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Alison Mobbs

ARLP scholarship helps leader navigate a crossroads

14 November 2022

Alison Mobbs | Agri-innovator | Rural community advocate by Claire Delahunty

Alison Mobbs was at a liminal point in her life and career when she decided to apply for Course 27 of the Australian Rural Leadership Program (ARLP). She had been eyeing the iconic program for over a decade but hadn’t been in the right space logistically. With her youngest child turning 18, the sale of a farm diversification hospitality business and a shift in her professional roles, the Bell-based beef producer was ready to jump in.

“Through the ARLP I redefined my purpose and my aims. I have always loved putting my energy into my community but was really trying to scale up my impact. I wanted to help grow rural leaders and help rural people find their voices; work in places that matter; enable bigger thinking; more curiosity; more innovative futures; and encourage people to think and act big,” Alison said.

Alison’s ARLP place, supported by the John B. Foundation Innovation in Agriculture Scholarship, came with the additional layer of a funded overseas study tour to enhance her contribution to innovation in agriculture.

Leading the Facilities Asset Management and Saleyards Teams for the Western Downs Regional Council, as well as being the director of Mobbs Cattle Co., Alison found she had a rich seam of inspiration at her doorstep.

“I was so pleased to be matched with this scholarship opportunity,” she said. “I wanted to create a project that encompassed the intersection of rural communities and agriculture, as the stronger communities are, the better our agricultural industries are.

“Working for Council, and being supported by them to take part in the ARLP, I saw a terrific synergy to draw on my day job and offer additional insights into agricultural asset management.”

Honing in on the often under-utilised yet ubiquitous rural community showgrounds, Alison has just returned from a study tour of north American ‘fair grounds’. Her project examines how to increase the value of regional showgrounds through encouraging agricultural innovation and better utilisation of rural asset portfolios.

“It was fascinating. I got to see regions demonstrating best practice in engagement and facility management with diverse industry engagement. For example, in Canada we saw a commercially run showground. They had a 300 acre site and were meeting the needs of several stakeholders. They had 50 acres of cropping where a seed company would test seed varieties, a fertilizer company could trial inputs and a drone company could try out new software,” she said.

“… at the Kansas State Fair we met with their board and learned about the extension work being done in universities with the Future Farmers of America, and the 4-H clubs in schools having such an impact on agriculture. We saw how the involvement of youth-oriented activities underpinned the strength of their show offerings.”

Back home, Alison is working hard to establish a pilot program with a Western Downs showground, identifying a key role for ‘innovation brokers’ to pull together organisations and institutions to synergistically work together using a showground space.

“The replicable nature of this process is key. Our aim is to lock down the ‘how’ of that engagement and to look at our council-run showgrounds through the lens of ag innovation, working with stakeholders to be a part of that decision-making process,” Alison said.

Brimming with energy and passion, Alison is fueled by the recalibration afforded by the ARLP experience.

“The sessions we did were incredibly well facilitated and challenging. Some pushed us to our physical and mental limits, and we were repeatedly put under pressure to make the right decision fast.

“Learning how to be comfortable in confrontation has given me a more considered approach to leadership and communication. I identified the need to make space for others, to step back and not forward, and let others take action, to hear the quietest voice in the room, and to balance my energy.”

As she forges on with a big project and an even bigger vision for impact, Alison cites her Course 27 cohort as an enduring asset on her leadership path.

“I feel that although we come from many walks of life, we became a high-performing team who understand and respect each other and our strengths and weaknesses … we are pieces of a larger puzzle with an important role to play for rural Australia.”

And with the support of a unique scholarship, the leader is firm on her future purpose.

“It’s been an amazing opportunity that I’ve embraced with both hands and have tried to honour the investment in me by giving it my all. I’m determined my passion and drive will have a tangible impact on the future of rural, regional and remote Australia.”

John B Fairfax explains the idea of the Innovation in Ag scholarship is to challenge the recipient to explore beyond their sector and even country.

“I’m not looking for a Nobel Prize in agriculture from anyone but the innovation concept, originally, in my mind, was to try and get someone to have a look at what was going on not only in Australia but perhaps overseas. Because while Australian agriculture and what we do here is very innovative in many ways, there’s always something more you can learn not only from your own people but more likely from overseas. I mean, the United States, UK, and particularly Israel, those sorts of places, they do marvellous things and we can always learn, there’s no question of that.

“You can’t just sit back on your haunches and think it’ll happen, it won’t, you’ve got to go out and look at other countries and methods, talk to other people and from that we can, I think, do just that little bit better.

“So that was the idea behind the innovation scholarship. And I think Alison Mobbs has indicated just what can be learned from going and looking at others and she’s done this work with the show grounds and has obviously got a great benefit from it, I think.”