For Tim Ferraro, the Australian Rural Leadership Program (ARLP) was a “powerful experience” that proved well worth a multi-decade wait.
The ARLP Course 24 alumnus graduated from the course in 2018, but first applied for the Australian Rural Leadership Foundation’s flagship program back in 1999. At that time, there simply wasn’t an industry scholarship to afford him a place on the program – an experience which stayed with him.
“It was a situation where typically there would be a lot more good people apply than there were scholarships available.” Tim says.
It was in direct response to this that he decided to become a financial contributor to the Foundation through ‘regular giving’ shortly after completing his ARLP experience.
“I know first-hand the difference that the ARLP makes to people’s lives, and knowing that I could contribute to an alumni-funded scholarship place is very special,” Tim says.
As the Executive Director of Soil Conservation Service, a fully commercial entity of the NSW Government, Tim happens to work with other ARLP alumni, and comes across graduates in his travels to rural communities. He is also quick to point to the strong leadership of other ARLP alumni working and leading around his home base of Dubbo.
“It’s amazing that those who established the Foundation knew the main ingredient to propel rural and regional Australia to where it needs to be is leadership,” he reflects.
“The ARLP has been delivered consistently for 30 years, and it speaks volumes to the fact that this is the thing that we need to advance our regions. It doesn’t matter whether you’re wanting to take the lead in a work or community context, the ARLP gives you the skills to do that.”
Tim was also very conscious of the Foundation’s emphasis on its program graduates giving back in some way.
“You can help with interview panels or take a role when program sessions take place in your community, or, if you are in a position to, you can give financially,” he says.
“I’m fortunate to have been on the board of my university, and this has also played a role in my conviction that education is everything … that melded together with my memory of when I first applied for the ARLP, and it’s so nice to be able to share a little of what I have to open that door for others.”
While the ARLP experience was something that came later in Tim’s career, he values the professional and life experiences he had on board to help him evaluate its impact.
“I came into the program in my late forties, and I’d done a lot of different programs, including an MBA and a range of short courses. I had a reasonable exposure to different leadership development approaches, and the ARLP is unquestionably superior to those,” he says.
“It’s the deep immersion you get, the self-direction you have to take and the people you meet. It’s one of the best things I’ve done in my life full-stop.”
While Tim knew of people whose experience on the ARLP had prompted a major life change like a career change or a move interstate, for him the impact was more subtle.
“My boss noticed a change in the way I approached difficult situations and solved problems. The ARLP taught me that you need to know yourself deeply, manage yourself properly, and then you can effectively manage others.” He says.
As Tim directs complex environmental programs – from the roll-out of wild dog fences and the creation of fire trails, to the rehabilitation of defunct mine sites – the ARLP is manifest in his ethos of openness, honesty, reflection and accountability.
“The challenges are not getting smaller for regional Australia,” he says.
“COVID has accelerated certain trends, like growth in our regional centres. The question is how do we harness the enthusiasm and perspective tree and sea-changers bring to regions? … The challenges of climate change and transitioning regions towards a different mix of industries in a short space of time is significant. They’re big challenges, but also great opportunities.”
From Tim’s perspective, investing in regional, rural and remote Australia guarantees invaluable returns.
“Agriculture is in such a bright spot at the moment – we have low interest rates, high commodity prices and good seasonal conditions. It’s the time for all sectors to be preparing for the next downturn, and this takes leadership,” he says.
“I’ve got such a strong personal commitment to the work that the Foundation does. I grew up in an environment that was at times difficult, so I know what it’s like to need a hand to stand up and make a difference. That’s why I’m investing in the ARLP – if you have the capacity to give, then do it, and know that it’s going to make a huge difference.”