Part A: Before COVID when we already had a crisis
Skip back to late February 2020. Just over 12 weeks ago. That blissful period when the only thoughts in our head were about how to rebuild after drought and bushfire and spur on economic, environmental and community recovery. When we were shedding tears for the livelihoods completely upended, the communities grappling with the Bushfire disasters and the tragedy of lives lost during the Black Summer.
Yes, that was just over 12 weeks, 3 months ago and I was in recovery mode. Soaking up strategies and ideas at the Thriving Women 2020 conference after graciously receiving sponsorship through the ADMLR NRM Board to attend. Amongst the attendees were hundreds of women, connected to primary industries, working and living in rural communities across the state and beyond. The theme, growing and inspiring women’s connections through agriculture.
Accommodation was also included, and I shared digs with a farmer from Kangaroo Island. This meeting of chance was probably my most sobering insights into the crisis that we had just lived through. An incredible, strong woman, still living through the shock from her experience of the Black Summer fires and the continuing fall out for her, her family, her community. No need to explain why you couldn’t sleep. And along with many other attendees from across fire affected areas, each with their own story, farms burnt out, homes destroyed, dreams shattered….. we had already thought that the world had fell apart. How could we have possibly imagined anything worse?
Part B: New crisis – New skills
Yet we did try to. Back at the conference I attended a session with Dr Kristin Alford, a futurist whose job is to peer into the future using a range of techniques to instigate foresight. We used unfathomable and unprecedented strange realities in an effort to motivate our minds to innovate and conceive new ideas completely out of the realm possibilities – sound familiar? I do not think anyone thought of a global pandemic, but you get the picture.
And innovate we did. If you surveyed the Thriving Women 2020 participants now, I doubt you would find anyone who has not dug into their Thriving Women’s toolkit of tips, tactics, and networks to pull out some inventive disaster management recently. From juggling home schooling, to crisis economics, to self-isolation to the constant change management of dealing with yet another new normal.
Just in my own patch since the COVID crisis I’ve been forced to rethink communication. I’ve moved traditional face to face communication methods to reach farmers, vignerons and agri-business to digital platforms. I’ve branched into new media, setting up my own youtube channel and recorded a series of nature missions for primary aged children in isolation. I’ve supported my community in setting up a website to monitor our mental health and well-being www.barossacares.com.au . I’ve used my social media skills and networks to help spread the word and support countless local businesses who are exploring new direct to consumer delivery mechanisms, seen pop up cooperatives emerge and like many consumers I have a renewed commitment to source food locally through the #supportlocal #lovebarossa campaign.
So, just over two months ago I was being upskilled in resilience, innovation, leadership and learning how to not just survive but thrive. I listened and learned from rural community advocates like Nat Traeger how to leverage support to act and make change. Catherine Marriott told me to be brave and lift other women up. Climatologist Darren Ray inspired me to move forward with carbon reduction action. Here’s a snippet from one of the panel discussions “Communities are renowned for pulling together in times of adversity. Much can be achieved by working together particularly when times are tough…” What more can I say but, what great timing?
The financial support of NRM in this initiative is about paying it forward. Women hold tremendous skill and experience; however, they are also underrepresented in agricultural management and decision-making arenas. Women account for about 41% of the agricultural workforce, but just 18% of management and just 2.3% of CEO roles (The Ag Wrap 25/2/2020). Also, of interest is that 37% of women employed in agriculture participate in volunteering, much higher than the national average (ABARES, 2016). Investing in developing confidence and leadership among women, translates to women being active participants and further, utilising their knowledge and skills to mentor and motivate others to engage in sustainable agriculture and NRM programs. We learn from others, develop new innovations, and broaden our skill sets. What follows is the probability of inclusive, positive outcomes for natural resource management.
Sarah wishes to sincerely thank the Adelaide Mount Lofty NRM Board for supporting her attendance at the Thriving Women’s conference and their continued support for rural women’s leadership initiatives.