner in a remote farm house in Scotland which led me to an organization called Zinc.

Fundamentally what I learned over the past few weeks, was that we are all grappling with similar problems.

  • The written word is still heavily replied upon as a communication tool for business start-up. 

  • The problem that “If I put in on the website, people will find it”!

  • And a growing awareness – a potentially wicked problem – is the future of work.

I will just quickly consider these -

  • Very few people are designing first with disadvantage and diversity in mind. 

  • We think we are, but we are not always involving the individuals who are to benefit from the change in the design phase.  

  • If we have a problem to solve (new product, new service, information to get out to communities) we generally use what we know to do so.  How do we really know it will work?

  • We need to include people with disadvantage and diversity from the start.  We need to ask - What do you want to see? What is the problem we need to solve for you? - as we ask these same questions of mainstream consumers and customers.

  • For many of us, this can be a difficult thing to do as we are forced to consider some problems which can be harder to solve.  Many with disadvantage and diversity challenges are required to conform to a system that is designed for the majority … “fully inclusive thinking” requires us to consider views that may not be mainstream and come with complexity. 

My research shows that “flipping our thinking” into a fully inclusive space can provide better outcomes for all.  As a simple example of this, what if your blog on your website was always accompanied by an audio file?

With the best intentions in mind, the vast majority of our information exchange is still undertaken by the written word.  Most of us are working to include digital tools and new technologies, however you need to find and understand how to use these.   A large proportion of the organisations I met are integrating peer-to-peer methods and Youtube case studies to bridge this gap.   Many are now moving to assess the “take up” rate on previous work as a key performance indicator and as an evaluation factor for new investment.

There is no doubt that budget pressures are moving us to embrace new technologies to reduce expenses and gain efficiencies.  Despite this, a lot of organisations are reverting to face-to-face engagement to achieve the change they are looking for.  This requires resourcing across regions in new ways including working with established networks and organisations like Tasmanian Women in Agriculture to delve deeper into regional change.  It engenders mutual respect for the resources and commitment that all stakeholders provide and ensures that the result harnesses the attributes that are specific to each region.

Finally, the future of work – this one will have significant impact on us all, but particularly those in regional, rural, and remote communities.  Work matters – as the RSA told me “it is the crucible around which we form our identities”.  As technology provides us with benefits (smarter farming, new efficiencies, removing isolation through digital communication), how do we ensure that technology and the digital economy does not leave many of us behind?  What happens to the workforce that is no longer needed when new efficiencies are gained?  How do we support the people in our communities who have the skills and attributes more in line with hands on work – do we value them less because they are not keeping up?  How do we ensure that those with disadvantage and diversity challenges are not left further behind?  In order to address this uncertainty, we need to participate in the conversations and canvass the views of all those who can positively impact on this challenge.  As one of the biggest contributors to the economy in this state, the future of work in our agricultural communities needs to become a stronger part of the conversation as we equally become excited about the future that new technologies provide.  

Whilst my years as the 2018 AgriFutures Rural Women of the Year has just completed, my journey with my project is far from finished.  My project, like this year’s finalists, has become my passion and I will continue to work hard to deliver on the outcomes I promised.

I have developed a national and international network of friends and colleagues who I will continue to work with to ensure that rural, regional, and remote communities will continue to be a viable and valuable part of our economy and Australian way of life.  Winning the AgriFutures Rural Women’s Award and the Westpac Bursary have been a key part of this.

I would like to thank Tasmanian Women in Agriculture, AgriFutures, Westpac, the Business Enterprise Tasmania team, 26Ten, and the Peter Underwood Centre for their contribution to my work so far.  I would also like to thank my family and friends for their support and words of wisdom over this past year.

Finally, I would encourage each of the finalists to begin this year by building on the conversations you have already started as part of this process.  Build your networks and begin the change you are looking to achieve – you never know where it will take you and it will be one of the most enriching periods of your life.”