Ross and Edwina Sharrock are in the unique position of both having experienced the Australian Rural Leadership Program (ARLP); Ross graduating from Course 19 in 2013 and Edwina from Course 23 in 2017.
“When Ross got home from the first session in the Kimberley, he said ‘yeah, it was good, but I’m not going to tell you too much about it, because you’re going to do it too.’” Edwina laughs.
Ross’s confidence turned out to be well-founded. The Tamworth couple both juggled their time on the Australian Rural Leadership Foundation’s flagship program around raising their young family. Ross’s role at the time with Teys Australia saw him sponsored by Australian Meat Processor Corporation (AMPC), and Edwina, a Registered Nurse and Midwife, was sponsored by Prime Super.
“When we do have leadership challenges – and we’ve both had significant ones in the last few months – we’re able to say ‘this is my opinion’ and bounce ideas and solutions off each other. It is great both having that ARLP framework to draw on.” Edwina, who has since founded Birth Beat, an innovative online childbirth education platform, says.
The couple now both give back to the Foundation in as many ways as they can.
“Ross was contributing before me,” Edwina says. “He has a very strong moral compass, and if that’s the right thing to do, that’s something he’ll commit to regardless … We’ve been through some tough years, like a lot of regional Australia, but we just made it a priority.” She reflects.
“When you’re in [the Program] for those 18 months, you’re like ‘yes, I’m going to make sure more people get access to this’, and you feel really excited, but everyone just gets back to their real life and gets busy and prioritises different things, which I do understand. By actually making that contribution, we’ve got skin in the game. We’re walking the talk … for us, it grounds us to that priority, and taking the time to reflect on why it is a priority, and we’re committed to doing that.” Edwina says.
For Ross, who is now delivering Australian manufacturing projects through his business, , lessons from the ARLP are constantly in use as he embraces positive communication about Australian manufacturing.
“I’ve had conversations with people telling me Australian manufacturing is dead, while I’m delivering Australian manufacturing projects,” he says.
“Rather than castigating people as it’s sometimes my first instinct to do, it’s about trying to adjust the messaging around that. We have an amazing manufacturing sector in Australia, but it’s not cars; it’s food … It’s a huge employer for regional industries. The red meat processing sector alone employs more people than mining in this country. There’s a real renaissance in our manufacturing right now and we have an amazing opportunity to reframe our approach to manufacturing and to .” He says.
Ross’s passion not just for his work, but his role as an industry advocate reflects what he sees as the collective impact of a program like the ARLP.
“The way I see the ARLP working in the red meat industry, as an example, is that it’s not about one person and that idea of a leader being singular. It’s about critical mass. Meat and Livestock Australia and AMPC both invested in putting people through the ARLP and the Agribusiness Leadership Program because the more people you get speaking a common language and the more people you get who have an enlarged perspective of their industry – about what they do, and that bigger picture around regional prosperity and social benefit – the more directed and focused they’ll be on delivering outcomes for their stakeholders,” he says.
“Leaders who come through the Foundation have strong motivators outside of themselves, and a critical mass of leaders that understand the bigger picture is important.”
For Ross and Edwina, a family trip around Australia with daughter Polly and son Theodore in 2019 saw the couple reconnect with some of that ‘critical mass’ of leaders across Australia, with shared commitments to a greater good.
“We visited a bunch of alumni from South Australia to WA to Tassie and back to NSW. Our first stop was an ARLP Course 23 graduate in Hay, and one of our last was in Tasmania with Bill Casey from Course 19,” Ross says. “It was an amazing trip.”
For Edwina, it was a chance to take the time to reflect on what the ARLP has given her.
“I don’t think I’d have that hunger and passion to travel Australia and actually go deeper and understand more about the community if we both hadn’t experienced the ARLP,” she says.
As a family donating to the organisation that has given them so much, the Sharrocks remain constantly in touch with the Foundation-aligned idea of an impact larger than themselves.
“I think [giving] is that reminder to us all that no one is in a position for it to be easy, but what are we going to prioritise? We have huge varying degrees of financial wealth, and it’s not about the amount that you’re able to invest,” Edwina says.
“It’s about doing it regularly, because that’s checking in with you, and ensuring that you maintain that connection and you’re taking the time to reflect and be grateful and thankful for your experience.”