A memo from our CEO: July 2024

From bleeding edge to greater connection and control – regions in transition

Like so many in Australia and around the world, the advent of the COVID 19 pandemic in early 2020 was a shock to the system. Like many, the ARLF was forced into a protracted period of uncertainty and the need to adapt in the face of change. We did not know what our future was or how/if we could continue our much-needed work. 

Fortunately, and due in a large part to the adaptability and willingness to experiment from the team at the time, the ARLF came through this disruption in good shape. One of the areas of focus for us was the changing face of rural, regional and remote (RRR) Australia – what did this major disruption mean and how would the needs of communities, industries and organisations across RRR Australia change?  

With this in mind we had many conversations across the spectrum of those who influence change. In parallel, the Australian Government emerged from this period with a view that they had an ongoing role to play in RRR Australia that connected social infrastructure and capability-building with economic and environmental responsibilities. The investment that followed (primarily in the form of large competitive grants) manifested mainly in the form of initiatives to help build resilience in RRR communities. 

Strength in partnership

In addition to our vital existing work (with programs like the Australian Rural Leadership Program, Milparanga Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Leadership Programs, TRAIL Emerging Leaders and Australian Agribusiness Leadership Program), the ARLF has been fortunate enough to work in partnership with a range of other organisations in delivering programs and initiatives across the breadth of RRR Australia largely focused on resilience-building since that time. Thanks to the Australian Government, some state agencies and philanthropic groups we have been able to walk alongside many RRR communities over recent years. In addition, and moreso lately we have worked with communities in energy transition.

The evolving face of RRR Australia

While we have much to learn about the changing face of RRR Australia and our ongoing role within it, this work has been revealing in many ways.  

RRR communities, industries and organisations exist within complex and at times contradictory truths. All at once they live in deficit (lack of access to services, poorer health outcomes etc.) and great promise (better lifestyles, lack of pollution, innovation etc.). They often find themselves at the bleeding edge of change, particularly in relation to a changing climate and natural disasters.   

The people and resources required to meet needs can be variable, with the most common experience being that there is a general lack thereof. 

Critically, many in RRR Australia reflect that they feel a lack of control or say in their own future. While most are very active in contributing to place and community, many reflect a sense that decisions are being made elsewhere with little say in how this may affect them. 

Community-led impact is the key 

Our work across RRR Australia has focused on bringing diverse groups of people together within regional contexts. Our focus within the needs of each distinct community, is to help build capability (individual and collective), to hold space for sometimes divergent perspectives and to provide frameworks and processes that help each community to make progress (in whatever shape that looks like for them). 

Through both shorter-format workshops and longer form programs, our work seeks to help regional communities to experiment with different approaches, to work with others to enrich problem-solving and to mobilise others for a greater purpose. 

While there remains much to do and we are only part of it, in this way we hope that RRR communities, industries and organisations form stronger connections and have greater influence on their own future.

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