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.
Richard, Gavin, Brianna and Mandy were not in the same ARLP cohort, but they share a bond that is great due to the shared CBH provided ARLP experience.
They spoke of the fact that they were connected by the knowledge that the others had completed the same program, had a similar outlook and “take” on leadership, and that even if they hadn’t experienced exactly the same program, they knew how vulnerable they had felt at different stages and how humility had allowed personal growth and made them more empathetic at the same time as improving their level of confidence in their own abilities.
As Richard pointed out, validation in a cohort of potential leaders boosted self-assurance. And then there is the long-term impact of a shared experience, with a definite and instant connection between graduates of the program.
For ARLP graduates, identifying others who had experienced the same program is reassuring, with an underlying faith in what is a known quantity.
Graduates understand about negotiation, compassion; there are shared interests, values and skills.
“It’s like seeing the wings on a pilot’s shirt – you know they are not going to crash the plane,” Richard said.
“If you look around the bios in the industry, so many people in leadership roles are fellows of the ARLP,” he said.
“It is hard to measure the value of the program, but the proof is where people end up contributing to the industry, with a cohort of people with a shared experience sitting in leadership roles.”
Richard said that CBH’s sponsorship of participants and the program benefited the community: as a grower owned organisation, everything it did had a community input.“
Everything CBH does is with a benefit to regional community in mind,” he said.
The benefits are ongoing with ex-CBH ARLP graduates continuing to play a role in the industry. Gavin said that the connection made with people in groups in the first few weeks of the program is strong.
“We know things about each other that no one else knows. The connection with those in the cohort is very strong. While it is not an exclusive club, we shared a unique experience,” Gavin said.
“The ARLP connection with CBH pays dividends. I believe it pays across the organisation: people may leave, but they are still in the industry and part of it,” he said.
Brianna agreed that even graduates of the ARLP who were from different cohorts were able to connect immediately.“
When I meet with members of ARLP cohorts the shared experience strips away barriers as you know they have been equally raw and open to change,” Brianna said.
She said the outcome of involvement with the program was worth the cost to CBH.
“While some ARLP graduates are still with CBH, those that have left still have strong connection with most involved in ag in some way, or in the regions,” Brianna said.
Mandy pointed out that CBH, being a cooperative owned by growers, was sympathetic to the needs of the regions and the need to invest.
And the ARLP graduates still with the company tended to invest any spare time and energy they had in the community programs that it was involved in, and that tackled a wide range of issues from mental health and leadership, to the support of the arts, sport and the Royal Flying Doctor Service.
In Mandy’s words, the ARLP “unlocked the potential of the farm girl” who never pictured herself on a board of anything, and along the way, it has helped to build up a core of skilled leaders, Australia-wide, who will help foster a regional Australia that reflects the empathy and competence of a new generation of rural leaders.