How leadership is driving bushfire recovery

When disaster strikes, much of the time we’ll see footage of the immediate impact. But ever stop to wonder what happens to these communities in the months, even years later, as they recover? And what it takes to rebuild?

It starts with leadership. Not that of established authorities, but the communities.

Their efforts impactful by working together, in collaboration, and which was stepped up across six regions still recovering from the devastating Black Summer bushfires.

It was part of the Regenerate leadership programs, delivered over the last 18 months by the Australian Rural Leadership Foundation (ARLF) in collaboration with multiple partners and backed with federal and state government funding.

“Going into the course, I thought there was a very formal definition of leadership. I’ve come to understand what a leader within a community can be and I’m one version of it.”

Regenerate Nambucca Valley graduate and professional event producer Phil Nicholas.

Regenerating leadership and resilience

More and more communities are looking to their own to lead recovery efforts to revive and reinvigorate their towns.

The Regenerate Regional Leadership Development program responded to this by building leadership capacity via a network of current and emerging leaders who are passionate about the future of their communities. And converting that passion into action.

It sounds simple enough: bring together a group of leaders and show them how to work collaboratively to get an outcome. But there’s much more that’s needed to get past first base including trust, connection, communication, listening and respecting diverse perspectives.

“I think it takes a lot of courage to recognise who you are as a person, but then what other people can bring to the table as well. And try and fill all those gaps and ensure that all voices are heard.”

Regenerate Bega Valley graduate and energy network specialist Penny Green.

How it happens

ARLF programs are meticulously designed, in line with proven learning methods and ideals. They’re experiential and challenged based, and tailored to rural, regional and remote and regional Australia, and in this case, the Regenerate regions themselves.

The immersive nature of the programs takes participants away from everyday distractions, allowing for reflection and connection. The bond and trust established with each other inevitably results in a leadership network that’s committed to action and outcomes.

Combine their skills, expertise, knowledge and contacts, these networks are well equipped to guide the ongoing recovery and response to future challenges and opportunities. Ultimately driving social and economic prosperity in the region.

“These programs have a huge value to the community. I could see networking between different community organisations and groups is going to be that much stronger. And that’s going to have a lot of positive benefits for the community. Instead of standing alone, they’re about work a lot more together and support each other, and there’ll be less duplication of effort and a lot more output and more results from it.”

Regenerate Eurobodalla graduate and accountant Matt Thomas.

The programs

The Regenerate programs are backed by funding and other partners who recognise the role of collective leadership in supporting resilient communities. 

These include: the Australian and NSW Governments, Minderoo Foundation, GlobalGiving, Foundation for Rural and Regional Renewal (FRRR), Global Learning, Southcoast Health and Sustainability Alliance (SHASA), Bega Valley Shire Council, and Cuppacumbalong Homestead.

The programs are:

  • Regenerate Snowy Valleys and Regenerate Nambucca Valley: focused on building capacity of community leaders. They’re co-funded by the Australian and NSW Government’s Bushfire Local Economic Recovery Fund, Minderoo Foundation’s Fire and Flood Resilience Initiative and GlobalGiving.
  • Regenerate Eurobodalla: focused on building capacity of community leaders. Funded by the Australian Government’s Black Summer Bushfire Recovery program.
  • Regenerate Bega Valley and Regenerate Shoalhaven: focused on building capacity of local not-for-profits and volunteers. These programs are part of the FRRR’s Investing in Rural Community Futures extension grants funded by the Australian Government.
  • Regenerate Capital Region: focused on building strong relations between emergency first responders, government agencies and rural land carers to better respond to future disasters. Funded by the Australian Government’s Black Summer Bushfire Recovery program.

“I think the important thing to note is if we have any sort of natural disasters be it fires, flood or drought, we now know through that collective of people who we can contact within our networks to get stuff done, to support each other, to build resilience in our communities, to build resilience within ourselves. A personal highlight was through connection with culture and country. That is embracing ‘Yindyamurra’, meaning respect, go slow, reflect, appreciate the now. Understanding it was one thing, but the ability to live it will stay with me. It should be a motto for us all.”

Regenerate Capital Region graduate and ACT Fire and Rescue station officer Rob Thompson.

The outcome

Enabling a diverse group of people to get together and find solutions, rather than deferring to an authority for them, is the key to transforming communities into vibrant and sustainable places that people call home. 

Participants took this approach via community initiatives they worked on together, to generate solutions to complex issues in their communities. Shared responsibility helps to build long-term community resilience.

The graduates are now part of the ARLF’s extensive national alumni network and that of partners, where they’ll receive ongoing opportunities and support.

They know that when future fire emergencies, or opportunities occur, the Regenerate leadership networks will be invaluable. They know and trust each other to be able to work through what’s in front of them.

“I feel that the greatest impact on me and probably on my community from this program is the networks that it’s built that I can now collaborate with, but also the trust that has been built within that network. I trust these people implicitly and I know that they’re got my back and that we can collaborate and share ideas that will just exponentially benefit multiple communities.”

Regenerate Shoalhaven graduate and youth worker Gemma Hart.
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