By Dodie Henderson, Rural Room Media Stringer
Viewed from the air, Western Australia’s Kimberley region is an endless expanse of terracotta red with an overlay of eucalyptus green. Its seemingly smooth landscape sprawls over nearly 423,000 square kilometres and belies its rugged nature. One of the most sparsely populated places in the world, it is a true wilderness: the country of people who are of an existing civilisation older than any on earth. Overwhelming in its scale and majesty, it reminds people of their diminutive stature when contrasted against the enormity of nature. It is also a place where leaders convene.
The Australian Rural Leadership Program (ARLP) uses time in this timeless place as part of its flagship leadership development program. Every year, a new intake of around 30 people engages in what is described as “a series of unique, immersive experiences (delivered in real-world contexts) to develop the adaptive skills to confidently overcome future challenges and act for the ‘greater good’ of rural and regional Australia.”
Emerging regional leaders are keen to participate in the program that has been a success for almost 30 years. Many are supported in their endeavour by connecting with corporate sponsors or scholarships. In the case of Western Australia’s grain handling giant CBH Group, it sees value in offering this opportunity to its own employees as part of its leadership development.
With sessions taking place in Australia and overseas, the 15-month course transforms people’s leadership approach and the contribution they can make, one which inspires others to embark on the same journey themselves.
Participants are reluctant to detail exactly what happens in the Kimberley, to ensure the experience can be as impactful for future participants, but the experience in the ochre red outback of Western Australia is a catalyst for soul-searching. Stripped of everything they know, including knowledge about themselves, they are forced to look inward through the window only such wilderness can provide. The overseas experiences also have high impact, with the sheer enormity of tasks facing community leaders in places like India and Indonesia, and the hope that exists within such populous places without all that Australia has, serving as a complementary exercise in humility.
Richard Simonaitis, Gavin Bignell, Brianna Peake and Mandy Johnston are among those who have benefitted from CBH’s involvement in ARLP. All were motivated to apply by the changes they had seen in others. Each of them tells a different tale when it comes to the program’s impact: but all of them speak of the Kimberley as critical in their growth as leaders.