Andrew brings people along for the journey 

Frontiers are a natural home for Andrew Monk, who has found himself at the spearhead of many new movements, from organic farming to renewable energy and green waste management. 

“I was an early entrant to that strange emerging industry of organics over thirty years ago,” Andrew, the former CEO of Biological Farmers and subsequent Chairman of Australian Organic Ltd says. “There are many who still see it as all-or-nothing within Ag. I am more pragmatic about its place alongside traditional and emerging forms of farming.”  

When a colleague recommended Andrew apply for the Australian Rural Leadership Foundation’s flagship Australian Rural Leadership Program (ARLP), he impulsively jumped in. 

“I think I was still reading the brochure as I sat in the waiting area for my interview,” Andrew laughs. But his motivation and commitment were solid. 

“I didn’t know much about how the program would be delivered, but I thought the course would be a great way to continue to build bridges with the other sectors organic farming intersected with, which was almost every agricultural sector.” 

Andrew secured a place thanks to sponsorship by AgriFutures Australia (then the Rural Industries Research and Development Corporation). 

“I was on the RIRDC organics R&D committee, and I had felt they would be a logical match,” Andrew says. “Their sponsorship acknowledged that the key to seeing emerging industries properly establish is interconnectivity and capacity-building … the ARLP and the generosity of my sponsor’s investment some 20 years on has enhanced my own mindset about the importance of giving back and passing on the advantages we have been given.” 

Andrew commenced his ARLP experience with the program’s ninth cohort determined to “connect, understand, and be understood.” 

He cites the relationship built with colleagues like Matt Cossey, CEO of CropLife Australia, as a perfect illustration of the magic of the ARLP. 

“We developed a great working relationship, even with some of his members promoting the use of GMOs and synthetic agrichemicals. Once jointly visiting the Agriculture Minister, we were asked ‘how come you two are working together?’ We operated on, and sought to secure, common ground. We were calm and comfortable, even when our members had commercial or legal clashes. We would focus on our ‘common enemies’ and common ground.” 

 As the seventh of nine children, Andrew says family life exposed him to “a gaggle of diversity and conflicting interests.”  

The relaxed leader describes his natural style as “bringing people along for the journey” while acknowledging you can’t make all happy all the time. 

“The ARLP was amazing – brilliantly spread across aspects of physical and mental challenges, while covering a broad geography and interaction with other cultures. It exposed us to different thinking and reinforced the great importance of hearing voices in all their manifestations.” 

Currently Melbourne-based, with two decades involved in agriculture in Queensland, Andrew is the Chair of renewable energy developer Enervest. He describes the company as a “quiet achiever” providing rural landholders across Australia entry to energy markets and diversified income streams. 

“I continue to find comfort in over-the-horizon investing,” he explains. “It may not be completely clear when you set off where the market point is and where you’re going to land. What’s important is getting established and then bringing other leaders along with you to amplify and spread understanding and buy-in.” 

He says there are very definite “rhymes” in the green waste, organics and energy markets, and his experience tying these connections together serves him well. 

“The key has been to not be anti-GMO, just be pro-organic; to not be anti-coal, but pro-renewables; and the same applies in green waste management. If you make it primarily about economics and opportunity rather than threat, the argument is more easily won.”  

Andrew acknowledges the rewards of ‘pioneering’ are just as often offset by failures. 

“I pride myself on the ability to learn from what goes wrong whenever I’ve stumbled. Our broader industry has had some spectacular fails, and it’s stupid to let ego, arrogance or fear of failure lead to lack of outcome. The ARLP reminds you the only ones who don’t fail are those who do not have a go. It’s important to keep swinging, keep learning from others, don’t wait.” 

As well as his role with Enervest, Andrew is busy lending his agri and energy expertise to facilitate productive change in organisations that have struck structural or cultural barriers to success. 

“I regularly find myself having uncomfortable conversations in that facilitation process, something the ARLP showed us how to do productively,” he says. “It’s up to leaders in all their forms and styles to see something different and beneficial and communicate that in a way that has influence on the ‘herd’ – be it your industry or community. 

“The ARLP also challenges you to be aware of the skills you may not have in the tool-kit that others do … the network is such a fantastic resource. We are diverse and different, yet we all talk a similar language.” 

When Andrew left his role leading Australian Organic, he took steps he hoped would lay the groundwork for the industry body to make its own investment in leadership development. 

“It was a longer-term aspiration to enable investment in people and resources, and I hope that increasingly it’s a priority for all organisations.” Andrew says.  

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